OK. It’s Finland again.


The more I read about the successes of the Finnish school system the more convinced I become that the key is in its teachers. You can check it out here.


In Finland the length of the school day is shorter – that’s because great teachers know how to make the most of every minute. Many studies have revealed the enormous amount of time devoted to non-learning tasks in the classroom. Good teachers know how to organize a school day and a group of kids so that time is never wasted.

Time is provided in the school day for professional learning. Good teachers understand they are lifelong learners and are eager to build on their skills. They are committed to learning in their own lives.

There is no strict curriculum, no pacing guides, just broad outlines of areas to be covered. This is because the community and the authorities know they can trust teachers to do what is best. They believe they have the knowledge, the training and the intellectual discipline needed to make the best choices about what kids need to learn and when they need to learn it.

There is no ‘payment by results’ because there is a proven belief that all the teachers are good teachers. They do not gain entry to the profession until they have demonstrated that.

Children have around 75 minutes of free play each day because teachers understand that ‘the work of childhood is play’ and they understand how to integrate the things children learn in the playground with the things going on in the classroom.

Teacher candidates are selected from the top 10% of high school graduates. No one becomes a teacher in Finland because they couldn’t get into another course and because of good pay or long  holidays.

The profession is held in high regard and much is expected of teachers. It is more difficult to enter university to become a primary teacher in Finland than it is to enter medical school in some universities.

There is no whole scale testing of children until they are 16. Teachers are trusted to know what is needed and then to provided it.

30% of primary school aged children receive some form of additional learning support as soon as their teachers deem it necessary. Learning problems are addressed as they are revealed and noticed by highly skilled teachers.

93.2% of students graduate from high school in Finland compared with 76.82% in the USA. And in the USA we need to keep in mind the reality that this percentage is inflated by the “credit recovery’ programs that allow for a D graduation after the completion of a short summer course for failing students. Finnish students stay at school and succeed because they have had a history of quality teaching.

In other words the quality of the Finnish education system rests on the quality of the teachers.

The quality of the teachers is ensured by a demanding initial selection system and a lengthy period of professional preparation during which the ongoing suitability for teaching is constantly monitored.

You don’t get into a classroom in Finland if you are anything other than a highly skilled teacher.


Sir Ken Robinson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY) has commented that all over the world nations are tinkering with education. Mostly they look at rewriting standards and curriculum and then they work at designing tests.

What they fail to do, and the single thing that they MUST do, is look at the teachers.

Finland began reforming its education in the 1960s.

There are no magic bullets.

There are no short cuts.

If we don’t begin the hard work now, when will we?


Filed under Behavior management, Language and literacy, Teacher education, Testing, Thinking

7 responses to “OK. It’s Finland again.

  1. Bonnie Griffith

    I just heard on the national news yesterday that several states plan on extending the school calendar to include another 300 hours of instruction in order for our students to be competitive with other high achieving countries. This seems to miss the points you just made.

  2. I am inclined to agree: the key in improving education lies in teachers – but not in the way it has traditionally been viewed. In my vocabulary the key is empowerment: teachers MUST be empowered to teach. Not to push for performance (I am talking about timed multiplication tests, graded assignments/homework, and knowing an x amount of words this week), or meticulously follow a given curriculum or book, but to teach, or to be more exact: to facilitate students’ learning. Because learning is what matters. And we know these principles, in theory. We are teaching how instructional design begins with needs analysis and learner analysis. And how teachers should differentiate and accommodate students’ needs.
    In Finland teachers belong to academia and they are considered to be education professionals, the subject matter experts of learning and teaching. Some internationally shown comparisons of teacher salaries are overly positive, but then again the pay scale in Finland maybe tends to be move even between professions. And it is very true that you don’t become a teacher there just because it was an easy choice, which in my mind reflects the value that is placed in education, including early childhood education.
    I think you cannot honestly say that you value teachers, unless you are ready to trust in their expertise, and willing to empower them to teach.

    • “In Finland teachers belong to academia and they are considered to be education professionals, the subject matter experts of learning and teaching.”

      Ah yes. And this gets to the heart of one of my greatest fears when I see programs such as Teach For America/Australia, where a high achieving graduate from virtually and discipline is given a six week intensive course and then sent out to teach on one of our most demanding, needy schools.

      • I share your fear. Most demanding, needy schools should have the best teachers who know the theories behind different teaching practices, and thus are able to adjust to match the needs of students. This is simply because teachers must know there are choices, and also understand the benefits or disadvantages of different choices. Teaching is about thinking outside of the box, and we should really be wary of any educator with only one tool in her/his disposal.
        The scary tendency is built when babysitting is seen as something anyone can do, and especially if early childhood educators are seen as babysitters, too. The foundation for successful learning is laid during the first five or six years of life, and educational self-efficacy built in elementary school – yet the trend is to have the most inexperienced and least trained teachers for those youngest students in school systems (and this was somewhat true in Finland too, but has been improved during the last decades).
        I admire the enthusiasm of college students and the good intentions behind attempts to provide help for struggling schools. Maybe the ideal solution would be having these students partner with experienced teachers in those demanding classrooms after that intensive course, because the reality is that there are many children who crave adult attention, and having an in-class tutor/ classroom assistant enables more individual attention for students who need it. I have had excellent experiences of working with a full-time classroom assistant.

      • I think your suggestion that we have these graduates working as teacher assistants is a great one. That might solve the huge problem with their burnout. The problem I see, however, is that if someone is a high achieving graduate they would expect more from their early career steps than to be a lowly paid teacher assistant. I see the entire TFA program as a political attempt to put ‘warm bodies’ in front of students in order to be seen to be responding to the calls for smaller class sizes in troubled schools. I think there is little concern that these graduates cycle in and then out of the profession in a very few years. That is probably why the training period is so short. Why waste money providing lengthy training when the trainee will not stay long? It’s never going to be solved until our education system is led by educators rather than politicians and bean counters.Do I sound a little cynical?

      • Hmmm… a tad cynical, yes. 🙂 But, the truth is that no quick fixes will ever be solution. And the other inconvenient truth is that teaching is not something anyone can do (or wants to do, after losing the illusions of cherub-like children sitting and eagerly waiting for the drops of wisdom from their teacher).

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