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US vs. Finland… Again

This month’s edition of the Smithsonian Magazine has an article that asks the questions Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? Of course, the major theme of the piece is not just a profile of that country’s educational system but also comparing it with schools and students in the US, and especially our continuing efforts at “reform”.

Such international comparisons are pretty much meaningless for a variety of reasons but we seem to wallow in them anyway. So, if we’re going to play that game, what are some factors that make Finland’s schools “better”?

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians.

The article has much more and is worth a read.

However, if you really want to compare Finland and the US when it comes to the education of our children, for me the main take-away from this article is not about curriculum or testing or school competition or how teachers are paid or any of the other crap that forms the core of discussions about improving our education system.

No, it’s that Finland has a society and government that genuinely cares about and supports the well-being of all kids and their families.

And the US, not so much and getting worse.


  1. Tom

    That whole article basically made me cry. What we ought to do isn’t that hard but I don’t see any real chance of it happening.

  2. Mark

    I saw this the other day. As long as public education is a target for budget cutters and “no-taxers”, as long as it’s cool to be ignorant, as long as we feel entitled and superior, as long as schools function as a de facto social safety net, and until community means more than wrapping one’s self in an English-speaking flag, we will remain where we are or worse.

  3. Lawrence

    I’ve lived in Finland for almost 40 years (originally from England). And can honestly say that I have been saddened by the decline in education in the UK and the USA.
    One reason could be the way both UK and US governments perceive education. To them it is a cost and not an investment (except during election time).

  4. Linda

    Although there are myriad positives to the above described situation in Finland (though, without cited sources, I’m just taking their word for it, always dangerous), we do not live in a socialist society. I’m all for less competition, less stress, more time for kids to be kids. I’m less stoked about the government intrustion: informing my employers how much time to grant me for maternity leave, how much they pay the teachers, what food they feed to my children, where they’ll drive my children(!)…I don’t want them paying me to have children. Less infrastructure would allow me to keep my cash to raise my own children and arrange for those details myself: I’m perfectly capable of it, as are the majority of Americans, whether or not they see fit to exercise their rights and intelligence.

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