Finnish vs. American education


Adobe Spark

Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finland versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.

Lilli Eppinga, Staff writer

As an American student, it is crazy to think there is a better interpretation and system of education somewhere else in the world. Every student dreams of shortened days, no more tests and hardly any homework. The Finnish turn these dreams into reality and still climb higher in the ranks of education each year, while we are stuck testing over each minuscule chapter we learn and expected to thrive off the stress produced from homework, extracurricular activities and competition. 

Even though American students are pushed to their limits, Finnish students have ranked near the top of the Program for International Student Assessment since testing started in 2000, according to Stanford University. 

In the most recent assessment in 2009, Finland ranked sixth in math, second in science and third in reading. By comparison, U.S. students ranked 30th, 23rd and 17th. So is the method we employ truly the best way to teach kids? While both Finland and America have a common goal, to better educate their students, their systematic process of reaching it is drastically different in the way they push their students, their funding, teaching and their core values. 

The first major difference between the two countries is t their policies on examination and workload. There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. They have moved toward evaluating teachers and schools instead of relying on tests or principals to solve perceived problems. In America, grades depend on student test performance, participation in class discussions, completion of homework and independent projects. 

High schools in America create a cumulative transcript consisting of all earned grades, and in order to get into college students, students must submit their transcripts. Finnish students take only one test which decides whether they can pursue higher education or not. 

Another profound difference between Finland and America is how they fund their schools. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians

Teaching in Finland is one of the most prestigious achievements and is taken very seriously, while American teachers are overlooked not only by society but by most students. “When we compare teachers to other professions in society, we compare them to lawyers or doctors or architects. Not as in the United States, where they are compared to nurses or therapists, or something like that, that require lower academic training,” says Pasi Sahlberg in a Stanford article. Sahlberg is a Finnish education expert and the director of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. 

Teachers in Finland are required to obtain a three-year master’s degree, state-funded, before teaching, and even then only one in 10 primary school teacher applicants are accepted. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Every school has the same national goals, which is extremely effective since they are always on the same page. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter if they live in the suburbs or in the city. 

The academic differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s teachers’ union.

While America’s education system seems to work mediocrely, it may be a time to consider trying aspects of the Finnish system and values in order for our students to receive the best possible education they can. After all, success is a primary goal and strong value of the American core, so why not make some changes?