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Monday, November 12, 2012

Finnish Lessons

  No, I am not learning how to speak Finnish.  Finnish Lessons is the title of Dr. Pasi Sahlberg's book about the Finnish Education system.  Dr. Sahlberg is Director General of CIMO (the Ministry of Education) in Helsinki, Finland.  He was at the Doubletree Inn in Tucson on Saturday for FinnFest, where I heard him speak.  

    The Finnish educational system is a world leader in educating students who achieve at the highest levels, particularly in math and science.  I was amazed at the striking differences in philosophies between the Finnish and American systems. You know I like lists, so here's another one. 


1.  Students learn well and there are very small differences between schools' performance levels. 

2.  Students don't start school until the age of 7.
3.  Only 10% of the applicants who apply are accepted into teacher education programs, thus giving Finland the most competitive teacher education program in the world.  (Dr. Sahlberg noted that it is "harder to get into the teacher education program for primary teachers than it is to get into medical school in Finland.")
4.  School lunch is free for all students in Finland.
5.  Education in Finland is not standardized but customized to each student's needs.
6.  About 50% of all students in Finland will have received some sort of sort of special education, personalized help, or individual guidance by the time they leave comprehensive school at the age of 16.
7.  Students do not take tests until the end of their time in comprehensive school (at age 16).
8.  Teachers are given great autonomy in the classroom but are also given access to large doses of ongoing and purposeful  professional development.
9.  Everything in Finland's education system is geared toward servicing the needs and well-being of each individual student.  At school, if students don't feel well, there is access to medical help, dentists, and counselors.  
10.  Teachers stay in the profession, for the most part, for life.  The public trust in teachers is high.  

     Finland did not always have such an efficacious system of education.  School reform took place in 1970 and emphasized providing an excellent education for all children.  The form and content of curricula would focus on developing the "individual, holistic personalities of children."  The Finnish "re-visioning" of education was the foundation for establishing the future of the country. 

   Dr. Sahlberg encouraged us to look at the Finnish education system as a springboard for educational reform. The success of their system of educating students who are global top academic performers can be attributed to child-centeredness, rigorous and
selective teacher training programs, and the overwhelming support of the Finnish public for education. Finnish Lessons takes a refreshing look at educational reform and how it fuels a high performing society by investing in human and social capital.

Here's the link to Pasi Sahlberg's blog:    

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