Comparing US and Finnish Education

The result of the latest PISA ranked Shanghai-China, Hong Kong-China, Finland, Singapore and South Korea as the top scorers. Among the nations in the original 12 tested in 1964, Finland was ranked fourth, but in 2009, it was ranked first among them. It has become regarded as a model the United States should look to for improving our education system. Many of Finland’s policies and approaches are contrary to what is being proposed as reforms in the U.S. For example, Finland distributes educational resources much more equitably, pays higher teachers’ salaries, gives teachers greater authority and autonomy and has no high-stakes standardized tests (Darling-Hammond, 2010).

Sahlberg (2011) gives some other differences.

A typical feature of teaching and learning in Finland is high confidence in teachers and principals as respected professionals. Another involves encouraging teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches rather than teaching them to master fixed attainment targets. This makes school a creative and inspiring place for students and teachers. These policies are a result of three decades of systematic, mostly intentional development that has created a culture of diversity, trust and respect within Finnish society in general, and within its education system in particular. The result is a cocktail of good ideas from other countries and smart practices from the tradition of teaching and learning in Finland.

 The secret of education in Finland is that it brings together government policy, professional involvement and public engagement around an inspiring social and educational vision of equity, prosperity and creativity in a world of greater inclusiveness, security and humanity.

 America should thoughtfully consider some of these alternative approaches, especially when they are making policies that are contrary to them.

 Some of these uniquely American solutions — charter schools, private school vouchers, entrepreneurial innovations, grade-by-grade testing, diminished teachers’ unions, and basing teachers’ pay on how their students do on standardized tests — may be appealing on their surface. To many in the financial community, these market-inspired reform ideas are very appealing.

 Yet, these proposed solutions are nowhere to be found in the arsenal of strategies used by the top-performing nations. And almost everything these countries are doing to redesign their education systems, we’re not doing. (Tucker, 2011)


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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