Education in Finland

Last week I had the opportunity to serve as the moderator for “Should learning by fun?” at the Embassy of Finland. Finland has had the premier education system since the 1960’s when their government decided that the best way to improve the economy of their country was to have the best education system in the world. Their leaders realized that the country did not have natural resources like oil or gas, so people needed to be the resource for which Finland would be known. The politicians who made this decision were brave and most did not get re-elected because they closed all private schools so that public schools were the only choice. They also decided they needed the best people in education, so only 1 in 10 people who apply to education school are accepted. Most try 3-4 years before being accepted. Students in Finland begin school at 7, have the shortest school day in Europe and yet these Finnish students have led the PISA for 20 years. When students begin school at 7 there are 15 students with 3 teachers, and those teachers stay with them until they are 12. There is a national curriculum, but no money has ever been spent on a national high stakes testing program. Teachers are constantly assessing their students, but there are no charts comparing 1 school to another. The school year is 10 months long and then teachers get 1 month of PD every summer. The principal and teachers decide the kind of PD they need and grow together. The only high stakes test that Finnish students ever take is the PISA, and only 1000 students participate in this testing. With the latest release of the PISA results Finland has fallen to number 2 for the first time ever, with Singapore passing them. The interesting response of the Finnish leaders to this result is to start doing research to figure out how to make school more fun. They realize that when students are having fun they are engaged and rigorous learning is occurring. How refreshing! They also realize that students like to solve real world problems so are putting more STEM problems into their curriculum and providing digital tools for their students. Rovio (the company that created Angry Birds) is Finnish and they have now created 10 other educational games that Finnish students will be using in their classes. Imagine if American students were encouraged to play games to improve their test scores!


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