Why do students from Finland perform at the top or near the top in reading, mathematics and science, in industrialized countries?
An international assessment is offered every three years. The last one was in 2015 and more than 70 countries participated. Finland’s ranking dropped to 12 in that assessment, but it was still well ahead of the United States, which came in at No. 36.
There are many reasons why Finland’s schools are near the top in educational achievement. I will have more to say about the Finnish education system in future commentaries, but we should note that Finnish students take only one standardized test at the end of high school or at 15 years of age. This examination is graded by teachers and not computers. Controversial and complex topics are included in the test. One example is: In what sense are happiness, the good life, and well-being ethical concepts? Students are regularly asked to demonstrate how well they cope with political issues, the losing of a job, and with issues of war and peace.
Other factors that contribute to Finland’s success with education are that the teaching profession is revered and there is a high barrier to entry. A teacher is given the same or higher status than is a physician or a lawyer. Only one in 10 students who apply to teacher education programs are admitted. All teachers must have a Master’s degree. One thing that I found fascinating is that an overwhelming percentage of Finns prefer to be married to a teacher. Also, unlike in the United States, turnover in the teaching profession is low. Teachers in Finland have better working conditions, are more respected, and actually have more time for professional development and are not overworked as are American teachers.
As I have said, money alone will not fix the deficiencies of our K-12 educational system. What is needed are changes in educational practices.