Why Are Finnish Students Smarter Than Us?

Many countries have looked toward Finland when their education systems need improvement. Researchers have found that Finland produces the second-highest performing graduates, outperformed only by Japanese graduates. In 2009, Finnish students placed sixth in math, second in science, and third in reading according to the Program for International Student Assessment. American students, on the other hand, placed 30th, 27th, and 17th in the same categories. Leaders of other countries seek to import Finnish techniques in order to achieve the same success, but soon find that it is not quite that simple. Much of the success of the Finnish educational system is connected to the culture itself, deeply rooted in the ideals of the people, and cannot be replicated in another country, leaving the Finnish system out of reach.

The methods used in Finnish schooling are unique, based on an innovative philosophy which places emphasis on the importance of education and progress. In Finland, education is viewed as crucial to the success of the country as a whole, and therefore the government invests heavily in schooling. Teachers in Finnish schools are required to hold a Bachelor’s degree, but often have a Master’s degree as well. Those admitted into teaching education programs are carefully selected, and if they do become teachers, are required to participate in in-service training each year to ensure that they are well-prepared. The great amount of effort that goes into selecting and training teachers and that the teachers put into preparing leads to a great respect for the career and professional wages. All schools are well-equipped not only with well-educated teachers, but also with all the supplies needed – no school is insufficiently supplied, and the government provides for each school equally. As there is an immense amount of money that goes into the educational system, Finnish students never have to pay for their schooling, even in college, because their tax dollars provide for it all. Most importantly, the educational methods used in schools are some of the most effective in the world. Instead of yearly standardized tests, Finnish students only take one test at the end of their education: a holistic exam that tests students on aptitude and skills rather than memorized information. This leaves teachers with more freedom to teach a unique, creative curriculum not limited by government regulations or required courses. Given this freedom, teachers are able to better engage students in the subject material, which is covered in a shorter school day than almost any other country’s. This philosophy of creativity and freedom that allows for progress and innovative thinking have delivered excellent results.

This success is not due simply to the methods employed by teachers and the government funds, however. Finland is a country with an extremely homogeneous population: 98.3% of the population consists of Finns, meaning only 1.7% of people in the country come from a different ethnicity. This uniformity among the people leads to a great degree of cooperation and trust between citizens and the government, and therefore the school system as well. The Finnish culture places great emphasis on the group rather than the individual, and this is reflected in high taxes, which have kept the Finnish economy stable and contribute funds for important government programs, as well as this high-functioning education system. The solid Finnish economy also ensures that there are low poverty rates, meaning that most Finnish families are well off, protecting the stability of the educational system as well. The ample educational funding and high level of trust between the people and the government found in the Finnish culture have created an environment in which schooling has flourished.

Therefore, though many educational concerns could be solved by recreating the Finnish educational system in other countries, the real problems rest in the societal issues underlying the failing school systems. Until other countries find a way to form a cohesive, trusting culture, an educational system on the same level as Finland’s will most likely remain out of reach.

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