How Finland makes its schools work for all

SHARE How Finland makes its schools work for all
SHARE How Finland makes its schools work for all

If Finland can do it, why can’t we?

I went to a fascinating lecture on Saturday by Finnish educator and researcher Pasi Sahlberg, who explained how Finland has dramatically improved all its schools. Sahlberg spoke at the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Over the last 40 years Finnish achievement jumped dramatically, from well below international averages to well above.

How they’d do it?

By investing in equity — trying to blunt the differences in home life and economics that are usually the key predictor of a child’s academic future. Finland invested in preschool, day care, health care in schools and more. Finland significantly outpaces the U.S. on key measures of equity, including child poverty and child well-being.

As equity improved in Finland, so did test scores.

But that’s not all Finland did. It improved its schools of education and dramatically improved the caliber of education students. Just 10 percent of applicants are admitted to Finnish programs, which culminate in a master’s degree. Each local Finnish school also gives its teachers significant autonomy and a voice in decision-making, Sahlberg said.

And there are no standardized tests until the end of high school. The absence of such tests each year frees up time for instruction, encourages collaboration between teachers and allows time for the other things Finland prioritizes: play, arts and music.

Of course Finland is different than the U.S., far less diverse and much smaller. Some lessons are clearly not transferable. But there is still much to be learned, particularly since Finland didn’t start off at the top of the international pack. The government made changes, focused on equity, and propelled Finland there.

I don’t know what all this costs. To learn more, I picked up a copy of Sahlberg’s well-regarded book,“Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland.”

I’m sure you can pick apart Sahlberg’s view of Finland’s evolution. Please share what you know, what I should know.

But as a starting place, Sahlberg painted a pretty inspiring picture of what happens when a country commits to making smart, common sense investments.

Click here to review Sahlberg’s slide show to learn more.

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