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Jay Walljasper: Lessons to Learn From Finland’s Top-Ranked Schools

March 19, 2014

Finland ranks highest in global education because teachers rank highest in society.

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Image from Flickr via hagge

By Jay Walljasper
By arrangement with On The Commons

Educators and school reformers all over the world are descending on Finland to learn from the success of their educational system, which since 2001 has ranked #1 (or close to it) for the performance of 15 year olds on standardized tests in reading, math and science. The irony is that Finland—a prosperous, technologically top-tier nation—doesn’t place much emphasis on standardized tests.

Finnish men name teachers as the most desirable profession for a spouse, while Finnish women rank only doctors and veterinarians higher as potential mates.

What they value most is teaching. Surveys show that Finnish men name teachers as the most desirable profession for a spouse, while Finnish women rank only doctors and veterinarians higher as potential mates. That’s according to Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Changes in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg of the Finnish Education Ministry. This kind of respect means that teachers are given considerable freedom to shape curriculum and student assessment policies in their classrooms, which Sahlberg believes translates into better educated kids.

Another element of the Finnish success story is a focus on personalized learning: students work at their own pace based on particular abilities and interests. “Personalization is not about having students work independently at computer terminals,” Sahlberg notes. Indeed, Scholastic magazine notes that visitors to Finnish schools are surprised to find relatively little technology in classrooms, even in a country with a strong high-tech economy.

“The Finnish Way is to tailor the needs of each child with flexible arrangements and different learning paths,” Sahlberg adds. “Technology is not a substitute but merely a tool to complement interaction with teachers and fellow students.”

Sahlberg’s conclusion: “Creative curricula, autonomous teachers, courageous leadership and high performance go together.”

Jay Walljasper, Senior Fellow at On the Commons and editor of OnTheCommons.org, created OTC’s book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. A speaker, communications strategist and writer and editor, he chronicles stories from around the world that point us toward a more equitable, sustainable and enjoyable future. He is author of The Great Neighborhood Book and a senior associate at the urban affairs consortium Citiscope. Walljasper also writes a column about city life for Shareable.net and is a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces and Augsburg College’s Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning.

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