Is this School Heaven? No, it’s Finland

Metaphor Alert: I have been to the mountaintop. I have trodden sacred ground. I have seen the light. I have been to Finland. It’s the place where teachers go after they die if they’ve been good and taught the Whole Blessed Child; if they’ve rejected the hell of Obsessive Standardized Testing.

It says something about the upside-down world we live in where we are called on to keep believing in the false and failed prophets of absurd school proposals they like to call “reform” – privatize for profit, have children compete with each other for the winner’s crown or the loser label. Here in the United States, we’re told this will hold back the demon – our “Global Competition”.IMG_3646

Well, let’s end the metaphor here or I’ll run out of air-quotes. Let’s talk science. Because our Global Competition is basically every country doing the opposite of what school privateers and test profiteers tell us to have faith in.

Singapore doesn’t use test scores to shame teachers. Canada doesn’t have charter franchises. Korea doesn’t have short-cut preparation for teachers. This is an embarrassment to the Global Education Reform Movement (the GERM) that rolls out economic development plans to entire countries suggesting they will become richer countries if they privatize, standardize and de-professionalize education.

None of the top performing countries got there with this stuff. And these guys have no idea what to do with smart, little Finland.

Finland is no mystery and it is no miracle. They simply have a very good system’s approach to school improvement. They decided 40 years ago that in a country with few natural resources, they would do well to develop the human beings in their society. They believed that healthy, well-educated, compassionate human beings should form the foundation, not only of a good economy, but of good families, neighbors, and even a good democracy.

They did their homework. They saw that private competition in school systems tended to shake out with wealthFullSizeRender[8]y families getting more for their kids than middle class and poor families. As they had no brains to waste, they decided to invest in one, good public system where all kids would get what they needed whether their parents were rich or not.

They decided to invest heavily in teacher recruitment and teacher preparation. By design, they made the colleges of education a highly elite program where only the top university students were accepted with all expenses paid.

There is a one-year residency under a top teacher for graduates. All teachers have master’s degrees related to their teaching assignments. They make it impossible to hire a bad teacher.

There are no fast-track, short-cut, temporary teachers. There is no Teach for Finland. Trust is the key word that comes from politicians, parents, academicians, and unions – after a top notch teacher training for top ranked students; trust rules.

And they put in the hands of these skilled, career educators the tools, technology and time to collaborate, design, intervene and assess instruction, teaching and learning on the school building level. (There are no state standardized tests except for the one at the end of 6th grade to guide intensive support to students to learn and the other at the end of high school to determine placement in higher education should you choose to attend.)

They have the support staff they need to personalize the learning experience with tutors and nurses and psychologists and librarians and counselors.

The principals in these schools are teachers, and they are required to teach at least one class. They are colleagues with the faculty and staff. The parents and students are included in the learning process. There is a natural bridge – a true relationship – between home and school.

The design is comprehensive. Universal preschool is available to all, and well over 90% of families take advantage of it. For high school students who qualify, universities and trade schools are free. Students know that if they work hard, high education is waiting for them. None of their families lose sleep, as our families do, over crushing college debt.


I walked through the halls of these schools. I talked with students and teachers and principals and parents and support staff. These are good people. They believe deeply in the work they do, and they see the results of carefully developing top professionals, giving them the tools, time, support and authority to do their jobs, and continually focusing on the whole child – critical, creative mind; healthy body and ethnical, compassionate character – making decisions on the school level as needs and opportunities arise.

On my last day in Helsinki, I spoke at the educator’s conference of the union, Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ). I spoke about the Global Education Reform Movement and it’s focus on privatization with school vouchers and unreliable franchise charters; fast-track teacher training with scripted textbooks and more and more states where decisions like passing or flunking students were being made by state legislators and governors and people who had never met the students.

And I told them that we had so much to learn from them.

FullSizeRender[9]
The rooster, a national symbol of good education in Finland. He was limping due to the threat of Ed reforms and budget cuts!
After my talk, one teacher came up to me and said she was worried that perhaps their politicians were learning from us. She said that they are now talking about changing what has made them so successful. Maybe our teachers didn’t need as much training, and they could do it cheaper. Maybe we didn’t need universal preschool or vocational programs. Maybe we needed to focus on more testing.

This teacher wondered how politicians could be so foolish as to jeopardize something that took so long to build and though far from perfect, was working as well as any system in the world.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might not be foolish politicians at all, but devilishly clever people who had no interest in the education of children who did not produce profit. It occurs to me that the Finnish politicians that put their country on the right path 40 years ago are now gone. New politicians with new allies are in power. And Finland is a problem to the GERM. The problem is that it exists. That it succeeds.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the patient GERM will start to pick it apart until they can erode public trust in a good system – something even the best United States public schools have experienced for decades.

But we are champions for the whole child. We will defend the whole child here. We will defend the whole child abroad. We will defend common sense and hard work and equity and quality. The GERM will come, even to Finland. And this time we will be ready.

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113 Responses to “Is this School Heaven? No, it’s Finland”

  1. Andy Goldstein

    Beautiful post, Lily. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Mrs P Dutta

      Very well written and expressed the concern about school education .I’m in the Indian education field we have a massive number of interested and hard working students but some where the quality and quantity is not matching and every parent,children want to directly link it to the quick employment.The number of willing teachers are taking back seat or we may say that teaching is the last preference as job..The reading ,writing habit is substituted by I-PAD The thinking process is covered by TV and advertisements. The society is not ready to keep the system to the individual nation’s need but Internationalize it.,another materialistic world creation. creating space for education as business.

      Reply
  2. Bob ray

    I’m the media relations director for the Illinois Education Association. This article should be widely publicized. It is beautifully written and very persuasive.

    Reply
    • MD

      Beautifully written? This article would be an embarrassment if publicized. It has numerous mistakes and reads like a piece of sensationalized tabloid fluff. I would hope we all could expect more from one of the supposed leaders in the field of education.

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      • Linda Myrick

        Who are you, MD? I never pay too much attention to people who don’t sign their names. If you have the courage of your convictions, I would ask that you do so under your own name and say specifically what is embarrassing, fluff, or not in line with your thinking. Defend your statements (as we teach our students to do).

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      • Cathy Sosnowski

        I have been reading about Finland’s approach for a few years. It seemed a logical thing to do once I discovered it leads the world in education. It surprises me that, when we here in America discovered that we were falling behind, we didn’t automatically start investigating what the most successful educational systems were doing and then start doing that as well.

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        • Mary Ann Preston

          There are a few reasons why we don’t learn from others successes in education. First it is because our education system is run by each state instead of the federal government,another reason is that they are mostly financed by property taxes so that if the school is in a wealthy area it has more advantages than the schools where poor children attend.We also have the fragmented schools systems like the charter schools where public money goes to private companies to educate our children, we have programs for the so called gifted child.One of the top reasons is because of our history of racism in the US we do not plan that all children succeed !!!! Most of all we do not have free higher education and it is so expensive that most students and families have to go into debt to complete higher education.

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          • Petteri Bergius

            Mary Ann, I don’t think it’s a problem that the American educational system is that it’s run by states. After all, Finland has only 5.5 million people, which is close to the size of quite a many states in America. I’m a Finn, who has lived in America (Texas) for 7 years. I wouldn’t discredit the American education completely. One thing that my children have learned at school in America is how to do public speaking and how to present their work. I think there the Finnish system has something to learn, because our system is concentrating on learning, but not so much on presentation of what you learned.

          • Brian Lewis

            having the feds run our schools will certainly make them disaster. they only contribute about 9% and yet they want all control. Every dollar they take from the people is filtered through so much bureaucracy the people are lucky if they see 50 cents worth when it gets back to where its supposed to help. If you really look at the other top countries you will see that NOT EVERYONE GETS TO GO TO COLLEGE JUST BECAUSE THEY WANT TO GO. Those who dont perform dont go. Finland is a tiny blip on the map and is not as big as a great amount of our states are so it is really a state government. Dont compare it to our fed. Thats one reason they may work better is that they are closer to the people and to the people’s will. Now take a look at what the PARENTS REQUIRE OF THE KIDS. In this country the studies show the Asian kids study 4 hrs a day and weekends, the Caucasians about 2 plus some weekend time, the Hispanic about 1 hr. and almost no weekend time and the Black only about 1/2 hr. per day and rare weekend time. So the Fins have a ski team for the Olympics that practice 4 hrs a day and every weekend, the Germans have one that practice 2 hrs. day and most weekends, the Russians practice 1 hr a day and once in a while on the weekends and the U.S. practices 1/2 hr. a day and once a month or so on the weekends. When the Fins win the Gold and we cant make the finals is it because we dont spend enough money or get enough to turn our for our team? Plus in most every country that out performs us they do not have handicapped kids in a regular class if that kids cant perform at that level. They also give tests at around the 6 and 8th grade levels that determine what that kids educational opportunities will be in the future. Finally, if the kids mind is not developed enough to grasp certain things they do NOT advance to the next grade. Any district that has started to retain those who do not meet minimum standards (not as high as grade level standards but high enough to give the kid a fighting chance of understanding at the next level) is RETAINED. Just because the are 7 yrs. old does not mean they are capable of third grade material!!! Bill Russell could not make his jr. high or high school basketball team as he could not perform well enough but he is STILL listed as one of the greatest 50 professional basketball players of all time. When his brain caught up to his body, he could perform at the highest of levels. As a teacher of math in grades 3-high school calculus for 33+ yrs. I have had numerous kids from 5th grade who can learn algebra but high school and even college kids who cant seem to get it but had those same kids as adults in an adult algebra one class say, this is so easy! Lets look at the REAL PROBLEMS AND THE REAL SOLUTIONS!

          • Lisa Coyle

            When my brother was stationed in Germany, he commented that their education system also encouraged students to consider either an academic or a vocational path for their future. They offered students a path into higher education with a degree, or a path into a vocation with an apprenticeship with a master in the field guaranteed as part of the program. Our country still considers “blue collar” work to be less valuable than a college education, though a good mechanic certainly makes a fine living! Not everyone wants to work in an academic field, and we definitely need to have educated people in many vocational careers that provide essential services for our country. As for the money — middle class families are totally excluded! Rich families can pay for it; poor people can receive grants or scholarships, but many of the middle class must rely on loans that resemble a mortgage! One big problem with having different states establish the programs is the incredible inconsistencies between states. We need to look at the world’s successes and make some national choices to strengthen the education of our future!

          • Paavo Carey

            I happen to be of Finnish descent and I have many relatives living in Finland and visit there as often as I can. Yes, it is a wonderful, coordinated educational system producing great results. One should bear in mind though the fact that Finland is a tiny, almost wholly Lutheran country with very, very little diversity. Additionally due to Finland’s social democracy poverty is almost unknown. Finns are unique in the world and that uniqueness extends to the educational system. The major complaint I have heard from Finn’s themselves is that because so much is provided many people do not aspire to greatness as we would define it here in the states. Boredom, complacency and alcoholism remain huge problems for the Finns. Nevertheless it is tempting to move there!

      • Jane

        MD – Guess I’m not well prepared – only have been teaching English for 30+ year – can’t find all the horrible mistakes! Think Lily is doing a great job.

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      • Amelia Bornert

        Alright MD- you are right…there are clearly some letters missing in some minor spots etc etc. I’s a PE teacher and could see that. But despite that let’s all pull back and look at the big picture! Let’s be positive, learn from our mistakes (Lily is still learning as well!), stick together, and WIN!!! Let’s be thankful Lily was able to visit Finland and bring to us her keen observations. Learn from our mistakes-it’s ok to apologize:) And finally to WIN we must stick together and speak with one voice-“What is the NEA’s agenda??” We must demand an answer. Part of my union dues is funneled to NEA. Is NEA powerful enough to twist arms in DC? If NEA fails children, teachers, and our nation another election year we must stick together and find another avenue that will truly result in CHANGE. Maybe Lily will be our leader unaffiliated with NEA in the future? She knows the in’s and outs. She has connections. An organization without money will soon no longer be an organization…
        If we can attack the change we truly want –a push from the back (local) and a push from the front (nationally) simultaneously and organized (stick together) will truly result in acquiring the vision and we will WIN!!!
        In the meantime Good Luck Lily I hope this next election year doesn’t deflate our trust because watching higher up’s “drop the ball” again is inexcusable. (That’s probably the true source of why your getting blasted for the typos)
        People are sick and tired of hearing excuses and expect more of higher up’s.

        Reply
        • Pekka Piipponen

          Dear Amelia! Im a Finn (and a teacher) and I don’t have perfect English skills, but I would like to know what you mean when you say many times word WIN, we must win etc. Maybe the biggest difference between US and Finland (and the school system as well!) is that you try always win…I think our goal is to make just happy people who find their own route in life and be also good citizens in the meanwhile. Is it so important to WIN all the time. In Finland also there’s kids and youngsters who will drop and the suicide numbers are guite high…maybe they are our loosers in the competition… they did not WIN.

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          • Mika Laiti

            Dear Amelia

            I am Sami, native of Finland. I live in the southern City of Tampere and my home village is up north 1000 km.

            My kid gets his sami language lessons online. the other kids are all around lapland (north) and teacher is also online.

            Sun Tzu says something like this: The secret of not lose is in defence and the secret of the victory lies in the mistakes of the enemy.

            So instead of winning one might concentrate on not loosing. And that is what finnish school system does, it is trying to not to loose the valuable kids, the builders of the future.

      • Ameilia Väätäinen

        As a North American Mom, raising children in Finland, I have often thought about the differences between the Canadian and the Finnish educ systems. There is good and bad in both the educ system in BC and the system in Finland. No child is left behind in comprehensive school and support is there for a child who struggles in any subject. The children who do not struggle are perhaps not encouraged enough to challenge themselves. Good or bad? Depends where one stands I suppose. Although the curriculum in the schools is well designed and managed, the books are very good and student workload is manageable. It would benefit Finnish children to be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills and to clearly communicate their views, projects, ideas, etc. Perhaps not going as far as to take on the US habit of debate, but to feel confident and to project this. The majority of Finnish children are very very passive and, quite literally, have no voice in the classroom. This society is socialistic and the school system, with it’s “no children left behind”, supports the ideology of a thoughtful society. However, is it realistic for Finland to remain as insular as it is? Our Finnish children should be more encouraged to look outside of the box if they are going to “compete” in the global markets for jobs, sales, education, etc.

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        • Denise Caposey

          Very astute observation Amelia V. American education takes a lot of hits but we are producing a free twelve year public preporatory education with a college and University System highly regarded globally. Exchange students come to America to experience our educational programs and excel for the most part. You have to want it. We got it. We win!

          Reply
  3. Jill Nippert

    Insightful article!

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  4. Ryan Anderson

    Thank you Lily. We are battle-tested, case-hardened ready. Immunize against the GERM!

    Reply
  5. Ricardo Abreu

    Nice job pointing out the problem, but where’s the plan on how to address it? Soon another election for president will occur and I predict the NEA will endorse whatever Democrat is the candidate regardless of the fact Democrats are also supporters of privatization. So, again, what’s the plan? How can the NEA stand behind privatizers while hoping for change?

    Reply
    • Sarah Martin

      Unfortunately, both Democrats and Republicans are on board with selling education and the future of our students to the highest bidder in the name of “reform” and “choice”. The reality faced by NEA and AFT is to endorse the lesser of two evils until we see a return of candidates who are interested in serving the best interests of our society instead of special interests.

      Reply
      • Brian Lewis

        Actually, as a lifetime NEA member, i think the NEA and AFT stink on identifying the problems and the4 real solutions as much as any other group. Read my longer comment already on here if you truly want to know what to do. All the NEA and AFT leaders do is to blab what they perceive to be what the majority of non thinkers in their organizations want to hear. but when I talk to fellow teachers they mostly seem to agree with what I said on here earlier.

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      • Daniel Vassar

        That would be the typical response of a liberal Democrat. The reason that Finland will never happen here is that education is seen as a business only and the ones who are in the power positions make the rules(laws) also benefit from the rules they make. It’s never about the students only about control and money. Finland’s example is the opposite. It’s only about students success and I heard nothing about control within their system.

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  6. Sue Helms

    I found the article very interesting. I agree with everything they are doing and I agree U.S. schools have lots of problems and need lots of changes. I am also interested in what Finland’s poverty percentage is. Do their parents ‘parent’? These are two very discouraging issues that affect schools in the U.S. Even the best teacher in the world can’t do it all without parent participation.

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    • Mary Lynn Gottler

      I agree with you! What’s the plan??? The NEA represents its own agenda and its not children.

      Reply
    • Brian Lewis

      Its really not even about poverty as I came from parents who could not afford much and we had very little that we did not raise and can ourselves to eat. Still we did well in school, Just because you may not have much does not mean you are stupid or too dumb to help your kid learn and for them to behave in school and study at home. I know a lady who came from Mexico , had five kids and no husband at home. She worked 3 jobs most of the time and cooked all weekend so the kids could feed themselves as she was not home much at their normal mealtimes. In the summer the kids qll helped her in field jobs. All five kids NEVER GOT IN TROUBLE AT SCHOOL OR WITH THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THEY ALL GOT COLLEGE DEGREES and did not have massive debt. My parents could only afford to give me a tank of gas a month and I went to community college, then to a university after 2 yrs. I have three college and university degrees and almost a fourth and I only loan debt for the first and paid it off in 5 yrs of minimum payments. I worked all summer while getting my bachelors and never after. Saved and lived just fine and didnt blow money weekends on party time. I think all kids should start at C.C. as it costs less and its a better education than a university. Studies show the average kid spending at least almost 2 yrs at CC will raise their GPA almost a full letter grade during their jr. year when at the U.

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    • Daniel Vassar

      The problem is that poverty, race, and gender are just excuses used to be a less effective teacher. Those are issues you can do zero to change so they should not be a factor when it comes to teaching and learning.

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  7. Irene Trenholm-Taskar

    I enjoyed your article very much, Lily ! Keep up the great work with NEA. I still believe if the SYSTEM WORKS, DON’T CHANGE IT ! (Other countries are ahead of us in math and science. Early learning in these areas is so important for a strong foundation in our children. I see no benefit for over-testing a student; let them learn it, absorb it, then apply it !

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  8. Joe Fenbert

    You rock Lily! You are just what we need to turn positive attention toward the sacred promise of public education and the teachers who dedicate their life to this mission. I’m from Seattle where we have the 12th Man and the positivity and intelligence of Coach Carroll. I believe you have the same approach: let’s be smart and keep an up beat tempo and attitude. An idea I have to call attention to the countless hours teachers “volunteer” for our communities and kids is to do a nation-wide tracking of hours worked after contract. My wife is a 3rd grade teacher and gets to work at 7:30, comes home for dinner at 6:00, then starts her “night shift” correcting papers and preparing lessons from 7:00 to 9:00 five days a week, and works a minimum of one day on the weekends. Like the Police Officers starting to work to rule around the nation calling attention to what they do to serve society and how much is missed when they don’t do the extras, maybe we take the positive approach, keep working the hours, but tracking them so communities see the amount of time it takes today just to keep afloat as a teacher in a classroom.

    Reply
    • Pekka Piipponen

      HI. I’m 46 year old male teacher from Finland. I have done this job 20 years in primary school and among kids between 8-12 years old. My school days starts about 8.00 am and finishes about 2 pm. I’m doing “homework” 0 hours but sometimes I stay at school for an hour more to fix exams or I have some meeting. I had to plan of course when I was younger but the hours are still far from your wife’s hours. In the weekend no work! When I’m at school I really work and give my energy for the kids, and luckily in Finland we don’t have so much paperwork to fill like lessonplans (noboby watches them because those are in our heads not in the paper). And nobody is inspecting our classrooms or teachers work like in many countries, cause there’s no need to that – we are being trusted. PS. Some teachers do much more hours than me in Finland, I know, I’m not a good example but I’m one ;)

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      • Angela Krogen

        I would like to communicate with you more about Finland and strategies you use to determine what students are going to have potential to receive a College education and which students are suitable towards vocational schools without standard testing..?

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        • Aino Vainiomäki

          Dear Angela Krogen, your question is a really good one and I would like to hear a solution for that. However I don’t believe standard testing offers one. And I’m not alone with my beliefs – not in Finland anyway. I’m only a student with not so much experience from the field but in our teacher education studies in a university we spend a lot of time to address these issues. The baseline is that every student has potential to receive a college education and every student is suitable towards vocational schools. If separating students to the categories in an early age we would end up choosing the path for the child and not so much hear what he or she actually wants. That’s not a source for a long lasting motivation. And motivation is the key to succeed, to learn, to thrive and to be happy. It comes to each students personal motivation and avocation which path to choose. We as teachers should not close the doors in front of the children but to courage them to try harder, try again, try a different thing and to find their inner voice.

          In Finland we have standard tests after the upper secondary school to determine our potential for universities. However the system doesn’t work. Because of the standard testing our upper secondary school has turned into three year education about tests and the test logic instead of learning from the subjects them self. With the standard test the focus is on the scores not on the deep learning. That’s why many universities has arrange their own entrance exams that measure better their field of study and the students motivation for it. The students are so given a second change (or third or fourth as you can apply in as many times as you like) and the upper secondary schools standardized final exams have lost their value.

          What does a standard test measure after all? Does it really measure how much someone knows or how capable one is in the field it’s supposed to measure or does it only measure how good one is in the testing itself? With standard tests we loose plenty of potential that is not shown in the test results. Not everyone express their knowledge in the same way and I personally think thats a good thing. The best team always has diversity, members who complete each other. Every teacher is different, every student is different, every school is different, every single learning experience is different. So how could you measure them with the same test? Someone might say that the schools and the teachers should be the same and so the tests could remain. In Finland however we as university students are encouraged to find the way that works for us and not forced into the same mould as we know it doesn’t work if it’s forced. And this is what we want for our future students as well.

          I know I might be naive and idealistic but if we only see the bad and prepare to the worst how can we ever pursue the good and the better?

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    • Gloria Krzynowek

      But that is exactly one of the biggest differences between a teacher in Europe and a teacher in this country. The workload is extremely different. A teacher in Europe has a shorter amount of hours per week of class time, what allows for all the activities, professional development, self enrichment, research, communication among colleagues, follow up of students, training, etc…. which here in the States is not considered as part of the teacher’s life, or it is an afterthought and an after an 8 to 10 school day. Teachers in the States, compared to teachers in other countries, are overworked and have certain extra teaching requirement unheard of outside this country. I am used to it and don’t mind it anymore, but it is one of the biggest shocks in your first year teaching in the States!

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    • S. Miller

      Joe, this is the part that is killing me — the long hours and lack of respect from politicians outside of our field. After 18 years, I don’t know if I have much more in me. I typically get to school about 7:15. The students leave at 3:15, but I am often still in school until 5:00 or 6:00 with parents emails, sorting, new professional plans that are now required by CO, action plans for students, or lesson plans to improve This doesn’t include the occasional IEP meeting or twice-monthly staff meeting. Once I’m home, there is often a stack of papers to grade. If I have 150 students and I spend one minute grading each student’s assignment, that comes to two and a half hours just to grade papers that night. If I’ve designed the lesson to cut my grading down and spend only 30 seconds on each student’s paper, then I’ve cut my workload down to one hour and 15 minutes. If I grade 2 or 3 assignments a week, with one minute on each assiginment, I’m buried, and my spouse feel single!
      I’m one of the lucky ones — I don’t teach a language arts class. The big push in many districts is to improve literacy. That means less variation in teaching to multiple intelligenes, and more reading/writing responses. Picture what it is like to read and evaluate 150 simple, short essays from my students. If I spend five minutes on each essay that means that my after-school work load will be 750 minutes just for one writing assigment. That means 12 and a half hours of grading. Imagine then that I work 3 hours a night to grade those essays — that would take me 4 nights just for that one assignment.
      I often go into the school on Saturdays now to get caught up.

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  9. Karen Runyon

    Thanks Lily! I’ve spent much of my day emailing and talking to 3rd grade teachers in our district about how we are going to deal with a law in Washington that requires teachers to meet with parents of their 3rd graders who score below Basic on the ELA portion of the Smarter Balanced test. They will need to talk about possible retention and come up with intensive intervention strategies in order to move on to the 4th grade. This test has ONLY been piloted! Teachers haven’t had any feedback or useful data and yet they are going to have to use the results in conversations with parents whose students don’t perform well. This is crazy! Thanks for all you do for us as a profession. It would be amazing if we could have the opportunity to lead our profession the way the educators in Finland have. I certainly hope they don’t lose what they have!

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    • Brian Lewis

      Best solution is to pass a law that says if the kids dont make it the repeat the grade level. Some years ago a district on the east coast did this. Five Black board members in a mostly Black school dist. said, “We have cheated our kids and its time we stop. Those who dont make the minimum standards at each grade level will be retained next year.” They retained about 50%. YES THAT IS 50 AND NOT 5!!! BIG board meeting and they had a legal document available for those whining parents who were angry. It basically stated that thier kid could go on and the parent was responsible for their educational progress in the future with no other chance for passing without meeting the minimums. Next year, they only had to retain 5%. Kids and parents stepped up and GOT ER DONE!!!! If a kid goes to school every minute for 12 and 1/2 years and we never have an early out or time missed for field trips or ballgames, when the kid graduates the school will have ahd the kid less than 9% of their life up to that point. Who had them the other 91%???? We are only the technical advisers for some of the things the kid learns, the parent is the primary teacher. P.S. if you teach your kid a few things every day such as the sky is blue and the grass is green and the alphabet and what the main sounds are for them and some words while you read to them and to count objects up to 30 as well as how to add three more or take six away and what they have plus how to share and play with other kids and to not touch things that dont belong to them you will have taken them further than many who go to full time preschool and kindergarten learn.

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  10. Marc Metz

    Amanda Ripley wrote a good book about Finland and some of the other successful schools in the world “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” It is an interesting read.

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    • Carole O.

      Amanda Ripley’s “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” would be a great read for anyone interested in how other countries educate children. She specifically profiles three countries whose international rankings shot up in the last 20 years or so, from below the US to well above. All three countries (Finland, South Korea and Poland) spend far less per child on K-12 education than we do in the U.S. She looks broadly at what these countries are doing that we are not, speaks with their teachers and administrators, and also traces several U.S. exchange students who spend a year there.

      I highly recommend this book!

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  11. Janet English

    After traveling by train, by bus, on bike and on foot for six months through Finnish schools, I wrote a free -book that takes you into classrooms where Finnish teachers tell you how they teach problem solving skills. Their story is amazing. http://www.thefinnishway.org

    Reply
    • Jukka

      A great book, indeed. I read it through. Thanks! I do think you have caught the essence of the Finnish school system very well. And also find it very sad and heartbreaking that in the States children don’t have equal possibilities. You’ve go money and wealth but the focus in school does no seem to be the actual learning and welfare of the pupil. Also the same agenda reflects on a country and society where there is major inequality and dissatisfaction. You may the best in many things, but also there is a lot of the bad in having such an unequal society.

      Reply
      • Rivegauche610

        Every living thing has a life cycle, and despite desperate measures to preserve that life, it will end. So it is with the organic entities known as “countries” and “governments”. The Disunited States is dying for a million reasons, but a large one is the stupidity, small-mindedness, proud ignorance and fear of change possessed by half this country, and that half seems to vote for and elect people with the same characteristics as the electorate, alas, not electing people who are smarter, capable and broad-minded. So you get what the rest of the world sees going on here in this failed experiment: discrimination. Discrimination due to petty hatreds, belief in empty, vicious propaganda and driven by nothing more than avaricious greed. In other words, what our political system has done is provide fertile ground for the worst in human nature, and we call it/them “conservatives”. Its like “Children of the Corn” or “Lord of the Flies” writ large, and every bit as destructive as the fiction depicts.

        There will be no change until the leaders of this perverted and discredited movement die out. They are late-middle aged, and universally male, and fearful of the greater power that will eventually overwhelm their hegemony: empowered women – smarter, more worldly, more sensitive and compassionate and more motivated for change and able to accomplish it. One of the many, many laughingstock images I have seen is a congressional panel making decisions on women’s reproductive rights. THEY’RE ALL LATE-MIDDLE AGED MEN. And they fear and hate women! (Remember Todd Akin – “Women’s bodies have a way of shutting down that thing…”)

        So nothing will change here – most likely it will just get worse – until either natural selection eliminates the blocks to the progress of the species (i.e., conservatism) or people of intelligence and integrity (and who aren’t slaves to superstition and delusion called “religion”, or to the money of the rich) decide they’ve had enough. Unfortunately, living in a part of the disunited states (the “Confederacy”) where stupidity seems to be a badge of honor and virtue above all others save the fealty to grand superstition I doubt anything will change without either another civil war or a great and violent divorce between the forces if stasis and the forces of progress. This country, to live, needs to shed its cancer (“red states”), divorce it, and start afresh with progressive thinking.

        Which is why we have decided to emigrate to a sentient, sane, compassionate and human-focused country once my wife’s army contract is over. Oh yes…I am a former teacher totally disgusted by what I see here politically, if you haven’t already guessed, and I am male.

        Last point: I only need cite one glaring fact in proof of the degeneracy of the american political mind. Out of 44 presidents, 43 have never been asked to demonstrate proof that they were born here. Those (unfortunately, destructively) currently in control of politics in this country loathe the black man in “their” white house. From that comes (and reinforces) the delusions of half this country.

        Now you understand why our educational system is a total disaster? It isn’t the teachers’ fault. It is the fault of the most vile of society, and how they got into congress is beyond me.

        Reply
  12. Yvonne

    Good subject. Poorly written. Very difficult to follow. Speaking as someone who has close friends in Finland and knows quite a bit of their system, you could have been more objective and not written this like an advertorial. Bottom line, next time have someone proofread your work.

    Reply
    • Iris D. Fields

      Yvonne, I would have been interested to hear your inter-action with ideas in the article…. I don’t think the point of it was the errors.

      Reply
  13. Mark Kirsch

    Thank you Lily for this thoughtful message. As a NYSUT Co-president I find my days filled with consoling good, talented teachers who are overwhelmed and heartbroken by the weight of needless, pointless testing and scripted lessons. They so desperately want to teach, and to use their experience and personal passions in their work. But each week brings new disappointments, including a governor who calls us, as a profession, failures.
    So much needs to change, and we need to make our collective voices heard. I thank you for being a vanguard for this change and using your voice to strengthen ours…

    Reply
  14. Becky Buckley

    Just wondering how Finland and other countries other than U S. teach special needs students? Inclusion or separate facilities?

    Reply
    • Kris

      I wonder exactly the same thing. No one ever talks about those students when comparing U.S. schools to other higher ranking countries. Or the violent students that disrupt learning on a daily basis.

      Reply
      • A Finn Teacher

        In Finland, we actually do both. Some special needs children are integrated in normal classes and if there’s more of them, the class size is usually reduced and/or there’s an assistant/special education teacher with the class teacher (grades 1-6) or with the subject teacher (grades 7-9, in some subjects grades 1-6 too).

        In bigger schools there are small special ed classes that have all the time at least two adults: special ed teacher and an assistant. In some subjects for some classes they may study with a subject teacher, esecially during classes 7-9. Depending on their problems etc, there’s usually less than 8-9 students in these classes. Normal class size is around 15-20 during the first years going up upto 20-25 in grades 7-9 (in some schools, if the budget is tight, up to 28/class).

        We have specialized schools, hospital schools etc, if the problems are bigger, so that they can be better targeted and taken care of. We do have detention homes and facilities, but most kids living in them attend normal school (and quite a few are in normal classes).

        There’s violence (and there have been a few school shootings), but on average the problem is not that big. Those acting violently tend to be moved to special classes/hospital schools pretty quickly.

        Reply
    • Piia

      Greetings from Finland :) Depends on the pupils special needs they are intergrated to the normal class room and given extra help or they are in own class with few students (6-10) and have a teacher and special need assistant. With disappilities that prevent attending normal school we have special schools and if children can’t even go to those schools we have so called “hospital schools” that children as cancer patients with high risk of infection can attend.

      Reply
    • Leena Hernigle

      Children from those who have learning difficulties to those who have special needs are first and foremost included in regular groups. They may just receive extra lessons by a special ed teacher or their curriculum has been personalised to meet the specific special set of needs. Some children/students have a personal school assistant with them in classes (for example visually impaired or someone who has problems with concentration). There are also special classes that are smaller in size so that the group is manageable. Naturally, this is a funding issue as well and sometimes there are children who would need special attention but do not necessarily receive it-we are not perfect either. But overall, I believe that the system takes care of those who need extra attention.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lewis

      Whenever possible, total inclusion, with one-to-one teaching if and when needed.

      Reply
    • Brian Lewis

      Most labeled sp. ed. in our schools would not be there in these schools as it is a matter of normal behavior and/or efforts at home that are lacking that get these kids qualified here.

      Reply
  15. Susan Flibotte

    A very interesting article. I wish my country would BAN idiot ideas like Common Core, and excessive testing.

    That being said, this article has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. Where is the Editor????

    Reply
  16. Susan PD

    We lived in Finland for a year in 1999—sent our kids to Finnish daycare and Finnish schools—this article is absolutely accurate. I came home with my eyes opened for sure to our terrible system. One of the most interesting things is that elementary school does not even start before age 7. Up to that point, the wonderful daycare system emphasizes social skills, art, music, dramatic play etc….not early literacy. Kids enter first grade and are reading within months with no stress because they are all developmentally ready and those with learning disabilities are diagnosed and given the help we need. Here Kindergarten teachers feel ‘judged’ by the number of 5 year olds they can get reading in a year instead of focusing on the real skills that undergird learning. Many five year olds are just not ready to read….and may very well be turned off for a lifetime in our kindergartens.

    Reply
    • Cathy Lewis

      But Susan all those things you mentioned are early literacy. You rock and are on to something. Current brain research even supports your statements.

      Reply
      • Rivegauche610

        Current research means nothing when those in positions of influence are too stupid to understand it or too in thrall (and debt) to David and Charles Koch to care.

        Reply
    • Dale Knight

      As a kindergarten teacher with 20+ years experience, I can only dream of the days when I was allowed to teach children through developmentally appropriate methods that focused on learning through play. Teaching responsibility, cooperation, sharing, thinking, questioning, reading, writing, math, was all done with blocks, housekeeping, tool bench, water/sand table, playdough, paint, glue, scissors, story time, snack time, cooking, gardening, singing, drama. And the student teacher ratio was 16:1 or there was a full time assistant. Parents were partners (inner city as well) and it was a team approach to teach that child. We didn’t have worksheets and children weren’t forced to “write” with pencils on lined paper the first week of school and take standardized tests every few weeks so the people earning the big bucks could spout data and justify their pay checks. I had learned that children in Finland began school at age seven when they were ready a few years ago at a Title 1 Conference. I have tried to get the “suits” to listen but it falls on deaf ears. So I try to teach through play whenever I can sneak it in. When the politicians start listening to teachers, maybe our children will begin to become less stressed and burned out.

      Reply
      • Rivegauche610

        A people needs to understand why electing sentient politicians is important. Unfortunately half this country doesn’t get that.

        Reply
  17. Cathy

    Thank you Lily! I am an elementary school teacher and agree with everything you said.

    Reply
  18. Sarah B.

    I found this to be a very interesting article. But I’m wondering if those who are so critical of the spelling and grammatical errors even know how to spell or write? I haven’t found any after reading it several times. Maybe we should focus on the content of the article versus being so negative because we’re not all in agreement. Put your energies elsewhere, like making constructive feedback rather than being nasty about it.

    Reply
    • Cathy Lewis

      I thought the same. Where are the errors?

      Reply
      • Kim

        There are indeed some grammatical flaws. However, they don’t interfere with understanding the article. Some people are more distracted by these flaws than others, but some don’t notice them at all. This is also a blog and not a journal article, so I could lower my expectations for professional writing.

        In response to Cathy, here are the main errors that I noticed.
        “I have trod” should be “I have trodden” according to conjugation rules. Every semicolon in the article was used incorrectly. There are several instances of awkwardly phrased sentences. One of the bold comments begins with a typo (“The” instead of “They”). The author can easily go back and fix these.

        Grammatical flaws don’t make writing less important, but they can make some people take it less seriously. The topic is very interesting, and the article inspired me to find out more about Finnish educational policy. Hopefully the other grammar police out there will feel the same way!

        Reply
  19. CMR

    I’ve heard this for years. Please tell me what has Finland ever been hugely famous for. Inventions? Scientific discoveries? World order? Oh, a great school system. I get it.

    Reply
    • Cathy Lewis

      They export many top scholars as consultants. Many do not want to move because of the thing they are actually number one in year after year. The happiest, taken care of and most educated people. Who would want to move to another country when they have that? So many people try to move to Finland but they will not allow many in.

      Reply
    • Stovall Stovall

      Finland is also famous for Jean Sibelius, a wonderful composer.

      Reply
      • Marianna Parikka

        CMR: Finland is famous for exporting our experts because the country is too small to employ all the highly educated people we have. 75% of academically qualified people in Finland are unemployed! They go elsewhere to get jobs – like the US and Germany and England and….

        Reply
        • Sini Tiainen

          Oh dear! Actually just about 5 % of academically qualified people are unemployed in Finland. According to the official Statistics of Finland, I just checked the latest rates from their web-site…

          Reply
    • Aino Vainiomäki

      Actually Nokia for example is from Finland. Sad thing is that many americans assume it’s from Japan. Finland also influences greatly in world order. Not to lead but to negotiate the peace. We are famous for our equality between women and men etc. etc. We have plenty of great things we could be famous for but Finland is not good at marketing itself, you got that right. We don’t try to WIN and conquer the world. We are quite happy to be one of the best places to live in the world. Isn’t that worth of something?

      Reply
      • other inventions

        Some other Finnish inventions: heart rate monitor (the one you can use on your wrist), AIV fodder, Angry birds (well, it’s just a game, but popular, there’s plenty of others), Electric sail, Linux, xylitol, sms messaging, IRC Chat protocol, some blood analysis equipment, the new kind of moldable cast material (woodcast I think), IUS etc. Plenty of inventions more if you want to google.

        Reply
  20. Liisa Sirkkola

    A true story, a great article. Thank you, Lily!
    I was an English and Swedish language teacher in a primary school in the Metropolitan Helsinki area for 33 years. Everything Lily tells rings true in my ears. Children in the Finnish schools do learn what they are taught very well. The only problem I know of is that inquiries into how pupils like schools and the atmosphere there always show they don´t like school, they don´t feel happy there. It is a mystery to me why this is. Are we perhaps demanding too many intellectual skills and giving too little time to do things like arts, music, drama…
    Liisa Sirkkola M.A. retired language teacher

    Reply
  21. Andy S

    Interesting article. It seems that Finland is artificially limiting the supply of teachers so as to give them higher salary and benefits and make them more valuable. I’m troubled by the fact that your lifelong career is chosen for you by a single test at the end of high school. It reminds me of the movie Divergent. I can’t imagine having a system like that here. Many of my best teachers in high school and college performed terribly themselves in school. Your career should not be strictly about school grades and how you do on a test.

    Reply
    • Leena Liimatainen

      Not limited enough, I must say. There is quite a heavy unemployment for several subject teachers (languages, history etc.), so the competition is definitely there. The salary is as average as it can get. And no, we don’t have to stick with the career we choose first – the only thing might be that entrance exams for universities can be quite demanding, and you don’t get in with money, so you may not get to study what you wish the most if you don’t meet the standards. Then again, who wants a doctor who didn’t quite figure out his Gray’s?

      Reply
    • Samuel Orvomaa

      Andy, the Finnish system does limit the number of teachers trained, but the salary and benefits are… well… not quite what you make them out to be. And definitely not the reason for people going into teaching. As a lower secondary (Jr. high, or ages 13-16) English and Swedish teacher I make between 35 – 40K €.

      The matriculation examination at the end of high school determines very little – you choose a minimum of four school subjects, out of which Finnish is basically the only compulsory one. Most kids take exams in Finnish, English and Math. Not exactly subjects that foreshadow ANY career. After matriculation students sign up for entrance exams for whatever they wish to study – very few gain automatic entrance to a University. You also need to keep in mind that 30-40% don’t even attend high school in the first place, but choose to enroll into vocational schools.

      Not all teachers here are the creme de la creme of their age group as they are made out to be, but they are the most suitable for the job. The entrance rate for teacher training programs is constantly around 15%. Also, for each tenured position, there are between 60-120 applications (from qualified teachers) nowadays. I have a permanent position, and hell, ask anyone, I was a terrible student as a teenager. I entered high school with an average of 7,6 (on a scale of 4-10, with 7,0 being the lowest grade you can usually get into high school with in the Helsinki area)…

      Reply
  22. Rob Mann

    Do you all know that Findland is a socialist society? Taxes at 40% or more! If it’s so great move there please.

    Reply
    • Kristiina Perttilä

      Please do not write your opinions as facts, unless you want to sound like an ignorant person.

      Reply
    • Anders

      Greeting from Finland. The taxes are from 15 % and up. My wife is a full time teacher and pays 25 % tax.

      Reply
      • Gloria Krzynowek

        Thank you, Anders. And I bet that includes medical benefits as it does in Spain, France, Germany, etcccccc

        Reply
  23. Ritva Semi OAJ Finland

    Hi Lily
    It was good to have you here with Jill !!!
    Finland is not heaven even we do not have same problems than you. As you remenber we have only one teachers union and around 95% teachers are members of the union. All teachers together do strong lobby work at local, regional and national level. We have to lobby and we have to fight but it is also so that in Finland key words are co-operation and trust when we speak about education. There is trust to teachers capacity and abilities so we do not need tests, we do not need school inspectors….
    Be well you and all your members and keep on fighting and safequarding the interst of tecahers.
    yours
    Ritva

    Reply
  24. Martti Muukkonen

    As a Finn, who have gone throught the whole system from the ground school to doctorate and with a teacher’s education, I’d like add my comment.
    Positive aspects naturally exist and I’m not downplaying them. I value them highly and am grateful for the possibility to get my high education.
    However, in spite of all this, after two first years, less than 1/3 of Finnish schoolchildren are satisfied to the teaching. In the case of boys, situation is even more catastrophic: in 7-10th grades satisfaction is even negative. So it is not such a heaven as often claimed. So, there is something seriously wrong that our schoolsystem has not been able to pinpoint.
    The idea behind the Finnish (as well as other Nordic) schoolsystem is in Reformation. On one hand, there was the idea that all should be able to read the Bible by themselves and this generated the Lutheran Church’s schooling system that existed still in 19th century. On the orther hand, Reformation stressed elimination of poverty and Halle Pietism took education as means to this end (see. e.g. Enc. Britannica / Macropedia / Education, History of). This Pietism’s programme created modern school system and these two ideas led to the fact that Finland was one of the few European countries in 1850’s that had over 70% literacy level.
    My point is that it is not she school as a technical system that is important. It is the ethos that sees every human being as equal and important.

    Reply
    • a teacher too

      I know that the reports of school satisfaction show that the kids aren’t that happy in school. But as a teacher and as a Finn I think a lot of it has to do with how we tend to answer questionnaires and what we think is proper. Everyone knows from early on that school is for learning, not for having fun (it can be fun too, but the ethos is this). So you can’t really say you have fun in school or that you enjoy being in school. It is no socially acceptable. You are supposed to say you dislike school so that others don’t think you’re a prideful student who thinks he’s better than others. Pride and bragging, sometimes even enjoying, is the most unforgivable sin in the eyes of Finns. My experience says most kids like the school just as well as other kids in other countries.

      Reply
  25. Kirsi Ratilainen

    Thank you for your kind words and greetings from Finland. I am a teacher and enjoying my work a lot. This article is well written and gives you quite good impression how our school system works. BTW our working ours aren’t enourmus: it is based by teaching hours. So it is between 16-26 hours per week and the rest of the work you can do whereever you want. So you don’t have to stay at school. I love the freedom. And our vacations are long about 4 months of year. Long summer break 2.5 month. I am a happy teacher.

    Reply
  26. Heli Paananen

    Commenting here on Becky Buckley’s and Kris’ question on the Finnish special education system. In Finland we still have a few special education schools for severely handicapped children like deaf or blind. Often children studying in these schools have multifaceted problems and therefore they are not able to study in a nearest school.
    For a few years we have had a educational support system similar to the RTI (Response to Intervension). We have a three-step system where the support to a child grows gradually. The children that need most support are in a group “special support” children. They study either in a special class (class size max 10 with an assistant and a special education teacher) or in a normal class with supportive measures. More and more of these children study in a normal class.
    Thanks for your interest towards the Finnish educational system. Let’s all work together for the better future for our children!
    Heli Paananen, M. Ed., special education teacher

    Reply
  27. Nina Melander

    Amidst all the praise I wish the truth be told about some of the shortcomings of our system..about how many of us teachers feel that integration and equal opportunity for all means that we have very few measures to challenge the gifted, differenciate “upwards”. Rather we have to drag everyone along, offer everything to everyone even if they themselves do not want to! But godforbid no one should be left behind, everyone has to have the same rights even if they are not willing to work for them! About how Finnish children hate school, about how we don’t have circle time, or assemblies to teach social skills and togetherness to our students, about how the students on the hall ways of our schools do not greet their teachers and how too many of them just lack basic good manners. Many of the methods Finnish teachers use are old fashioned and we teach by the book and with the book rather than by doing or we think that our books = the curriculum. Our students’ ICT skills are some of the poorest in Europe, we don’t emphasize public speaking, debating or being able to present your work and that one of the possible reasons for our success in PISA could partially be explained by our country’s homogenous population profile with very few children with immigrant background.
    Yes we have nailed it on many levels but it certainly is not heaven in Finland either!

    Reply
    • Partow Izadi

      Nina, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I am a teacher trainer and specialist in global education working at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi. I have been in Finland for almost 40 years now, have studied and worked in the field of education for over 30 years … and I agree with everything you said! While I am very grateful for all the opportunities and everything that Finland has given me over the decades, I’m in fact somewhat afraid of what will become of this bubble image we have created about the supremacy of our educational system, even our society. We live in a society with so many ‘time bombs’ ticking away that, when these bombs go off, we will face a reality that might rock us to our cores. According to some studies, for instance, when the current generation of teenagers will be in their 30s, 40s and 50s — and in charge of running this society — there will be such a huge percentage of them that are incapable of taking care of even their own basic needs, let alone the running of society. This means a smaller and smaller number of people will have to be taking responsibility of growing percentage of socially/mentally/practically incapacitated citizens.

      And why? Because we believe that humans can indefinitely pursue a selfish agenda of personal happiness at the cost of fundamental social morality and a sense of community responsibility. So this is not at all just the dilemma of the educational system, but concerns the whole societal paradigm. The one-eyed and lop-sided philosophy of unbridled individualism and materialism being dogmatically pursued by our society (including also the rest of Europe, and I guess somewhat also America and Australia) has unwittingly eroded our moral sensibilities, both individually and collectively. The empirical indications of this are seen in the collapse in the sense of community, self-destructive behaviours, and the damage done to generations of youth who learned to believe that violence, indecency, and selfishness are triumphs of personal liberty. I sincerely hope that those ‘time bombs’ are not as destructive as they seem they can be!

      Reply
      • Rivegauche610

        “violence, indecency, and selfishness are triumphs of personal liberty” could characterize a large part of the american electorate, especially in what we here call “red states” (i.e., conservative).

        Reply
  28. Gene Fendt

    I notice that the article implies there are no undergraduate schools of education. First you have to get a real university degree–probably not in leisure and recreation sciences–and then you have to be among the best of these to get into the school of education afterwards. And your Masters degree has to be in a real field, not education. The pretense that American universities run on, supported by departments of education in every state as well as at the federal level is exposed here. There are too many EdDs EDADs, etc in the positions of power. The great majority of American teachers would not be allowed to teach in Finland; their degrees are from schools and programs dictated by the school of education, not the departments of actual learning.

    Reply
  29. A Finnish Teacher

    Rob Mann: we pay taxes to get free education, health care and so on. If the people are asked if they’d rather pay more taxes or give up some of the services provided by the state and municipalities, they always choose more taxes. Besides, I pay about 28% taxes from my salary, not 40%.
    ‘Socialist society’, you say… And what does that mean in addition to the high taxes? Here are a couple of examples:
    1. Finland is the least fragile country in the world (in its’ own class actually): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Fragile_States_Index
    2. The best country for mothers: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2621430/The-best-country-mother-Finland-tops-list-high-risk-pregnancies-natural-disasters-sees-U-S-drop-38th-spot.html
    3. Freedom of press is not too bad here either: http://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php
    4. Finland is the third least corrput country in the world: http://uk.businessinsider.com/the-least-corrupt-countries-in-the-world-2014-12?r=US
    5. Finland has the fifth lowest infant mortality rate in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate
    6. Finland is number nine in the OECD Better Life Index (U.S. is number 17): http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/life-satisfaction/

    I could go on, but I’ll just stop here by saying that our socialist society has through free education made it possible for me to understand what you wrote in a foreign language and to reply in the same language.

    Reply
    • A Finnish Teacher

      Correcting a typo: ‘corrput’ should be corrupt. Sorry about that. :D

      Reply
    • Rivegauche610

      Brilliant and beautiful. Thank you.

      Reply
    • S.Sengupta

      You knocked it out of the park! So tired of people thinking socialism is a perversion. I’m Canadian and pay high taxes but I don’t worry about my future pension, what will happen if I get laid off due to injury and my kids have access to some of the best health care and special programs in the world – free.

      Reply
  30. Luella Cole

    Yes, there are at least three errors in this essay. All of them are errors in the use of the apostrophe, probably one of the most common errors adults make in their writing. I have taught English composition at various levels, have edited local publications, and have judged local essay contests. I see these errors frequently. Such errors do not detract from the message. If you don’t like the message, say that, rather than nit-picking the punctuation. However, more troublesome for Lily’s message are the comments of Finnish teachers who say that Finland is not an educational paradise. We do need to hear about the successes of other educational systems that do things differently than we do in the U. S., but we need to keep in mind that the school populations in other countries are far less diverse than ours, and that what works in Finland or any other country might not work here. But the “GERM” (I love the acronym) as invented by the for-profit reformers certainly isn’t the way to go.

    Reply
    • a teacher too

      I hate people saying our schools are so much less diverse. Yes, as a level of whole Finland. But in my kid’s schools they speak over 20 mother tongues. That is very common in greater Helsinki area. Yet these schools thrive just as well. And my understanding is that when they’ve done the PISA tests, Finland has made sure they have both special education students and not native Finnish speaker students take the test in the same proportion as they have those students accross Finland. Not like some other countries where they choose the tops schools to take the tests.

      Reply
  31. Jenny

    They do have an impressive system. They pay high taxes to pay for this education. I know in Germany the taxes are very high a food the quality of education is excellent. You pay for what you get.

    Reply
  32. Stephanie Sigler

    After reading this I felt so much at ease, however crushed. I’m a public education teacher in NEW MEXICO, DUAL LANGUAGE teacher, married to a Cuban where education is highly important. Spelling errors, spelling has nothing to do with meaning of words. English language learners struggle–I AM an English language learner and so is my husband, my point is please see beyond the typos. I also read a few comments and am thankful to several who said we need to think WIN-WIN?? We are heavily implementing the Seven Habits Pledge at our school; indeed to this I did not know GERM existed and I am disgusted to hear what possibly a politician would do to public education…In the end…it’s probably TRUE!! However there are a few things I disagree with the Finland system, there is only ONE test in how many years? Do students highly stress for that one test? In public education we are in constant change, teachers–in any state where you are–open your eyes, systems do not last longer than maybe 6 months, to 1 year, to 2 years. Programs are bought through GRANTS that teachers or principals apply for but those grants do not last longer than 10 years. Regardless, I am VERY thankful to public education because there are genuine teachers out there who still care to make a difference. The U.S. has teachers in a world wide shift, battle, some of us are in depression–this is my personal belief. Back to NEA, please keep fighting for our rights!!!!!!! WE care about CHILDREN, we do not care to see them compete for something in which no one wins any $$.

    Reply
  33. Ralph Jamsa

    Hi Lily,
    I went to Finland last summer with 26 other educators from across the state of Utah to talk with students, teachers and administrators about the Finnish system. No doubt they have their problems, but I have to say that after having associated with many young Finnish people over 25 years they do seem to be much better educated than US kids and the PISA test is also attesting to that conclusion. The fix for what ails us in education in the US can be found in the Finnish formula. Here it is:
    1. Attract the best people in our culture to be teachers, those who are bright and have a passion for kids
    2. Train them with Master’s level knowledge and pedagogy
    3. Give teachers and administrators autonomy and the time to collaborate–create educational synergy
    4. Embrace the idea of equity for all
    In our country, we aren’t always able to attract the best, mainly because of economic inequity of the teaching profession and other professions. Teachers aren’t trained at Master’s level. Teachers are losing autonomy. And, our culture values competition over cooperation.
    On a personal note to you Lily, we are proud that your educational leadership has its roots here in Utah. I was one of the UEA agitators back in 1989 that convinced our faculty to join the job action walkout that year. I was a non-tenured educator still in my first 3 years of teaching and I had been voted in by my peers that year to be the association rep. 25 years later I am still trying to fight the good fight. Your leadership back then, and still is, greatly appreciated. I wish we could get together and exchange notes on our Finnish fact finding mission.

    Reply
    • Gloria Krzynowek

      Well written. I still remember my years in Utah with love. My alma mater in this country is the University of Utah.

      Reply
  34. Minna Vihavainen, Finland,the 1st grade (kids 7 years old) teacher,

    Stephanie Sigler!
    we have many tests for our school children and high school students through out the school year, but I guess they may differ from yours? Id like to know what kinf of tests do you have? This week my 1st graders had a maths test of the things we ve been studying in january. We have these kinds of tests every year and usually almost every month or two depending on what we rw studuing. The tests are not standard a tests e a llverywhere in Finland which means that the tests may vary a little from town to town depending on the book serie you are using or if you did the test yourself or with your colleagues. There are not many differencies though in the tests because if you study maths for the 1st graders 12+5, 20-17, the test is the same just to show the teachers and parents how the child is doing and what can I do next to help this child to improve. We dont study for the tests but to learn. we have a lot of teste in every subject in elementary and high school and exams in vocational and University. Today I checked the maths tests of my 18 1st graders. The highest point was 30 correct. My students got points between 11 to 30. One got 11, one got 12 and the rest of the class got points from 26 to 30 so the test went very well and I am pleased with it . no one else wont ever ask me how did my classa do in that test except maybe my colleagues , which is the other 1st grade teachers or the special ed teacher. Now I know and have already noticed during this 1st year of this group that this one student has difficulties with maths and she has got extra help from me and assistant ion my class. I have to comment on fact on free education: I come from poor family. Thanks to free education system we have, I am a school teacher and have a family, and house, and a littel backyard and 2 cars eventhou the busses come next to our yard. I just dont like use the busses because I have my own car. In addition to these worldly goods, I appreciate the fact that Finnish school taught me this English that I can now communicate with you and understand all that has been written here! I can read books in English, Swedish and Russian which I also studied at school. I speak some German too but thats because I lived in Austria for 9 months(did not know any German before that) but because I had a great basis at school here in Finland. I work for 23 hours per week, spend about 3 hours for planning my lessons depending on my week or the hobbies of my family and my own. So I have only 3-5 lessons per day and 2 hours of techer meetings one day, once a week. We write with parents every week or every day, we phone with them and we see them 4 times a year in a discussion where are tah student, parents and me, the teacher. We have 2 parental evenings per year and we are very active communicating with the parents of our students which I find rewarding and very interesting! My tax % is only 23,5% per month!!! I love being a teacher.

    Reply
  35. Minna Vihavainen, Oulu, Finland,the 1st grade (kids 7 years old) teacher

    I correct my own text by saying that we have 2 discussions with parents per year, (one required from every teacher), where the student is with us, and 2 parental meetings. A teacher can meet the parents practically when ever needed. Usually its when the child is having some issues. Shortly I want to tell what I teach in my class for the 1st graders: maths, 3hours per week, Finnish: reading, writing and the literature, fairy tales etc 7 hours per week, P.E 2 hours per week, science 2 hours: biology, geography, physics and chemistry at the level for 1st graders of course. I teach drama or through it, christian religion, Feelings and social skills, arts, music and play. We have both free play and guided play and games and we use computers and i-Pads. We do some co-operation with other teachers.Some teachers do joint-teaching so they have 20 kids each assigned for them but they have doors between their classrooms and they can use their strenghts. We go to theatre, museums, parks, forests, swamps and trips. We used to have more money for the trips so few years we ve only gone for one or two trips for the whole day. We used to go more often. Miss those days. Bigger students go to 3 days trips on the 6th grade to different city. On every grade students travel somewhere with all the same age group classes. We have once a year one week swimming in local swimming halls that have their own swimming teachers and the city pays everything: the buses to take us there and the swimming. Thanks to our taxes.

    We can decorate our classroom how we like. I have my own couch, carpets, benches, soft chairs, pillows to sit and rest or listen to a story, my childrens old toys and lots of different kinds of books and comics, also brought from home eventhough we have a school library with librarians. I have drama and other material of my own. Books, notebooks, crayons , pencils, liners etc school buys as well as fabrics for needlework and woodwork which I also teach. Some classes have only desks and maybe a couch and pillows depending on the teachers own wishes.

    I hope this answered some of your questions.

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  36. Gloria Krzynowek

    This conversation is really good. We learn from each other and it is very good to compare educational and social systems. There is so much misinformation out there. Nothing is perfect but there are reasons why certain systems have certain problems. Sometimes we don’t want to change certain things we have always done the same way… and sometimes we are deliberately misinformed about how things work outside our social systems… as it is obvious when reading believes we have here about the amount of taxes people pay in Europe.

    Reply
  37. Minna Vihavainen, OUlu Finland, teacher 1st grade( 7 years old kids)

    In Finnish schools we have nowadays more and more immigrants from all over the world. In our school there are one third immigrants and we think thats a lot. We teach them Finnish as teh 2nd language for 5 hours per week and all the other lessons are of course in Finnish Too. Finnish as the 2nd language allows slower for immigrants and tehy usually have special needs to leran Finnish so we have a special teacher for them. Also immigrants study their own religion in our school, Their teachers some from their religions. We also have lessons to teach their own language for 2 hours per week. In schools there are islam, catholic religions that they teach while we others teach christian religion for the lutherans or other whose parengts want their kids to study christian religion. To be able to get your mothertongue to be taught at school it requires at least 3 students from the same language group. Many immigrants are from Africa, Iran , Iraq, Turkey and Russia or other European countries, sometimes US or Canada. Some are the ones whose parents come to work in Finland quite permanently on temporarily. We have preparation classes for the immigrants who dont know any Finnish at all. In our city, called the capital on Northern Finland Oulu, we have 8 such schools that have that preparation class. We have one such in our school and I used to teach that class myself for 2,5 years in 1998-2000 so I know well how that class functions. In that class students are from different countries and different ages and teaching such class Finnih and Finnish culture is quite challenging. these students go and integrate right away to some classes to “normal” Finnish classes in P.E, wood and needlework, arts, music. Within one year these students usually are able to move to “normal” classes permanently. I think we treat immigrants here in Finland ver well.

    Reply
  38. Minna Vihavainen, OUlu Finland, teacher 1st grade( 7 years old kids)

    When others have religion (on Thursdays 2 hours)we have ethics/ philosophy class for those who dont belong to any religion. And that is good too.

    Reply
  39. Minna Vihavainen, OUlu Finland, teacher 1st grade( 7 years old kids)

    In Finland we have so called preparation classes for immigrants who dont speak finnish at all. They attend that class one year. They are being integrated to ” normal” Finnish classes right away in arts, PE, needle and woodwork and music according to their age group so the 3rd grader immigrant will be integrated to the Finnish 3rd graders etc.

    We have religion for immigrants when they have at least 3 students in the same religion. In our school it means islam and Roman- catholic. We others teach christian religion for the Lutherans or those whose parents want them religion. If you dont belong to any church or reliogion you study philosophy/ethics at the same time as we others have religion.

    Immigrants can study their own mothertongue if they have 3 students from the same language group. We have Russian, Somali and Arabic. Some schools have Vietnam, Thai, French, German…depending on where the students come from.

    Reply
  40. Kia Siven

    Referring to this(from article); ” (There are no state standardized tests except for the one at the end of 6th grade to guide intensive support to students to learn and the other at the end of high school to determine placement in higher education should you choose to attend.).”
    I am quite confused since Finland does not have high schools. After 9 years of comprehensive school students can apply either to vocational institutions or General Upper Secondary schools. As far as I understand, both of these are quite different from high school system in USA?
    One big minus for Finnish school system is lack of support for gifted students. Finland has concentrated so much to make equal possibilities for everyone, education system has no paths for gifted students. These students are often left to boredom and unfortunately many loose interest in learning. And even if teachers wanted to help, there really isn’t much they can do.
    Preschool is not volunteer anymore in Finland. Law changed in the beginning of this year.

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  41. Minna Vihavainen, Oulu, Finland,the 1st grade (kids 7 years old) teacher

    I must say that many teachers do teach differently gifted children in Finland. We have 6 hours per week where I teach those who are gifted and we do different things than with the other group that is less gifted. I devided the 1st graders into such groups in the beginnig of the school year last Sptember whe I got to konow them first.

    Concerning special schools for just the gifted children we dont have ones, at least that I know of. Thats not our policy, but the discussion has been for those for years. I dont know WHY we Dont have such schools. maybe our taxes arent enough for those kind of schools? Maybe its the question of choises: to help the most weekest or handicapped so that they can be helped in their special schools, which we do have a lot or give the money for the most gifted ones?

    The gifted children enter the Universities and build their carriers. Not everyone can enter Unioversity because teh level in Unis is high and not all of the ones that want, can pass the entrance exams or could not study at the university level because they are not gifted enough. Thats why our teachers are also trained ONLY in Universities to get their Masters degree in education. Our comprehensive school and “high school ” are very demanding in every subject. But I agree that we should have even more draama and presentation skills students own work evethou we do presentations and jave sociala skills and feelongs studies every week.

    Then again a childs gift can be in many areas or just in one subject. How to build a school for gifted? What kind of schools for gifted do you have in the States or elsewhere in the world Id like to know? Our firms dont support schools, we pay our taxes for schools to everyone, the sick, the poor, the hospital schools ets. We do have Steiner, Montessori and some other private schools that are supported by the state a little amount of money, but the parents of these students have to pay for the school years.

    Did you know that we have a free, proper lunch for all the students and the teachers everyday during our 30min lunch brake in the cafeteria where the cooks and other kitchen stuff work in the schools? Thats because of our taxes. The students at all the levels eat at schools every day and dont eat unhealthy white sandwiches but a proper meal: meat, vegetables, salad, sauces, rye bread, potatoes or fullcorn rice (not white rice!) and sometimes a dessert of different kinds. The students have a free helath care system at schools and we all can go and see s doctor free. The dentist costs a little, about 20-40euros dependng what had to be done to your teeth. Sometimes its hard to get an apoointment to to local dentists so we have provate clinics as well and to those we have to pay a lot or some of us have insurance like in USA to see a dentist. But having a baby or going to hospital is almost free: one day in hospital costs about 23 euros per day, so its very cheap. But when you have to be there more than 7 days , you dont have to pay anything if you have to stay longer for your treatment. Surgeries ar also free. My fellowworker will go for an arm surgey next Monday and it will cost her that 23 euros. Then she will stay on a sickleave at least for 6 weeks and she will be paid her salary. I was depressed 2009 and stayed home for 7 months and was payed my salary and through our social system teh same amount of money as I had worked but I did not because I could not. Thanks to our horrible Taxes! Of course I d like earn more money but I m used to live with what I get since birth. I have travelled abroad and lived in another country for a while in Europe and can buy all the things I have wanted , am health again, have a loving family and friends, nice house and forests nearby our home, many lakes and rivers near home where to camp or just relax in the nature. We have hobbies like you do. I dance latin dances and swing, sing, read… My kids snowboard (4km from our house there are a snowboard and slalom slopes), do youtube videos, play with i-Pads….

    I have always admired USA and Canada for the greatest actors and actresses you have there. We have some great too and I have my favourite Finnish actors and movies and theatre characters, singers, bands etc. But as movies I have always loved Norhern American movies the most. When I speak English I use American accent because I prefer it from British eventhough we are taught the British English accent at schools, except In “high schools” we try to teach Australian and American accent too. I watch one USA/Canada made movie every week in Netflix onr I-Tunes at home. I just finished the Crossing lines serie that has been done also in Europe. As document I prefer BBC and other European ones. I have friends in the USA and Russia and Ukraine. I have lived in Austria, Russia and Ukraine for a while when young adult (1,5 years) . I ve never been to USA or Canada. I would love to go there I would love to tour and see American schools and talk with you. We have allready have communication with different schools from Europe and every spring our school gets univeristy students for education , future teachers coming and practise in our school. That is so wonderful co-operation.’

    Reply
    • S.Sengupta

      Hi Minna:
      I am really interested in your experiences in teaching gifted kids. Here in Canada, we not only have just one teacher per class (elementary school) but, we have disparate approaches to providing differentiated programming to gifted kids. Some school boards identify gifted kids by Grade 3 and then have occasional, separate classes for them in a separate location (we call that Withdrawal) while other school boards direct classroom teachers to provide differentiated instruction within the student’s own class (Integrated). Obviously, with only 1 teacher and sometimes more than 25 kids per class, this approach often does not satisfy the child, the parents or the teacher. Further complicating everything, a few school boards also run separate classes for gifted students, i.e., they attend classes 5 days a week in a grade-specific class where all children are identified as gifted.

      Can you tell me more about how you decide what and how to teach to gifted kids in your class? How much of this is discussed with the other staff in the class? Who would be the other staff that would be involved in discussion and planning? How much prep work goes into this (i.e., how many hours a week do you spend with others talking about kids with special needs)? Also, how do you guys go about deciding who is gifted? In our school systems, they have raised the cut-off point for determining giftedness to the upper 2% as identified by administering the Wischler – IV test. Also, there is a huge issue of who gets nominated to sit for this test. Usually, it is the teacher who “notices” the possibility of giftedness in the child and then nominates this child but there is ample evidence to show that often teachers don’t get it right or are not picking up on some kids just because of bias. How is it in your school/ school system?

      Thank you for your insight.

      Reply
  42. Minna Vihavainen, Oulu, Finland,the 1st grade (kids 7 years old) teacher

    We appreciate vocational schools too. After graduating, one gets a profession and can apply for a job. When talking about gifted students its not only the kognitive skills that are important but also other kinds of skills got from vocational schools. To compare the different school systems is quite difficult as discussed here. I would love to travel all over and see different systems. Our teachers travelled to Netherlands for few years and their teachers came to Finland for few days to see us. That I call co-operation and good communication. Emailing is a good way too.

    By the way I am sorry about my spelling mistakes here. I have noticed them and my English is not the best here I can tell. I write quickly and its easy to make some mistakes. I think you understand the ideas.

    I love Finland because its one of the safest countries in the world to live in. At the same time its very interesting to here about other cultures and personally or by this conversation to communicate with foreigners.

    Reply
    • Laura Pladson

      Minna, I wanted to thank you for all the time you took to tell us about your job and your country. I learned a lot. Thanks!

      Reply
  43. S.Sengupta

    Can someone please tell me more about how long a principal in a Finnish school stays at that school? In Ontario, Canada, we have a system where principals typically “cycle” in and out of schools after 5-7 years. Originally, I suppose the policy was created to ensure a more democratic mixing of leadership through each school board, but it has disintegrated to a de facto rewards system, whereby a successful principal can “ask” to be moved to a less stressful, higher-performing school while new or less successful principals are relegated to the “problem” schools. (Do you have regional boards of education in Finland and what control do they have over a school, if any?)

    Also, does every school provide a nurse, counsellor and psychiatrist to the school’s team of support staff?

    And can the Finnish teachers on this forum please inform me to how they and the school interact with their community? (I would like to know more about how parents, institutions, businesses, etc influence decisions made by individual schools regarding student needs, policies and learning objectives).

    Also, can someone please talk about their own experiences with this co-operative teaching aspect that we hear so much about? I am particularly intrigued by the notion of what do you guys do if you don’t get along with someone or if you have a teacher who is not a good fit for the school!

    Thanks so much for this interesting enthusiastic article and the subsequent discussion!

    Reply
  44. Dr V A Gangadharan

    I appreciate the critical conversations. It is a good for educators. The problem with education systems the world over is that it has no central steering authority to plan and work the plan. We need something like a World Parliament of Educators ably supported by committed and competent futurists who love children and their world. Whether we like it or not, by 2050, there will be a World Government !

    Reply

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