10 false ideas on education in Finland

Rosa María Torres
Less is more . e-volv

1. FALSE: Finland has the highest investment in education

Finland allocates 11.2% of its public budget to education, from early childhood to higher education, including the latter (the Ministry of Education and Culture deals with the whole system). 

The average in OECD countries is 12%. Many countries with poorer learning outcomes and not providing free education have higher education budgets (for example Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, or the UK).

Education is free, including transportation and a daily school meal for all students. (Textbooks are not free in higher secondary education). 

- OECD, Education at a Glance 2015 (2012 data).

2. FALSE: The secret is more time dedicated to school 

Finland is the OECD country that dedicates less time to school education.
Schooling starts at age 7. 180 days a year, less school hours, less homework. 

A teacher teaches an average of 600 hours a year, 4 classes a day or less. (A school teacher in the United States teaches 1.080 hours a year, 5 or 6 classes a day). 

The formula is less class time, more and longer recesses (75 minutes in total).

Finland is the OECD country with the least homework. Students have more free time to play, to engage in physical activity, to learn out of school, to be with family and friends.  

3. FALSE: Intensive use of technology for teaching and learning in schools

The Finnish school system trusts teachers' skills and expertise. Finland's education strength is pedagogy, not technology. ICTs are at the service of pedagogy rather the other way round. 

Finland is back from some illusions created by technologies over the past decades. It ratifies the importance of handwriting, of reading on paper, of not relying solely on keyboards and screens. 

ICTs are not confined to laboratories any more. They are incorporated to classrooms and other learning spaces within the schools.

4. FALSE: Finland has great education infrastructure

A few modern and innovative school buildings have been built over the past few years. But most school buildings have been operating for many years, and are well maintained.

The key is the organization and use of space, and the creation of a stimulating and informal learning environment. Everything aims at generating collaboration, group work, peer learning, in and out of classrooms.

Class groups are small (max. 20 students per class) so as to facilitate interaction and personalized attention. This is considered especially important in the first two grades.

5. FALSE: Teacher candidates are selected from "best students"

"The best" are not necessarily those with the best grades or the most titles.

Several aspects are valued and observed in the selection of "future best teachers": motivation, attitude towards lifelong learning, reading habits, critical thinking, creativity, artistic and communication skills, knowledge of languages, values such as empathy, perseverance and social commitment. 
6. FALSE: Finland has the highest teacher salaries

Teacher salaries in Finland are below the OECD average.

The key behind teachers' excellent performance is not the economic incentive. There are other factors explaining their motivation and professionalism.

Finnish teachers are carefully selected, trained with high quality standards, and socially respected. They enjoy professional autonomy and take decisions every day in their work. The education administration, parents and the whole society trust them. They feel important and respected for what they do.

7. FALSE: Teachers are not unionized

95% of Finnish teachers are unionized.

The Finnish teacher union (OAJ) is strong and a main actor in education and education reform in the country. Its 120.400 members come from all levels of the education system, from early childhood education to higher education. 

8. FALSE: Finland applies standardized tests 

Finland is not a fan of standardized tests. It does not believe in them it avoids them. It applies one single standardized test to students after they are 16 of years of age. 

The main concern of the school system is learning, not grading or testing. Less time devoted to testing, more time devoted to teaching and learning. 

There is no teacher evaluation system in place. No standardized tests are applied to teachers. 

9. FALSE: Finland sets and publishes rankings 

Finland encourages collaboration, not competition, between learners, teachers and schools. Consequently, it avoids ranking them

It does not publish learning outcomes. 

Finland's objective has never been to be the best in the world, not even in Europe. The objective remains being the best education system for its own students. 

10. FALSE: Finland is satisfied with its education system and its learning outcomes  

Despite its top performance in PISA and its many top economic, social and cultural indicators, Finland is dissatisfied, always looking for ways to make education more meaningful and pleasurable for students. 

The country is currently engaged in a holistic and profound basic education curriculum reform. It is also rethinking the role of ICTs in teaching and learning, and revisiting early childhood education. 

Related texts in this blog 
» Rosa María Torres, FINLANDIA
» Rosa María Torres, Sobre la educación en Finlandia | On education in Finland

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