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A look at the aspects of a good education

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company.

Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else.

They seem to relish the challenges. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment PISAa standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries and a few cities in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide.

In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland.

There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians.

Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.

The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD. Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17. A look at the aspects of a good education Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States. Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns.

They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much.

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?

A tangle of multicolored threads topped her copper hair like a painted wig. The 20-year teacher was trying out her look for Vappu, the day teachers and children come to school in riotous costumes to celebrate May Day. The morning sun poured through the slate and lemon linen shades onto containers of Easter grass growing on the wooden sills.

Little hats, coats, shoes stowed in their cubbies, the children wiggled next to their desks in their stocking feet, waiting for a turn to tell their tale from the playground. They had just returned from their regular 15 minutes of playtime outdoors between lessons. At a smart board at the front of the room, Rintola ushered the class through the principles of base ten.

One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. After 40 minutes it was time for a hot lunch in the cathedral-like cafeteria. 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. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. Why stress them out? 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.

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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. Even so, Rintola said her children arrived last August miles apart in reading and language levels. By April, nearly every child in the class was reading, and most were writing. The national goal for the past five years has been to mainstream all children. There are exceptions, though, however rare. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish.

It is designed to help children keep up with their subjects while they conquer the language. Author Lynnell Hancock says that an attitude of doing "whatever it takes" drives not only Kirkkojarvi principal Kari Louhivuori, shown here, but also Finland's 62,000 other professional educators in 3,500 public schools from Lapland to Turku.

Stuart Conway "Play is important at this age," says veteran Kirkkojarvi teacher Maija Rintola with a few of her twenty-three 7- and 8-year-old first graders. Stuart Conway Finland's schools have not always been so freewheeling. Timo Heikkinen, who is principal of the Kallahti school in Helsinki, shown here, remembers a time when most of his high-school teachers simply dictated to the open notebooks of compliant children.

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Stuart Conway Helsinki's Siilitie schoolteacher Aleksi Gustafsson, with first graders taking his measure, developed his "outdoor math" curriculum at a free workshop for teachers. Still, says Pasi Sahlberg, "we managed to keep our freedom. Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland; U. Department of Education; Graphic by 5W Infographics Finland does not require any mandated standard tests.

Programme for International Student Assessment Test Scores; Infographic by 5W Infographics Rintola will teach the same children next year and possibly the next five years, depending on the needs of the school. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry. Not until sixth grade will kids have the option to sit for a district-wide exam, and then only if the classroom teacher agrees to participate.

Most do, out of curiosity. Results are not publicized. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. The 50-year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores.

Half of its 200 first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks.

They really learn with it. There is one teacher or assistant in Siilitie for every seven students. In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching.

Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week.

Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it.

  1. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Make Lifelong Friends One of the biggest benefits of studying abroad is the opportunity to meet new lifelong friends from different backgrounds.
  2. When they arrive in their new host country, they are fascinated by the distinct cultural perspectives.
  3. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies. One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason.
  4. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St.
  5. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg.

Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous. Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education.

The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love or pronounce.

In 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some 600 years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917, Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war. Three more wars between 1939 and 1945—two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians.

In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody.

It all came out of a need to survive. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come.

  • Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators;
  • Needless to say, all of these are very attractive to future employers;
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  • National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages.

Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions.

Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools grades 10 through 12.

  1. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States.
  2. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg.
  3. Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it.
  4. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish.

From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg.

By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils.