Much has been made of the Finnish style of education in the past year or two. Some have speculated that this is due to the homogenous culture that Finland has, due to being in such an isolated and cold place. Whatever the reason, it has been praised worldwide, and now more evidence is suggesting that the Finns are getting it right.
Finland’s education system has been admired internationally for the fact that its 15-year-olds have had among the highest standards in reading, math and science in comparison with most developed countries. This has been true for the past ten years, and is astonishing for such a small country.
Educators and policy pundits have attributed this to the value placed on teaching. It is just as hard to claim a spot in teacher training as it is in the law schools.
However, what we are also seeing is the value placed on getting children who are not born in Finland to the same standards that their native born-peers are. Typically, 25 hours a week, a child is placed in a class of four with a teacher and teaching assistant. It takes anywhere between six months and a year before students are evaluated to have mastered Finnish. At this point, they are deemed ready to go back to their own class grade and peer group. They have already been immersed with other children their own age and class in sports and art classes, so they will not be shoved into a new situation completely.
Foreign-born citizens make up only 5% of Finland’s population, which is low against the 11.5% across the UK. However, gains are being made in Finland’s immigrant population, making it one of the fastest-growing European countries. The country has seen a 300% increase in immigration since 2000. The projection for Helsinki is that by 2020, one fifth of the population will be foreign-born, with the majority having moved from a Slavic country, e.g. Russia, Estonia, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.
In America, the first obstacle to this kind of education that will get thrown up in many states is that of money. According to the Department of Education in Helsinki, only 2% of students require state-funded tuition in a language that is not Finnish.
Most views of Finnish education rely on the fact that it is a small country and the immigration has not reached the proportions reached by most other countries.
I can’t help but think that there is something to the value Finland places on teachers and education. Perhaps it is having a culture that values the minds of its members even at a very young age that gives them the upper hand.
Photo credit: AFS-USA international