March 25, 2013
This is the first post from my observations after a visit to Finland to learn about its education system. In all, I will post four sections through this week. This introduction talks a bit about trust and the teaching profession. Next, I’ll add information about the system structure and accountability. Let me know what you think…
I just returned from a trip to Finland earlier this month as part of a 22-member Kentucky team of educators and policy makers eager to learn the secret behind the country’s consistent high performance on international assessments.
Finland has regularly ranked at the top on the Programme for International Student Assessments (PISA), sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), given to 15 year olds every three years. Sixty-five countries participated in 2009.
This trip was sponsored by Northern Kentucky University where several students, including a tight-knit group of six Kentucky superintendents, were finishing up their work toward their doctorates in education.
Our observations of the country’s successful system included not only actual policies and practices, but attitudes and values, as well.
The value weaved throughout its policies features a strong drive for equity in access to excellent education, matched by a structure of social services to ensure the general well being of the population. Trust of education professionals and support of the public school system also provides a strong foundation for success. Finnish people have the attitude – tied to a strong Lutheran ethic – that this investment is worthwhile.
Education professionals are the backbone of the school system. Our first presenter representing the center for continuing education at the University of Helsinki set the stage by saying, “In Finland, we trust our teachers.”
After learning more, I would say it this way, “In Finland — we respect the professionalism of the profession, we select the best applicants for teaching programs, educate them in content, pedagogy and research methods, provide significant on-the-job training and mentoring, require they earn a Masters degree before they can teach, and, then, when they go to work — we trust our teachers.” And, later, through their careers, educators are provided quality professional development.
Unfortunately, trust is not a word nor attitude exhibited in our society with regard to public education, or other public service. Recent days in our own state a propensity to use criticism and competition has been adopted as a means to encourage improvement. This is anathema to the Finnish system experts.
Educators on the trip commented immediately on the reduced tension in the Finnish system observed in presentations about the schools and through actual visits to schools.
In Finland, teachers are as highly valued as doctors and lawyers, and entrance into the universities to study teaching is restrictive. Only ten percent of applicants is accepted. Teacher applicant screening includes a test with an analytical element, and an interview with groups of peers.
About 90 percent of those accepted in to teacher programs finish. The university officials we spoke with reported there’s very little “burnout” or turnover in the teaching force. Our team acknowledged that in the U.S. we lose a significant number of teachers in the first five years.
Trust is shown also by devaluing competition and emphasizing collaboration and school autonomy, recognizing that these professionals will take the responsibility to make sure the students in their care know what they need, and they will focus on each individual child to ensure learning.