We use cookies to offer our visitors a comfortable and transparent experience when browsing our website. If you continue browsing, we consider that you accept their use. You can change the settings and get more information. More info
In depth
Educational transfer and success, a look at the Finnish system

Educational transfer and success, a look at the Finnish system

By Miquel Àngel Comas, Eva Tresserras and Xavier Ureta | Faculty of Education in the UIC

 

Last December a new PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) Report was presented for 2012. Once again the Finnish system continued to be at the top of the list as a model of success, efficiency and fairness.

 

Before analysing the decisive factors in the positive results from Finland, it is necessary to contextualise PISA evaluations (see Table 1.) These evaluations are external, and have been carried out every three years since 1997. The purpose of the evaluations is to:

 

  • Facilitate an analysis of educational policies with the aim of improving systems and establishing similarities and differences between them.
  • Provide a socio-political interpretation.
  • Analyse the level of necessary skills that students have acquired so they can participate fully in society, focusing on key areas such as reading, science and mathematics.
  • Measure whether students have the ability to reproduce what they’ve learned; transfer their knowledge and apply it to new academic and non-academic contexts; whether they are capable of analysing, reasoning and communicating ideas efficiently and if they have the ability to continue learning throughout life.

 

It is important to know how to contextualise and add to the significance of the PISA report.  According to Ismael Palacín, Director of the Fundació Jaume Bofill, “external evaluations such as PISA have to be used to obtain information about the system – not to sanction-, and at the same time they must be combined with multilevel evaluations: of the system, the centre, the teacher, and the pupil”.  Other external international evaluations include:  TALIS, PIACC, PIRLS-TIMSS, etc.

 

It is important to see the success in Finland as an example to follow, which we can extract indicators and/or guidance from which will help to improve education systems.  According to Xavier Melgarejo, an expert in the Finnish education system and in the field of school management, “Finland has become a laboratory for academic excellence trials which we can learn a lot from”.  

 

According to Melgarejo, the main keys to success in the education system in Finland are:

 

  • An inverted management pyramid. Public administration, which has economic and decision-making powers, has a close relationship with the citizen (at both a local and a regional level, etc.) In conjunction with this, and governed by an education law which remains practically unchanged despite governmental changes, local government is responsible for schools and for rendering accounts. Schools are autonomous in terms of choosing the most curriculum that is most suited to the needs of their pupils. According to the above mentioned expert, we are dealing with a “decentralised model and there is no inspection body, people trust the autonomy of the schools”.
  • An open and flexible curriculum. States only propose a document containing the minimum amount of information, a very short guide which is decided based on a consensus and common sense, depending on the needs of the country.  Schools adapt their academic plans to reality, with validation provided by the nearest Public Administration office.  “The body of the curriculum is designed by the central government (10%-15%) and the rest is designed by the local government, along with teachers.
  • Being highly demanding at lower levels of education.  Having an excellent academic record is an essential pre-requisite for obtaining a place on a Bachelor’s degree in Education programme.  The number of places is limited, and the course is highly demanding, especially towards the end.  Therefore, success depends on rigorous and constant work during the period students are at university. This awards the degree with a seal of quality, excellence and dedication.
  • Selection of teachers and head-teachers.  Each academic plan requires a specific profile for both the head-teachers and the teachers.  For that reason, the assignation of posts and managerial promotion is based on individuality.
  • Open schools.  Schools, which are in close contact with their immediate environment, become cultural spaces, which are documentary, musical or artistic in nature, and they are also suited to the needs of the community. Their infrastructure and architectural design are created based on the purpose of each particular space.

 

In Finnish society, education is the backbone of the country; investing in it leads to an increase in welfare, competitiveness and civic responsibility.  Melgarejo continues to repeat that  “Finnish people believe that the country’s treasure is its children, and therefore they place them in the hands of the best professionals”. It is a mixture of knowledge and welfare, which ensures “that there is fairness and that citizens are strongly implicated in constructing the country at both an ethical and a social level”.

 

Fluency in other languages is another large priority in this country. Beliefs about education focus on the triangle between individual-school-society. Along the same lines, in Finnish society it is unquestionable that the family is primarily responsible for educating their children. For example, this is the country with the most books per inhabitant in the world; they are all publically owned, and libraries are open to everyone. Parents and children go along to read “as a family”. Therefore, we are looking at an education system which is solidly based on “common sense”, which prioritises culture, language and the arts from the perspective of effort, responsible autonomy and a creative attitude that is also socially committed.

 

On the other hand, a report from the World Economic Forum 2012-2013 lists Finland as the third most competitive country in the world.  Therefore, its guidelines are aimed at achieving the Europe 2012 Agenda and progression towards Horizon 2020. The latter is the new European research and innovation programme which promotes education and training as the keys to creating strategies for intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth, highlighting the importance of employment, social cohesion and compatibility, in order to achieve open international cooperation.

 

It seems clear, then, that this Nordic country is fully aware that education is a source of progress and a true reflection of its society.

 

 
 
 
  • Raf Feys

    View of Finnish
    teachers versus view of Pasi Sahlberg

    Oxford- Prof. Jennifer Chung ( AN INVESTIGATION OF REASONS
    FOR FINLAND’S SUCCESS IN PISA (University of Oxford 2008).

    “Many of the teachers mentioned the converse of the great
    strength of Finnish education (= de grote aandacht voor kinderen met leerproblemen)
    as the great weakness. Jukka S. (BM)
    believes that school does not provide enough challenges for intelligent
    students: “I think my only concern is
    that we give lots of support to those pupils who are underachievers, and we
    don’t give that much to the brightest pupils.
    I find it a problem, since I think, for the future of a whole nation, those pupils who
    are really the stars should be supported, given some more challenges, given
    some more difficulty in their exercises and so on. To not just spend their time here but to make some effort and
    have the idea to become something, no matter what field you are choosing, you
    must not only be talented like they are, but work hard. That is needed. “

    Pia (EL) feels that
    the schools do not motivate very intelligent students to work. She thinks the schools should provide more challenges for the academically
    talented students. In fact, she
    thinks the current school system in Finland does not provide well for its
    students. Mixed-ability classrooms, she
    feels, are worse than the previous selective system: “ I think this school is for nobody.
    That is my private opinion. Actually I think so, because when you have
    all these people at mixed levels in your class, then you have to concentrate on
    the ones who need the most help, of course.
    Those who are really good, they get lazy. “

    Pia believes these students become bored and lazy, and float
    through school with no study skills.
    Jonny (EM) describes how comprehensive education places the academically
    gifted at a disadvantage: “We have lost a
    great possibility when we don’t have the segregated levels of math and natural
    sciences… That should be once again taken back and started with. The good talents are now torturing themselves
    with not very interesting education and teaching in classes that aren’t for their
    best.

    Pia (EL) finds the PISA frenzy about Finland amusing, since
    she believes the schools have declined in recent years: “I think [the
    attention] is quite funny because school isn’t as good as it used to be … I
    used to be proud of being a teacher and proud of this school, but I can’t say I
    ’m proud any more.”

    Aino (BS) states that the evenness and equality of the education
    system has a “dark side.” Teaching to the “middle student” in a class of
    heterogeneous ability bores the gifted students, who commonly do not perform
    well in school. Maarit (DMS) finds
    teaching heterogeneous classrooms very difficult. She admits that dividing the students into ability
    levels would make the teaching easier, but worries that it may affect the self-esteem
    of the weaker worse than a more egalitarian system Similarly, Terttu (FMS) thinks that the
    class size is a detriment to the students’ learning. Even though Finnish schools have relatively
    small class sizes, she thinks that a group of twenty is too large, since she
    does not have time for all of the students: “You don’t have enough time for everyone
    … All children have to be in the same class.
    That is not so nice. You have the
    better pupils. I can’t give them as much
    as I want. You have to go so slowly in
    the classroom.” Curiously, Jukka E.
    (DL) thinks that the special education students need more support and the
    education system needs to improve in that area.

    Miikka (FL) describes how he will give extra work to students
    who want to have more academic challenges, but admits that “they can get quite
    good grades, excellent grades, by doing nothing actually, or very little.” Miikka (FL) describes discussion in
    educational circles about creating schools and universities for academically
    talented students: 3 Everyone has the same chances…One problem is that it can
    be too easy for talented students. There has been now discussion in Finland if
    there should be schools and universities for talented students… I think it will
    happen, but I don’t know if it is good, but it will happen, I think so. I am also afraid there will be private
    schools again in Finland in the future … [There] will be more rich people and
    more poor people, and then will come so [many] problems in comprehensive
    schools that some day quite soon …
    parents will demand that we should have private schools again, and that is quite sad.
    Linda (AL), however, feels the love of reading has declined
    in the younger generation, as they tend to gravitate more to video games and
    television. Miikka (FL), also a teacher
    of mother tongue, also cites a decline in reading interest and an increase of
    video game and computer play. Saij a
    (BL) agrees. As a teacher of Finnish, she feels that she has difficulty motivating
    her students to learn: “I think my subject is not the … easiest one to teach. They don’t read so much, newspapers or
    novels.” Her students, especially the
    boys, do not like their assignments in Finnish language. She also thinks the respect for teachers has
    declined in this past generation. Miikka
    (FL) also thinks his students do not respect their teachers: “They don’t
    respect the teachers. They respect them
    very little … I think it has changed a
    lot in recent years. In Helsinki, it was
    actually earlier. When I came here six
    years ago, I thought this was
    heaven. I thought it was incredible,
    how the children were like that after
    Helsinki, but now I think it is the same.

    Linda (AL) notes deficiency in the amount of time available
    for subjects. With more time, she would
    implement more creative activities, such as speech and drama, into her
    lessons. Saij a (BL) also thinks that
    her students need more arts subjects like drama and art. She worries that they consider mathematics as
    the only important subject. Shefeels
    countries such as Sweden, Norway, and England have better arts programs than in
    Finnish schools. Arts subjects,
    according to Saij a, help the students get to know themselves. Maarit (DMS), a Finnish-speaker, thinks that
    schools need to spend more time cultivating social skills.

  • Raf Feys

    View of Finnish teachers versus view of Pasi Sahlberg
    Oxford- Prof. Jennifer Chung ( AN INVESTIGATION OF REASONS FOR FINLAND’S SUCCESS IN PISA (University of Oxford 2008).
    “Many of the teachers mentioned the converse of the great strength of Finnish education (= de grote aandacht voor kinderen met leerproblemen) as the great weakness. Jukka S. (BM) believes that school does not provide enough challenges for intelligent students: “I think my only concern is that we give lots of support to those pupils who are underachievers, and we don’t give that much to the brightest pupils. I find it a problem, since I think, for the future of a whole nation, those pupils who are really the stars should be supported, given some more challenges, given some more difficulty in their exercises and so on. To not just spend their time here but to make some effort and have the idea to become something, no matter what field you are choosing, you must not only be talented like they are, but work hard. That is needed. “
    Pia (EL) feels that the schools do not motivate very intelligent students to work. She thinks the schools should provide more challenges for the academically talented students. In fact, she thinks the current school system in Finland does not provide well for its students. Mixed-ability classrooms, she feels, are worse than the previous selective system: “ I think this school is for nobody. That is my private opinion. Actually I think so, because when you have all these people at mixed levels in your class, then you have to concentrate on the ones who need the most help, of course. Those who are really good, they get lazy. “
    Pia believes these students become bored and lazy, and float through school with no study skills. Jonny (EM) describes how comprehensive education places the academically gifted at a disadvantage: “We have lost a great possibility when we don’t have the segregated levels of math and natural sciences… That should be once again taken back and started with. The good talents are now torturing themselves with not very interesting education and teaching in classes that aren’t for their best.
    Pia (EL) finds the PISA frenzy about Finland amusing, since she believes the schools have declined in recent years: “I think [the attention] is quite funny because school isn’t as good as it used to be … I used to be proud of being a teacher and proud of this school, but I can’t say I ’m proud any more.”
    Aino (BS) states that the evenness and equality of the education system has a “dark side.” Teaching to the “middle student” in a class of heterogeneous ability bores the gifted students, who commonly do not perform well in school. Maarit (DMS) finds teaching heterogeneous classrooms very difficult. She admits that dividing the students into ability levels would make the teaching easier, but worries that it may affect the self-esteem of the weaker worse than a more egalitarian system Similarly, Terttu (FMS) thinks that the class size is a detriment to the students’ learning. Even though Finnish schools have relatively small class sizes, she thinks that a group of twenty is too large, since she does not have time for all of the students: “You don’t have enough time for everyone … All children have to be in the same class. That is not so nice. You have the better pupils. I can’t give them as much as I want. You have to go so slowly in the classroom.” Curiously, Jukka E. (DL) thinks that the special education students need more support and the education system needs to improve in that area.
    Miikka (FL) describes how he will give extra work to students who want to have more academic challenges, but admits that “they can get quite good grades, excellent grades, by doing nothing actually, or very little.” Miikka (FL) describes discussion in educational circles about creating schools and universities for academically talented students: 3 Everyone has the same chances…One problem is that it can be too easy for talented students. There has been now discussion in Finland if there should be schools and universities for talented students… I think it will happen, but I don’t know if it is good, but it will happen, I think so. I am also afraid there will be private schools again in Finland in the future … [There] will be more rich people and more poor people, and then will come so [many] problems in comprehensive schools that some day quite soon … parents will demand that we should have private schools again, and that is quite sad.

    Linda (AL), however, feels the love of reading has declined in the younger generation, as they tend to gravitate more to video games and television. Miikka (FL), also a teacher of mother tongue, also cites a decline in reading interest and an increase of video game and computer play. Saij a (BL) agrees. As a teacher of Finnish, she feels that she has difficulty motivating her students to learn: “I think my subject is not the … easiest one to teach. They don’t read so much, newspapers or novels.” Her students, especially the boys, do not like their assignments in Finnish language. She also thinks the respect for teachers has declined in this past generation. Miikka (FL) also thinks his students do not respect their teachers: “They don’t respect the teachers. They respect them very little … I think it has changed a lot in recent years. In Helsinki, it was actually earlier. When I came here six years ago, I thought this was heaven. I thought it was incredible, how the children were like that after Helsinki, but now I think it is the same.
    Linda (AL) notes deficiency in the amount of time available for subjects. With more time, she would implement more creative activities, such as speech and drama, into her lessons. Saij a (BL) also thinks that her students need more arts subjects like drama and art. She worries that they consider mathematics as the only important subject. Shefeels countries such as Sweden, Norway, and England have better arts programs than in Finnish schools. Arts subjects, according to Saij a, help the students get to know themselves. Maarit (DMS), a Finnish-speaker, thinks that schools need to spend more time cultivating social skills.