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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Finland’s Formula for School Success (Education Everywhere Series)

Early intervention and sustained individual support for every student are keys to educating the whole child in Finnish schools. For more articles and videos about classrooms around the world, visit our global learning resource page.
Transcript

Finland’s Formula for School Success (Transcript)

Pasi: If you look at the 15-year-olds, or 16-year-old Finns who are leaving the basic school, most of them have been in special education throughout their schooling. Which means that special education is actually nothing special. So it's you are a special child or student if you haven't been, if you haven't ever used special services.

Pasi: We are putting a lot of emphasis on the early detection of any difficulties and problems that the students in our schools may have. And this is a very different policy to many other countries where these measures are designed in a way that they are implemented only when the problems have emerged and are too visible. But we don’t' think like this in Finland. I think we believe in this early intervention to make sure that those who are likely to be in trouble will be recognized early, and provided help and support as quickly as possible.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] Two times two times two, how is this value notated?

Student: [speaking Finnish] Two to the power of three.

Olli: We as subject teachers cooperate with the special teacher in cases where we see that an individual student has problems with their studies. It might be problems with concentrating on a theme. It might be reading and listening difficulties, especially in languages and math. What we do is that we contact the special teacher at the very early moment. We call it the first intervention. We talk with the special teacher, and try to arrange a time that she or he could be able to come and join me as a subject teacher to my classroom, and then focus on the problem.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] And now we are going to read through all the words which we know already.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] I have a feeling that the students come here because they want to, they like to come here. They are welcome here, they don’t feel that it is a punishment.

Olli: The special teacher is available for a couple of hours. And then she picks the student to a separate classroom and helps him or her there. And we also make an individual learning plan for that individual student. And by taking these measures, we try to guarantee that no one is lagging behind.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] Even in a smaller group she has difficulties concentrating on her work.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] Has she had these problems before?

Olli: The student welfare team gathers on a weekly basis, and subject teachers inform the group with different cases. They might be bullying, they might be skipping classes, they might be learning difficulties, it might behavioral problems, all kinds of things.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] No, I don’t think so, and that’s why I’m very worried, because I can see that she is very talented. For instance, in her English class, she’s working very hard, she’s writing stories.

Olli: And then these individual problems are dealt with case-by-case in this weekly meeting that every school in Finland has.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] It seems like she has a problem with her looks. She feels that she is too big. I was trying to tell her that she was not too big, I wanted her to understand that.

Merja: Well, a student welfare group deals with any kinds of problems that we see in a school having to do with problems at home or at learning disabilities, multi-cultural problems. The main value of our student welfare group is to interrupt as soon as possible, problems involved.

Pasi: With this policy, we are trying to really make it easy for everybody to say, "Yes, I have some areas where I need help now. Is there anybody who can help?" rather than trying to hide these things. And in many cases, when you do this in the later years they will come and accumulate even more difficult problems. So I think with this, we have been able to positively affect both the- the equity of the system, and also the quality of the system.

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Credits
  • Producer / Director: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Robbie Stauder
  • Second Camera / Audio: Joseph Rivera
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Consulting Producer: Nicholas Bray
  • Video Programming Producer: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: Zachary Fink

Produced in partnership with the Pearson Foundation.

Education Everywhere Video Series

This series takes a look at high-achieving education systems and model schools around the world to see what makes them successful. This series is a co-production with the Pearson Foundation; visit their "Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education" page for more information.

Finland Fast Facts

  • Only 3.8% of Finland's population of 5.3 million is foreign-born, which makes for a relatively homogenous society in a small country.
  • Teachers in Finland are well-trained and highly respected, and recruited from the top 10% of graduates.
  • Because of the flexible national core curriculum that functions as a framework, Finnish teachers are able to design their own curriculum and choose their own textbooks.
  • Finnish schools are typically small in size, and the administrators share teaching responsibilities.
  • Finnish schools provide a broad array of services, including a hot meal for every student daily, health and dental care, and psychological guidance.
  • About 40% of students in Finnish secondary schools receive some kind of special intervention. School faculties include a "special teacher" who is assigned to identify student who need extra help and then provide it.
  • Upper secondary schools in Finland employ a modular structure that enables students to design their own learning programs based on their individual needs and interests.
  • Finland's graduation rate for upper secondary students was 93% in 2008.
  • On the last three Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests (given in 2003, 2006, and 2009), Finland has scored either first or second out of all OECD countries for all three measures: scientific literacy, math literacy, and reading literacy. (Source: Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture)

Watch more videos in the Education Everywhere series:

Or visit our global learning resource page for more resources.

Source: Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Results PDF report by the OECD, from the Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Finland page by the Pearson Foundation.

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Ann Sisko's picture
Ann Sisko
Emeritus Classroom Teacher (grades 2/3 - 7/8) in South Brunswick, NJ

...that were left out.

In Finland, teaching is a desirable profession. There is great competition on the university level to be admitted to masters' programs in teaching (which are fully subsidized). Ninety-six percent of Finland's teachers are unionized, and teachers have a great deal of input and autonomy.

There are no charter schools in Finland, and according to Dr. Pasi Sahlberg (who is quoted in the linked articles)there are no private schools. Everyone attends public school. Students start at age 7, there is almost no standardized testing until they turn 16, and homework is discouraged.

The point of Finnish school reform was equity, not excellence. Excellence seems to have been a by-product of equity as they implemented their program. Dr. Sahlberg observed, "Finland's dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn't be done."

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/education/from-finland-an-intriguing-s...

Ann Kohler's picture
Ann Kohler
Special Ed and Science Teacher from Cumming, GA.

Yes, how interesting that a by-product of "excellence" occurred in a country where teachers are treated as first-class citizens rather than undesirables, where teachers are paid an equitable salary vs. one that forces them to often work a second job to make ends meet, where teachers are not seen as something to "cut" from the budget of both Federal and State budgets because they are viewed as an obviously unnecessary line item that is not worth the cost, where teachers unions are not seen as a pariah, where teachers are not viewed as lazy people, not worth the obviously overly generous "benefits" of health insurance and retirement that they earn for "only working" nine months of the year due to holidays and "summers off'.
It always amazes me how the "powers that be" say that Education is the top priority for our country and our future, and yet choose to treat us as they do. If teachers in the U.S. (and students too), were given the opportunities, support, and educational framework they use in Finland we more than likely would end up having the same results here in the U.S.
We can only dream of such a thing here. But as one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes, said; "Hold onto dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly". As teachers - "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams" Willy Wonka

Ann Sisko's picture
Ann Sisko
Emeritus Classroom Teacher (grades 2/3 - 7/8) in South Brunswick, NJ

Sorry about the skepticism, but it is born of a deep frustration with the way corporations are trying to make more and more money from getting involved in education.

Until Citizens United is undone, we need to be hypervigilant about 'corporations as people.' Corporations as educators. Without a heart, without a soul, without a conscience -- it's really all about profit.

Why might Pearson not mention that Finland doesn't test kids? Could it be because Pearson is "a giant in the testing industry?" I am not suggesting that their videos are false, or there is nothing to learn from them. They may all turn out to be incomplete, as this one is -- we just have to be careful to observe carefully and ask the right questions about what is left out.

In recent months there have been articles in the New York Times, in Education Week and in the Texas Observer (among others) about the "privatization" of public education.

From Education Week: "Pearson has been busy in the past year or so, buying Connections Education, which operates virtual schools; partnering with the Florida Virtual School to offer online courses; buying SchoolNet, whose software tracks student progress; teaming up with the biggest school district in Maryland to develop an elementary school curriculum; and buying America's Choice, a school-improvement organization whose officials helped write the common standards."

(Here's a link to Pearsonville, Pearson's 'vision' of the future... http://www.pearsonville.com/)

"The Pearson Foundation also announced a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop curriculum for the common standards."

This is scary. And today I received an e-mail from Edutopia about Edutopia partnering with Microsoft. I signed up for Edutopia back when it began because it seemed to promote exploration of the possibilities of education. I am disappointed that more and more it seems to promote corporate solutions.

Katherine Segovia's picture
Katherine Segovia
Elementary Coordinator

I watched the video and see a class with 6 or less students....we have to deal with 30 or 40 in our country minimum (in one class)...it's sooo difficult to keep daily track and intervene on the spot sometimes.......any suggestions?

Ann Sisko's picture
Ann Sisko
Emeritus Classroom Teacher (grades 2/3 - 7/8) in South Brunswick, NJ

Katherine, the largest (elementary) class I ever taught had 27 kids, and that was even too many for optimum benefits to the kids.

There is research somewhere out there that says class size doesn't matter. Administrators embraced it because large classes save money, and education 'reformers' embraced it because it refuted what actual educators were saying -- that class size does indeed matter.

What can you do? What teachers have been doing all along -- paying attention to the kids and helping wherever and whenever you can.

I wish I had a better answer for you. But as long as you are faced with that many students, as long as you are shackled by unreasonable demands and useless record keeping, as long as you are continually expected to do more with less, there's not a whole lot of options.

One major effect of NCLB has been that more and more kids are getting left behind.

What you need is a relaxed situation where you can observe students and provide intervention as needed. That means giving teachers the time, the (mental, physical and psychological) space, the resources and the autonomy to do the real job of teaching. That's what they have in Finland.

How will you get classes of a reasonable size? How will you be supported in your efforts to reach all of the kids you teach? Those are systemic questions -- but a good start is to get pro-education candidates into office!

(Please take a moment to read my other posts here -- they are relevant to the question of where a lot of the resources are currently going.)

Lora Ma-Fukuda's picture
Lora Ma-Fukuda
mom & former exec producer @edutopia.org

Ann Sisko,
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. We're well aware of the complicated nature of corporate sponsorship of education, and we absolutely share your concern.

Edutopia partners with many other content creators in our field to illuminate success stories in education. Our partnership in the production of the Education Everywhere series is with the Pearson Foundation, a non-profit that is independent from the commercial Pearson corporation.

We strive for a diversity in reporting about programs all over the country and the world -- and we're excited that this new series will broaden our international coverage. In addition, we welcome the conversations started by our coverage -- how models might be adapted and/or other ideas for making education more meaningful for today's generation. Our audience has signaled interest in learning more about education in other countries, such as this interview with Linda Darling-Hammond on assessment in countries beyond the US:
http://www.edutopia.org/international-teaching-learning-assessment-video

Finally, regarding your feedback about messages from Edutopia's paid advertisers; these are special email messages with information that might be of interest to our audience and, importantly, they generate revenue so we can provide Edutopia as a free service. It is possible to unsubscribe from Edutopia advertiser messages and still receive our newsletter and other Edutopia emails. You can click unsubscribe on a sponsored email (at the top of the message or the bottom) and you will no longer receive messages from Edutopia paid advertisers. If you have further questions about how to do this, please email info@edutopia.org

Thanks again for your feedback!

Andrea Marri's picture
Andrea Marri
K9+ Computer Sciences and Special Ed teacher from Perugia, Italy

First I'm absolutely a major fan of Finnish school system, generally speaking.
As for the Special education thing, however, I think a fundamental information missing from the article is the ratio Special Ed teachers/Students which is the crucial issue.

Italian education is maybe the only public system which has devoted so many resources to Spec Ed: in fact there is a Spec Ed teacher every 1-3 students with Spec educational needs, devoting many hours per day to support each of them, throughout the whole K-13 period (in Italy students stay at high schools one year more)for most of the school subjects.

For many reasons however that is the less sustainable every passing year: first we are supposed to take care only of certified special educational needs, whereas students with learning disabilities due to a wide range of causes, from social to physical, are many more than those "certified"; second, public welfare is economically struggling to sustain such a huge amount of teachers; third, the system has many weak points particularly when we have to deal with so many school subjects (Special Ed teacher should support Maths as well as Language skills, Technical as well as History, etc.).

I think a good point of balance between Italian "too many" Spec Ed teachers and "one per school" Finnish system (which by the way is MUCH better than "none" of many educational systems) could be found.

Nina Smith's picture
Nina Smith
Mentor, Teaching Consultant

So nice to find this video and discussion here! Being a teacher trained in Finland I very much appreciate everything already said here, but still would like to highlight one more thing: pay more attention to the process of learning than the product at hands. Teach your students about self-assessment as early as possible.

I coach teachers and provide them with pedagogical tools to help them thrive in their wonderful profession, and something I often see happening is how we still tend to emphasize teaching over learning. Changing the focus to learning makes all the difference in a classroom, and it also is a small change each and every teacher can start utilizing in their own classroom, no matter what the curriculum might be. I admit the high stakes testing presenting a problem, but students who believe in their own abilities as learners also tend to deal pretty well with testing (which of course is far from the ideal situation).

Please visit on my website for more info: http://ninacsmith.com/ or read my blog about teaching and learning at http://notesfromnina.wordpress.com/

I like exporting the Finnish know-how about education and am always happy to answer questions, too.

Ann Sisko's picture
Ann Sisko
Emeritus Classroom Teacher (grades 2/3 - 7/8) in South Brunswick, NJ

Nina, you make a terrific point here. We need to recognize that learning is primary, and that we do what we do as teachers to support that learning.

Once upon a time, teachers could be heard saying, "I taught it but they didn't learn it." I was in college at the time, and my friends and I thought that was ridiculous -- it seemed obvious to us that if the students didn't learn it, then the teacher didn't teach it!

Then, when I was a new teacher, an experienced teacher who was to become my mentor and my friend explained, "I don't think of myself so much as a teacher as a 'learning facilitator.'

Throughout my career that is what I constantly aimed for. It became much more difficult when mandated 'professional development' started redirecting our focus away from the 'learning' part of the equation and emphasizing the ever more elaborate 'song and dance' we do as teachers.

And today, you again can hear teachers saying, "I taught it but they didn't learn it" -- absolutely straightfaced and without any sense of irony.

The past decade in America has been tough for teachers who really understand how kids learn. There are many teachers who have never known what it was like to teach without the burdens of high stakes testing, who have never experienced the joys of being a 'learning facilitator.'

I was lucky. My first twenty or so years as a public school teacher were in a district where the Superintendent put kids first and foremost. He trusted his principals to know their school communities and make appropriate decisions for those communities. The principals trusted the teachers to know their students and make appropriate decisions for those students. And the teachers trusted their students to grow as learners -- the teachers were there to facilitate their students' learning.

Yes, there were problems. No, it wasn't perfect. There are some things that are better today. It would be wonderful if we could keep the bits of 'good stuff' that are out there now, and incorporate the 'good stuff' from back them. With the best of both worlds, we might really be on to something!

Diana T. Mackiewicz's picture
Diana T. Mackiewicz
Computer Dept. Head/Academic Adviser

I recall reading the report about Finland Schools and how they do it....many things not covered, but the gist of the report was in the video.

I work at a private boarding school for only students diagnosed with a Learning Disorder, LD. The classes are small, no larger than 8-10 for certain academics and there is plenty of intervention. Much like the Finnish system, I may spend up to 5 years working directly with students through grades 8-12 and finally see them off to graduation. Unlike the Finnish system, replete with homogeneity, my students are from all over the world and the United States with skills at various levels.

Furthermore, like the Finnish system there is a close rapport with students because of the small classes and "direct" involvement. Not everyone has this kind of educational system, it is rare and it is not perfect. But I did time in public and parochial schools and felt the nagging desire to find the educational environment where students are able to learn and want to.

In fact, after reading the report about Finnish schools and the remarkable educational gains, I looked for any opportunity to visit Finland and exchange teach there. Still have not found the opportunity but if I learned Finnish, maybe my chances would be increased. Something not covered in the video, the students there are most likely to all speak Finnish, a real asset in any classroom when the students all speak the same language.

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