The Finland Phenomenon: The Global Search for Education

Professor Pasi Sahlberg and CM Rubin (CM Rubin)


More Focus on Finland

By C. M. Rubin with Harry Rubin and Michael Freeborn
“The Finns had a crisis,” life-long educator, best-selling author, and Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains as we discuss his new film, The Finland Phenomenon, made with acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Bob Compton. “Their economy was failing. Their education system was poor. They knew that to grow their economy, they had to transform their educational system.” Starting with the principle that cooperation is a key pillar of success, the Finns revised their educational framework.

“I saw teachers in Finland that were better than 90% of the teachers I see in America,” says Wagner. There were many things that led to Finland topping the international education league tables (ten years and counting). A key driver: a tremendous investment in teaching made it the most sought-after profession in Finland.

Compulsory schooling now begins at seven. School is a place where students discover who they are and what they can contribute. National testing and school inspections are banished (teachers are trusted to assess their students). Classroom size has been reduced (limited to 20 students). Students are permitted to transfer to an academic or vocational school at the age of 16, and no university fees are charged for Finnish or European Union students.

This educational reformation has made them world leaders. Not surprisingly, global policy makers are paying more attention. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of CIMO in Helsinki, Finland (the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) now advises policy-makers in over 40 countries on matters relating to education and its reform. Four months before the release of his highly anticipated new book, “Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn about educational change in Finland,” Pasi Sahlberg spoke with me about the characteristics of successful educational systems, and about what is missing from many systems around the world.

What kind of education system will permit a country to have the people skills needed to compete globally?

The education system must be equitable, accessible, and flexible.

Global competitiveness requires that all people develop competencies for life and work, not just some people. This means that a successful education system should help young people to discover their talents and build their lives based on them. Reading, mathematical, and scientific literacy will remain important, but their role as ‘core subjects’ in competitive education systems will be challenged by creativity, networking skills, and imagination.

An equitable education system makes sure that all students will perform well. It will provide early support to those who need more help in their learning than others. It will also emphasize caring and well-being in school (through healthy nutrition, medical, dental and psychological health), rights of students in school, and shared responsibilities in education and upbringing of children with parents.

Accessibility means that the education system provides good schooling for all, regardless of where people live or what they do. The education system that can offer unified and comprehensive basic education, rather than diversified provision of schooling (through private or non-public schools), will have better opportunities to respond to the changing needs of the competitive and complex world.

Flexibility is about providing adequate individual personalization in school, and freedom for schools to craft their curricula based on their capacities and local needs.

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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1 Response to The Finland Phenomenon: The Global Search for Education

  1. Don says:

    Interesting but somewhat misleading. In Finland you can go to college for as long as you want for free. Linus Torvalds the inventor of Linux was a grad student for 9 years at the University of Helsinki. That would not be possible here for most people as it would be prohibitively expensive. More education and especially in pedagogy does not guarantee more entrepreneurship. The Finns spend much less on defense and have a system of social welfare that far exceeds are own and don’t underestimate the value of either of those on the outcomes in classrooms.


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