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Thursday, February 18, 2010

WHY IS FINLAND'S EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM SO OUTSTANDING?


One of my primary reasons for making this trip was to visit with the Finnish National Board of Education. I had a luncheon meeting with Reijo Laukkanen today, Head of International Relations. He spends half the year at home and half in Paris with OECD PISA (see below from my book). I found the discussion to be most enlightening, immensely adding to my understanding of why Finland has such an outstanding educational system.

I believe I heard him say that he is recovering from a very serious heart operation and just about got out of a hospital bed to meet with me. He should come to Hawaii and talk to our Department of Education and State Legislature. On the other hand, that could be a waste of his time.








Chapter 3 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity focuses on education, and, to quote:

Finland Works

In the latest (2006) Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organsation for Economic Co-operation and Development (PISA/OECD), Finland ranked #1 in science (Hong Kong #2, Canada #3), #2 in reading literacy (Korea #1, Hong Kong #3) and #2 in math (#1 Chinese Taipei, #3 Hong Kong). Singapore did not participate. The U.S. ranked in the 30’s. Interestingly enough, there are generally no end of year tests to measure progress. There is an expectation that students will be successful. No child left behind? The U.S. does it in just the opposite fashion, and seems to be paying for it.

In Finland, the family brings up the child to the age 6, and reading literacy is ingrained into the daily life. Most go to day care at the age of 1, as most mothers work. Education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16 and there is no separation of the smart from the stupid in all classes. Students, though, spend among the fewest hours in school. Meals are free. After the age of 16, students generally continue schooling, but take separate academic or vocational paths. There are no fees for any of this, but Finland spends the second highest/student of OECD nations.

Only 8% of those who apply can major in teaching. Teachers at all levels must be highly qualified with at least a master’s degree, and, this is very important for any society…educators are highly respected. You want a prescription for success? Look closely at Finland, which also is doing very well economically (#11 in GDP/capita, ahead of Canada, U.K., Sweden, Japan, France and Germany).


Here is the scoop. Finland pays average teacher salaries, but teachers are respected. Best as I can determine, this goes back to the 1800's when the Lutheran Church and government, together, changed the nature of education in the country. However, it was as recently as the 1960's and 70's when there was a total make-over, when education from 7-15 became compulsory, and anything after that, also free. Meals, books, busses, whatever it takes, free.

Finland spends less than the OECD average through high school, but slightly more per capita for college, but only barely more. The OECD expenditure is $12,336, which is less than half that of the U.S. ($25,109). As indicated in that Chapter 3, I think this is why the U.S. dominates.

But these numbers are more complicated than you think, for Dr. Laukkanen indicated that you need to also consider how relatively large their economy is, and the subsequent percentage application to education. This factor considered, their investment in people is significant.

Anyway, why, then, do Finnish students do so well in standardized tests and life in general? First, Finland has no real upper class nor lower class. The majority is in the middle and feels equal. Their school system is NOT competitive. Singapore and South Korea also do well in both tests and economics, but competition is cut throat. As a result, their suicide rate is high (South Korea #1) and Singapore, in particular, has lost that humanitarian spirit. Finland stresses working together for the common good. Wow, what a concept!

As I have pointed out this past week, the Corruption Perception Index is an indicator of how well a country is working. Singapore is #3, Finland #6 and South Korea #39 (U.S. is #19). You can get carried away with these surveys, though, for there is also a Happy Planet Index (Singapore #49, Finland #59, South Korea #68 and U.S. #114).

After a well-fortified lunch, I decided to brave the elements (minus 25 degrees C wind chill factor), walked through a snowstorm to the Old Market Hall and bought my dinner: a kind of sandwich with sausages and cheese, some Finnish blue cheese, a small onion, an endive, pickle and an assortment of green olives, with a small bottle of Salmiakki (salty liquorice liqueur with ammonium chloride). Yes, ammonium chloride. This is the compound that cleans solder iron tips and is used as an ingredient for explosives. A very tiny bottle. After posting this, to build up my appetite, I plan to use the hotel sauna, a tradition in Finland, with that silver birch to beat yourself or someone else. There are 2 million saunas in the country.


Current Conditions
Helsinki, FI (Airport)
Updated: 21 min 1 sec ago
Light Snow
-15 °C
Light Snow
Windchill:-25 °C
Humidity:78%
Dew Point:-18 °C
Wind:22 km/h / 6.2 m/s from theENE

5-Day Forecast


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-9° C | -30° C
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30% chance of precipitation
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Looks like the weather will not improve much tomorrow and I leave for Copenhagen on Sunday. Looks like it will get warmer:
5-Day ForecastCustomize Your Icons!
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1° C | -4° C
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40% chance of precipitation
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30% chance of precipitation
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30% chance of precipitation

At least the weather might get above freezing in Denmark. I should stop here, for this is already three times too long, but, for the masochists....



THE QUINTESSENTIAL HISTORY OF FINLAND


Life with tools began as early as 120,000 BC in Finland, but earliest traces of modern man like us is around 8500 BC. Helsinki was colonized 7000 years ago. In 1700 Helsinki had a population of 1600. Sweden ruled from 1155 until the Russians took over in 1809. In 1906, Finnish women were the first in the world to gain full political rights. The current president, Tarja Halonen, a female, sort of looks like Conan O'Brien:


Going back in time, independence finally came in 1917. Helsinki, with Moscow and London, were the only European capitals not occupied by Hitler.


Finland hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952, when the Soviet Union participated for their first time since 1912, and the USA had to scramble on the last day to edge out our Cold War rivals. In many ways, these Olympics transformed Finland. In 1995 they joined the European Union.


Geographically, Finland is 1.5 times the size of the United Kingdom and

slightly smaller than Montana. By the way a good question to stump an expert is: Name me two cities in Finland? There are 187,888 lakes (Minnesota has fewer than 12,000) and 179,584 islands. The population is just over 5 million, just about the same number as the municipalities of my previous two stops, Munich and Barcelona. The population of Helsinki is slightly smaller than that of Hawaii. GDP/capita is $34,900, placing it at #34. The U.S., with $46,400, is in tenth place. Liechtenstein is #1 with $122,100. From my 21December08 blog:


The modern day history of Nokia really started only in 1967 when a rubber boot company merged with a pulp mill (I’m somewhat exaggerating, but only a little) and they ended up marketing the first portable phone about two decades ago. Today, Nokia is the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones and has 120,000 employees in 120 countries.


People are supposedly taciturn, but practically everyone I talked to seemed normally friendly. In fact everyone I chanced to meet spoke excellent English. Reijo indicated that 100% of 12 year olds would be able to converse quite well in English. Lost is among the most popular TV shows here. Yet, if you're not into winter sports, like me, I would recommend you come in the summer. I'll need to return.

The principle Finnish trait is sisu, the philosophy of triumph against all odds. There is something about this country that works, and it begins with their educational system.

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The Dow Jones Industrials opened poorly today, but could well recover for a positive end of week, while world markets were mixed. Gold is up again and crude oil is just under $80/barrel.

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Tropical Cyclone Gelane is now at 145 MPH, but is easing southwest sufficiently east of Mauritius and Le Reunion. My friends on both islands must now be breathing easier, although it's not quite over. Rodrigues, though, was impacted.
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