October 27, 2016

Finnish teachers and schools – what’s the fuss?

Kirsti Lonka

is professor of educational psychology at the University of Helsinki.

In recent years, Finnish educational system has been in the focus of positive attention. New top listings appear quite frequently showing how well we are doing in global innovation, happiness, PISA results, etc. The most recent rating showed that Finnish higher education produces the second-cleverest students in the world.

But, how is it possible that such a small country, with only 5.5 million inhabitants, is doing so well?

In Finland it is an important value to be humble. That is why all this fuss about Finnish education makes us somewhat embarrassed: there must be something wrong with all these ratings! Finland used to be a really poor country, battered by constant wars. We are still not used to the idea of doing well. But even during hard times, education was always valued.

There are bright sides to our pessimism: we constantly reform our education and try to make it better. Simply stagnating would mean that quality starts to slip. Finland requires master’s-level training for classroom teachers; it is one of the hardest university programmes to get in. Our teachers are autonomous and not constantly assessed. Students value their teachers and do well from preschool to university.

Yet, we are facing the same world-wide concerns in education as all everyone else: we need to give up our old ways of teaching and focus more on learning. We must provide our pupils with the 21st century skills they require in order to live in a rapidly changing world, amidst globalisation and digitalisation.

In Finland, the change process may be even more painful than in other countries for those mature teachers who are very good at face-to-face teaching. They may face difficulties in changing their habits. Even though Finland is very well equipped, the meaningful use of technologies at school is still not common enough.

Digital devices should become a natural part of pedagogy, as they are part of our everyday life. Therefore, our new study plans have just been implemented, calling for fundamentally changing our ideas of learning – and even our physical learning environments. Furthermore, just last week the memo of teacher education reform was published, calling for life-long professional development for all Finnish teachers.

Such positive changes mean that the future for Finnish education is looking promising, indeed.

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