A Profile of an Education System that is Effective: Finland's

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Education, Europe, Finland

17 comments on “A Profile of an Education System that is Effective: Finland's

  1. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    The last part of it says it all: high parental involvement and a student culture that takes learning and achievement seriously. Americans have neither of those. Until that changes, educational outcome will not change.

  2. John Wilkins says:

    This is what I heard.
    1) it took a generation. We like short term solutions.
    2) Three teachers per class.
    3) A collective national will to educate all students and a plan.
    4) Students stay with same teachers
    5) Valuing education. Teachers are appreciated. Finnish teachers come from the top 10 percent. Like doctors and lawyers.

    How many people from the top of American culture want their kids to become teachers?

  3. Brooksie says:

    Dr. Harmon, I am quite surprised that you would post this. To compare public education in the USA, with its enormous variety of cultures, languages (80+ in our local school district alone!) with an almost homogenous, tiny place like Finalnd is absurd.

    The hand-wringing comparisons of our country’s public ed system vs. those of small Scandinavian systems (Sweden is often chosen) have become a cliche. The problem: it is a VERY different culture than ours. I am disappointed that you have not endeavored to bring these many, many differences to the fore.

    OTOH, it’s very curious to those of us familiar with the Scandinavian cultures and politics that NEVER in this conservative, anti-Pres. Obama blog do we hear a positive thing about the SUPERB health care system of the Scandinavian countries, which cover EVERYONE, where NO ONE has to lay awake worrying about bankruptcy due to the bad luck of a loved one’s serious illness (and no, not everyone with cancer was a smoker or elderly or obese).

    Why don’t we hear ‘the rest of the story’? Could it be your politics, dear Canon??

  4. robroy says:

    The well-educated beget well-educated.

    Finnish kids have a much higher percentage of those living with biological parents than in the U.S. See the must read article regarding Finnish education: http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/247280/dana-golstein-education-and-welfare-state-reihan-salam

    Three teachers per classroom? Is that effective? NO! Everything I have read states that class size has little to no effect on performance. But one wonders how they spend $2000 less per child per year than the U.S. and have all these masters degree teachers.

    How do you get parents involved in their education, especially single parents? That is critical.

    The whole Finnish example is irrelevant to the U.S. setting. They have 5 million well to do parents. We have 5 million crack head parents in places like LA or New York.

  5. DonGander says:

    Did I catch that right? Government controls the curriculum? I do not want government to control curriculum – that is institutional inscest! Next thing we know the schools will be teaching Global Warming!

  6. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    Brooksie: Jag talar svenska, och Du? [I speak some Swedish, how about you?]

    Consider the study by Robert Gidehag, Chief Economist of Handelns Ultredningsinstitut [Trade Research Institute] published in the liberal [i]Dagens Nyheter[/i] newspaper 04 Mai 2003. Gidehag [url=http://www.hui.se/Om%0Hui/medarbetare/CVrobert.htm]knows his stuff[/url].

    [Here’s an English version, from the UK Telegraph]
    [blockquote] Using fixed prices and purchasing power parity adjusted data, the median household income in Sweden at the end of the 1990s was the equivalent of $26,800 compared with a median of $39,400 for U.S. households, HUI’s study showed. “Weak growth means that Sweden has lost greatly in prosperity compared with the United States,” HUI’s President Fredrik Bergstrom and chief economist Robert Gidehag said.

    International Monetary Fund data from 2001 show that U.S. GDP per capita in dollar terms was 56 percent higher than in Sweden while in 1980, Swedish GDP per capita was 20 percent higher. “Black people, who have the lowest income in the United States, now have a higher standard of living than an ordinary Swedish household,” the HUI economists said.

    If Sweden were a U.S. state, it would be the poorest measured by household gross income before taxes, which measure was chosen to get around differences in taxation and welfare structures, Bergstrom and Gidehag said. [/blockquote]

    Sweden is also pretty crummy in the crime department, quite aside from having its Prime Minister and Foreign Minister both assassinated within the last 25 years. So much for gun control, eh? One shot, one knifed.

    A [url=http://www.minjust.nl/b_organ/wodc/publicaties/rapporten/pubrapp/ob187.htm]Dutch study[/url] establishes Sweden has having one of the highest crime rates in the industrialised world. In fact, eight of the top ten countries for crime are socialist / social democracies. The exceptions are Australia and Poland. The US didn’t even make it into the top ten. Sweden is right at the top for risk of sexual assault. Right at the top for property theft. 8% of bicycles are stolen there every year.

    And as for their vaunted Swedish health care system, one Swede in six is now on long-term disability or early retirement due to chronic “illness.” Or is it malingering, which would also explain Sweden’s economic free-fall over the last generation.

    It would also explain why in recent years the Swedes have moved aggressively to dismantle many of the policies and administrative structures that dragged their nation from near the top to something more akin to Louisiana, which until a couple of years ago had been run exclusively by Democrats for almost 70 years.

    If you want an educational example closer to home, look no farther than Québec, with its numerous language and cultural groups. My kids were in a fairly ordinary high school program there and carried nine courses per year. The requirements in history, geography, maths, sciences, languages and economics would overload the average American high school [i]teacher[/i] let alone student.

    The grading system is vastly more difficult, because Canadians tend to start at zero and [i]add[/i] points, compared to America where you start at 100 and deduct them. Students also tend to begin university at age 19 or 20, which makes a big difference in both attitude and effort.

    I think the case has been made that (as usual) the kneejerk platitudes are coming from your end of the spectrum, not Canon Harmon’s.

  7. robroy says:

    Found this from a fun essay by a [url=http://rightnetwork.com/posts/1001642124 ]dad in Maine[/url] at wit’s end with public education:
    [blockquote] Academically, we couldn’t help but observe that our fourteen-year-old son was made to watch [i]My Big Fat, Greek Wedding [/i] in English class because they’re supposed to be studying Homer — and Homer’s Greek, you know; or notice that he’s seen Al Gore’s carbon footprint infomercial four times already, once each in four different classes; discover that none of the teachers or administrators can spell or operate a sentence, never mind the students, but they’ve seen [i]Supersize Me[/i] twice already; or see that all his textless textbooks looked like a cross between a comic book and a collage. Such things indicated that nothing serious was ever going to happen in school.[/blockquote]
    I personally experienced this with our youngest who was going to public school because he had a cleft and we wanted the speech therapy that came along. I would ask him what he did in school that day, “We watched a movie.” This was a pre-kindergarten class with a teacher and two teacher’s aides! We now send all our kids to a private school.

  8. WarrenS says:

    Bart Hall, applying your objective techniques for interpreting data, I suspect it wouldn’t be difficult to show that the US ranks right up there with the Sudan. I think I’ll send your comment to my daughter, who’s a high school teacher in Ontario, and a good friend who teaches in Quebec. They’ll get a kick out of it. Since red herrings seem to be the order of the day, both my kids started university in Canada when they were 17 – and did exceptionally well. Not that that’s relevant to anything. I’ve probably made a fool of myself by not immediately recognizing that most of what you wrote was intended tongue and cheek.

  9. Bill Matz says:

    Another interesting wrinkle in a recent study is that Greece, with one of Europe’s worst public school systems, had four times as many teachers as Finland’s top-rated system.

  10. Frances Scott says:

    Thanks for posting this, Dr. Harmon. I had read a similar article a year or so ago. I am a retired teacher. I’ve taught in a private, parent cooperative school in Chicago; LCMS Schools grades 1-10, public schools k-12, State University, Presbyterian & ElCA operated colleges, home schooled a grandchild, and managed a four county adult literacy program for 9 years (tutoring one-on-one, training tutors, training tutor trainers, training supervising tutor trainers). What has caught my attention with the Finnish system is not the system at all, but that children are valued and teachers are honored in Finland…not highly paid, but honored. Classes are short and interspersed with 15 minute breaks during which time the children can engage in activities they enjoy…singly or in groups.

    What I have experienced in some U.S. Public Schools is a “one size fits all” approach that disregards the individual child and discourages the teacher from giving the one-on-one attention that is often needed to help a child through his confusion to understanding. I have experienced, both as a child and as a teacher, more parent involvement, more individual attention, more freedom and respect for the child’s individual interests, more respect for the parent, and more honor and respect for the teacher in the LCMS schools (very probably because LCMS recognizes that God calls people to teach and recognizes their ministry just as it recognizes the call and ministry of the Pastors).

    I don’t have an answer for our public school inadequacies. I am not sure there is one, but I also find an uneducated citizenry totally unthinkable and so I believe we need to keep trying. The starting point may be to value our children and hire as teachers only those people who are worthy of our honor and trust.

    Frances Scott

  11. Kendall Harmon says:

    #3, your point about cultural differences is of course relevant, but I am interested in what works and there are lessons we can learn, as the first two comments make clear, to cite one example.

    As for politics, you are taking the thread off track but just let me say you are amusingly way off target if you read the blog regularly and distinguish between certain commenters and the main blog. 2 years ago there was a now (in)famous thread in which I criticized the choice of Sarah Palin by John McCain and was taken to task by many readers. I am not registered with either party and the only Presidential candidate I voted “for” in my life was John Anderson in 1980. The last three Presidents in a row have done the country more harm than good in my view, alas; it sure would be nice to get some real solutions in Washington.

  12. NewTrollObserver says:

    Interestingly, John Anderson was the son of a Swedish immigrant.

  13. Knapsack says:

    Still strikingly pertinent, and a reminder that these problems didn’t start recently — read the opening couple chapters of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit, Will Travel.” They have a discussion and the outcomes of a conversation between father and high school beginning son in mid-1950’s Iowa (IOWA! 1950’S!!!!), about the basis and implementation of the state curriculum standards, and what it means to take initiative in getting an education. I read it as a precocious 7th grader in 1972 and never, ever forgot it.

    Heinlein got a little unhinged later in life (still wrote crackling good if utterly amoral fiction), but the lessons of “HSS,WT” are well worth internalizing. The rest of the book seems to move away from those opening themes, but if you pay attention — and re-read as an adult — you realize he’s just developing the same argument with ever greater depth and ferocity. And it all becomes a rather intriguing subtheme in “Stranger in a Strange Land,” at least in terms of what it means to be an educated person.

  14. John Wilkins says:

    Hm – the idea that such solutions wouldn’t work here sounds like an excuse. “Blame the crackheads” is another way of saying we shouldn’t do anything. Because we can’t. The crackheads won’t let us.

    #4 Robroy, you’re making a simple mistake. The issue isn’t small classes, it’s about children getting the attention they need to learn. 3 teachers in a class of 30 is a different dynamic of 1 in a class of 20. I’m not sure if you’ve taught before, but there are reasons this helps. An aide can inhibits one challenging child from ruining an entire class; Kids who find a subject challenging can form a small group within the same class. Teachers to try different techniques to teach within the same period. It is true that small classes won’t make a bad teacher brilliant.

    But it does imply we think of classes as more a matter of social Darwinism in practice than a place where all kids should be able to learn.

    What may also be true is that Finland has made a choice as a country. They believe that a good education is excellent for the common good. In the US, “common good” gets you accused of socialism. We’re proud of our country, but aside from waving the flag and supporting the troops, we don’t like to use the government we elect to help our fellow citizens.

  15. robroy says:

    I simply ignore the straw men.

    I saw that school employment actually grew by 2-3% during the great recession despite flat enrollment.

    A very level headed analysis of school choice – both charter and voucher programs – is offered up here:


    One of the things that the report emphasizes is the over-selling of school choice programs.

  16. Jennilyn Turrey says:

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  17. shypayston says:

    Its interesting that the government tried to solve it.
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