One of the links that wound up in my Potential Rants folder this week compares American schools to those in Finland. Among other things, the Finnish spend less per pupil than most US schools, have relatively larger classes ("approaching 30"? Mine were rarely less than that), and have the world’s highest literacy rate. So how did they do it and how can we copy it?
The simple answer is that much of it has to do with their culture and we can’t copy it. Start with this difference:
If one trait sets Finland apart from many other countries, it is the quality and social standing of its teachers, said Barry Macgaw, the director for education at the O.E.C.D. All teachers in Finland must have at least a master’s degree, and while they are no better paid than teachers in other countries, the profession is highly respected. Many more people want to become teachers after graduating from upper schools than universities can actually handle, so the vast majority are turned down.
"Teaching is the No. 1," Outi Pihlman, the English teacher at Suutarila Lower Comprehensive School, said about a recent survey asking teenagers to name their favorite profession. "At that age, you would think they would want anything but to go back to school."
The cultural stature of teachers is reflective of the overall value placed on education by the Finland people (and most of Scandinavia). I was also struck by the flexibility teachers have to adapt lessons to fit their students and the fact that art, music, foreign language (English) and manual skills (woodworking, sewing and knitting) are mandatory for all students. Those are a couple of things about Finland’s educational system we can and should copy.