United Nations ranks Finland education system No #1 in the world, Newsweek ranks Finland at the top position, and the USA at 26th position. PISA International Assessment System, arguably the toughest assessment in the world ranked Finland No #1.
Students from Finland outperform peers in as many as 43 other nations - including the United States, Germany and Japan - in mathematics, science and reading skills. Educational researchers are studying the system to see why the students are doing so well.
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance, performed first in 2000 and repeated every three years. Conducted by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this test is electronically delivered across 35 countries, including Denmark, Korea, China and Iceland. In the inception year 2000, it declared Finland the winner, drawing world attention to the Finns system. Since then, in all the three PISA tests since held, Finland finished among the top three.
It is said, what has helped Finland consistently come out on the top, springs directly from education policies set in motion some 40 years ago. This system is rooted in strong salient features.
A system, where students study for less number of hours per day. Typically, students have two - three classes, attend school for sometimes 2-3 hours a day. Sometimes, they may come to school at 11am and leave at 3pm, having attended their chosen classes in a day. Students have the autonomy to decide in how much time they want to finish the courses, and within this framework there is complete freedom.
In primary school, students often stay with the same teacher for a long time, so that teaching patterns get well established. Small class sizes ensure that there is one on one attention. A free system of education for all, cost of tuition, meals, learning material, transportation, books all centrally funded. When student turn seven, they attend a compulsory free education which is irrespective of socio economic and cultural backgrounds.
A system that is flexible and open. Use of Moodle and Online systems where students can share projects together, share problems and challenges together. The system provides the ability to integrate current requirements like courses in social media marketing within curriculum. In senior school, nearly 45% choose vocational stream over academics. This policy target was set a decade ago, to help the economic growth of the county though skills development. The system is flexible so that after vocational studies, one can go back to university or to mainstream academics.
A system, where teachers are hardly ever evaluated. The biggest contributor in the system is the backbone of the teacher education. It is called the research based teacher education system where students keenly aspire to be teachers. Teaching profession is well respected. The number of seats available in teaching colleges is far less than the number of aspiring students. Aspiring teachers, spend considerable time, observating classes conducted by veteran teachers. Veterans are often requested to come back and teach after many years of retirement.
In a system where there is no coercion, no evaluation and assessment, the key question is then, how do students perform so well?
What is their motivation towards learning? The teachers focus on three simple questions: What did you see? How can you do it differently? What are your thoughts about it? These three questions have helped students think, learn and innovate.
Excellence is a journey not a destination. But, Finns have managed to make excellence in education both a journey as well as a destination.
— The writer is an entrepreneur and educationist