The most recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam indicate that there are lessons for the US from Finland’s Education System. Among the 72 nations participating in the exam, the US placed in the middle or below average. When educators look for answers, they often look to the top countries, especially Finland, which is regarded by many as a model for Western Education.
Finland has a population of 5.5 million people who speak the same language. The poverty rate is under six percent, well below the population and poverty rate of the United States. Social and economic diversity are major concerns in the US, but not so much in Finland.
However, education is a national priority in Finland. Over 55 percent of education funding comes from federal dollars and caters to working families. All children receive free meals, health care, and child care outside of school. Students start formal schooling at age 7. Before that, they attend compulsory state sponsored kindergarten, featuring outdoor play and exploration.
Class sizes average around 20. There is little standardized testing. High school has two tracks, general academic and vocational. The student who choose the vocational track number almost 40 percent of the total number of high school students. Vocational education includes computer coding and engineering.
“Finland is probably the best example of a whole-child education that there is at a national level,” says Sean Slade, senior director of global outreach for ASCD. He believes this is because of the Finnish emphasis on overall health, well-being, and equity.
“You really have to put an education system in the context of its culture,” said John Burkey, superintendent of Huntley Community School District in Illinois. Burkey was part of a delegation who toured schools in Finland over the summer. “You can’t say, ‘Wow, they’re No. 1 in the world, we’re going to copy that.’ Finland operates in its societal framework. We can learn from them but we can’t replicate everything.”