Finland.  If a picture speaks a thousand words, what can we infer from the following?:

Finnish Envy

As discussed last week, Finland has been a hot topic in education circles for quite some time, and certainly for good reason.

But what can we learn?  And more importantly, what can we apply?

I don’t know about you, but as a teacher in the American education system where we change curriculum and methodologies faster than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers change coaches,  I think it’s paramount to take a critical look at this before yet even more reform.

If you don’t have time to read Gabriel Dahlgren’s Real Finnish Lessons or watch this interview, here are some of the key takeaways:

Let’s start with the spoiler from last week:

Takeaway 1: Student-centered teaching and innovative teaching methodologies are NOT the reason for Finland’s success.  In fact, a recent decline has been seen in Finland, coinciding with an increase in the implementation of these “new-age” teaching methods and philosophies.

Traditional teaching.  “Sage on the stage.”  This has heavily frowned upon today, perhaps even categorized as sin by some? However, the envied academic success of Finland was evident way before this trend of new-age teaching methodologies infiltrated their schools.  And yes, letting go of this “antiquated” teaching style does seem to coincide with the recent decline in Finland’s much sought after success.

But does correlation equal causation in this case?

Takeaway 2:  Finland has some extremely bright teachers.  Most already know this, but here are some additional details that you may not know.

Interestingly, as an autonomous region of Russia seeking independence, teachers became the vanguard of Finland.  In their struggle for nationalism, draconian methods of teacher selection came to be, including a code of conduct where they couldn’t date, dance, or smoke.

By 1979, all teachers were required to have a master’s degree, and these teachers in Finland fall within the top 10% of students entering the workforce, much different than here in America.  However, according to Gabriel Dahlgren, education was booming way before these teachers were on the job market, causing him to conclude that having the smartest teachers is not the fundamental reason behind their performance.  

Takeaway 3:  Testing

There is a misperception that students aren’t tested often in Finland.  Dahlgren, in his research, says that this simply is not true.  What was not stated was the prevalence of such high-stakes tests that pervades the American education system, but it is false to believe that Finnish students are rarely tested.

Takeaway 4:  Immigration

Finland has definitely not faced such heavy and widespread immigration as that experienced by the American education system, but here’s an important point made:

It is highly futile to look at a country and pick a characteristic that is direct evidence linked to their success.

Seemingly contradicting this point, there is one particular characteristic that Dahlgren attributes to most likely fueling Finland’s success… and recent decline.

 Next week, Part 3, the final in this series of posts, will reveal and discuss this characteristic!