A Finnish Edutopia

I was planning to post about Finland after reading this article in eSchool News that described a recent visit to Scandanavia by US educators.  Finland was of particular interest since they are often first in international tests of math and science.   I never got around to the post yesterday because I spent the time I had learning more about Finland at Wikipedia and the CIA Factbook.  Then, this morning, Tim over at Assorted Stuff pointed me to a post about a series of articles related to Finland’s education system.  Combine all this with Sheryl’s 9 principles for implementing what she calls the Big Shift, and we begin to see how education can become more than just something students get through.

Tim writes,

While I’m sure there’s much more than meets the eye, their success seems to boil down to a high degree of trust for the students combined with high expectations for their learning.

I agree.  I also agree wholeheartedly with Ewen who points to the trust that they put in teachers.  Being a teacher in Finland is the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer here in the states.  Only one in eight applicants gets into schools of education and teachers are widely respected.  They are given high levels of autonomy in their classrooms where the pedagogy is very much student-centered.  Hmm…is this the edutopia we’re always talking about?

I also agree with Tim’s comment that there is more than meets the eye, particularly in terms of making these international comparisons.  Finland is not the United States.  My research into Finland led me to see it as one big exclusive private school.  The incredibly homogeneous population equals that of Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Everyone speaks the same language, and, it appears, shares the same culture, values and history.  And, one of those shared values is education.

I don’t want to discourage us from looking to places like Finland for inspiration.  But, I also want us to recognize that America’s great experiment of educating everyone leads us to grapple with an incredibly heterogeneous population that often does not speak the same language or share the same values.

And, while at the national level, we may not seem to trust either students or teachers, at the local level, I’m seeing some of the “big shift” happening. I have been in several high schools this past year where teachers are part of the leadership and are implementing amazing changes in their classrooms, partly from a wider access to technology tools such as blog and wikis, and partly because they are changing the relationship they have with their students.  I would suggest that, rather than sending delegations to Scandanavia, we might be better served by sending delegations to those schools to highlight what we’re doing right in this sometime suffocating standards-based world in which we live.

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