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So What is It about Finland’s Schools?

Finland-flag-3-20110515-093950.jpgBig question — and it’s probably a big answer. But several days ago, Swiss educator, Vicky Loras started a conversation with Finnish School Principal Esa Kukkasniemi. You can read the entire interview here in her blog as well as opportunities for you to talk with educators in Finland. But here are some statements from Esa that I highlighted in Diigo, as he ticked off major important points that have led to success in Finland’s education system.

  • ..much of it lays in the Finnish educational culture: teachers are respected professionals..
  • One really important issue is that we have quite small economical differences in the income of the people if you compare us to most of the countries in the world. We have strong scientific evidence that where the economical differences between people grow too big, the learning goes down.
  • We don’t test the teachers at all..
  • ..we don’t test the pupils much either
  • We have strong belief in the professionals.
  • ..social media gives possibilities of creating your own PLN (personal learning network). For me (Esa), Twitter has been a great tool for that for the last few years.

From Locras’s post..

(Esa) and other great educators (among them the enthusiastic teachers Timo Ilomäki andRochey who started the chat) have started their own chat on Twitter, where teachers from all over the world can post questions on Finnish education every Thursday. You can follow their discussions and find other Finnish educators as well under the hashtag #finnedchat.

Incidentally, I just did a scan of #finnedchat tagged tweets and learned that..

Teachers are biggest single profession in Finlands new parliament. 16 educators.


- Posted using Blogsy from my iPad


  • Esa Kukkasniemi

    Thanks for the post. I’m happy that you liked the interview. Obviously you’ve also found something to think about. These are complicated issues. And it’s hard ’cause a system from one country, doesn’t always fit into the system of another.

  • Tim

    Is it true they have up to 3 teachers per class? Would like to know how many have 2 or 3 . . .

    • Esa Kukkasniemi

      SOMETIMES we do have up to 3 teachers per one class. Usually it’s a teacher and a special education teacher who works as a pair. Sometimes two teachers can bring two classes to one class room and teach together. The benefit is that since most of the pupils will do fine without any teacher assistance, the others will have more time from the teachers, because there are two of them.

      • http://annakarin.tumblr.com Anna-Karin Frisk

        How often is SOMETIMES? My reason for wondering is in connection to the McKinsey report that states that succesful systems (of education) focuses more on the practice of the teachers and the process learning:
        ”[…] collaborative practice becomes the main mechanism both for improving teaching practice and making teachers accountable to eachother.” (p.4)
        Having taught for more than 10 years now, I can only agree that this is one of the most effective ways to enhance teacher learning. What´s your opinion?

        • Esa Kukkasniemi

          “Sometimes” means not very often ;-) It all comes to economical resources. The whole world is suffering of the economic recession.

          But the point is that our curriculum/laws give us a chance to do it and they even encourage the teachers to collaborate.

          That is definately effective both for teachers to improve your professional skills, and also the pupils to learn.

      • Christa

        Terve Esa. Regarding teachers in the classroom, does Finland have class size regulations? If so, how many students would one find in an academic secondary class?

        • Esa Kukkasniemi

          Terve Christa ;-) We have only suggestions. Many of those suggestions are given by the town or city that organizes the education. We try to keep 1-2 grades under 25 pupils and up from that level up to 32. The smaller the better, but sometimes you just have to compromize.

  • David Warlick

    What I found most interesting in your comments, Esa, was the emphasis you placed on the lower economic disparity in Finland, as compared to my country (USA). Here, it is very easy to say that the problem with education is education.  If we have children who are not performing to standards, then it’s because teachers are not teaching hard enough. 

    in a country, where teachers do not enjoy the prestige, not to mention seats in Congress, we have to figure out a way to cancel out that factor. 

    • Esa Kukkasniemi

      We have strong scientific evidence that whenever the disparity grows, it weakens the learning. We are also very concerned about this fact here in Finland because it seems that even in our country the disparity seems to be growing rapidly.

      I think you will find interesting points of view on this subject in an interview of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg. You’ll find the interview from this address:


  • http://vickyloras.wordpress.com Vicky Loras

    Hi David!

    Thank you for including my interview with Esa on your blog. It is surely a great educational model that they have in Finland and should be one for other countries as well, as it is based first of all on trust and respect among the State, teachers and students.

    Kindest regards,

  • Wally

    Kudos to Finland for doing what it does in education.

    However, they have almost a perfect ‘laboratory’ for achieving it. The total population is only 5.3 million, it is a homogeneous population with a minuscule difference in socio-economic status, and teaching is a profession in fact not just in words. We in the USA on the other hand have the exact opposite of every aforementioned item.

    I’d even venture to say that if one did a study in the US by selecting a similar population size focusing primarily on families with kids attending private or magnet schools (not just rich kids) we’d see the same results.

    • David Warlick

      An interesting description of Finland as a perfect laboratory for education, and not one that I would disagree with. The population issue is real and this is an exception that I hear a lot, when I talk about my very positive impressions of countries I visit, such as Scotland and New Zealand, “But Mr Warlick, those are small countries, it’s easy for them.” Frost off it’s not easy for them, and secondly, should our (US) be and excuse for not appropriately preparing its children for their future. 

      As for the others — it looks to me like Finland is doing a lot of things right. 

    • Esa Kukkasniemi

      Thank you for your comment. As I said earlier (reply #1) “a system from one country, doesn’t always fit into a system of another”. But if you look at the video, where Pasi Sahlberg talks (reply 3/1) you’ll find some interesting ideas he has for your (US) model. These are complicated issues, because it’s not only a question of what we as teachers do in our schools, but it’s also a question of governmental decision making etc. etc.

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  • Vicky Loras

    Hi David!

    Thank you for including my interview with Esa on your blog. It is surely a great educational model that they have in Finland and should be one for other countries as well, as it is based first of all on trust and respect among the State, teachers and students.

    Kindest regards,

  • Tasha

    WoW. After reading this blog I would like to spend time in a Finland school. In our culture the respect for teachers has gone down drastically over the years. Maybe we could learn something from your model.

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  • http://socsci.tau.ac.il/poli-LCE/ Josh Verienes

    I think you should have no complains. You mentioned some minor problems, but bottom line – Finland is one of the best country in the world to live in.

  • http://www.panocash.com panocash

    We have strong scientific evidence that whenever the disparity grows, it weakens the learning. We are also very concerned about this fact here in Finland because it seems that even in our country the disparity seems to be growing rapidly.

  • TylerR

    Mr. Warlick, I enjoyed your piece “So What is It About Finland’s Schools?” It stimulated my brain and made me ask questions. It mattered to me because it pointed out not just how Finland’s schools but showed how out education system is failing. I’m not to happy with out education system because of how many flaws are in it, such as major tests cause enormous amounts of stress which I experience first hand. I have never been to Finland so I have no idea what it’s like but I imagine from all the hype it must be outstanding. This matters to education because hopefully Finland has set a example for America to follow. Hopefully. Why can’t America look at how successful Finland is and say “They’re doing pretty good why don’t we follow in they’re footsteps”? It’s no surprise that America’s education system isn’t number one in the world but why can’t we improve and set examples for other parts of the world who are failing too. This matters to the world because all it takes to set of a chain reaction is one action. Just like in World War 1 when the Serbians assassinated the Duke of Austria-Hungary it set the whole world into war. This principle can be used just by having America follow Finland’s education system, we follow and set a example and maybe, just maybe the world will follow. Do you think that my concept is out of this world or can it be done? All in all, I enjoyed this piece and I am waiting for a response.

  • Dennis Tierney

    “Recently the New York State Legislature approved an amendment to the Educational Law in which principals and teachers would be given a rating between 0 and 100. Close to 40% of that number would be derived from the performance of their students on standardized tests. While efforts aimed at increasing accountability are commendable, I have long opined that these reform- minded individuals are barking up the wrong tree. The heart of this matter is that it is nearly impossible to quantify human behavior. And more so with student achievement. For example, some classes may be overloaded with bright students while others have more than their share of problematic pupils. This would immediately cast suspicion on a numerical rating for that class as a whole. If we were to track individual pupils through their academic careers, such outside- the -classroom events as divorce, relocation, peer pressure, or simply biology might have adverse effects on the child’s learning curve. These factors would remain invisible when it came time to rate the educator. Moreover, the remaining 60% of the numbered rating would be even more subjective as it would be levied by varying individuals prone to prejudice, cronyism, or a personal rating system at odds with their colleagues.
    The solution? The most important key to successful learning remains the teacher. For the past fifty years schools have consistently failed to attract the best and the brightest. The upper half of the college talent pool has their share of those who would love to teach children but shun the profession not only because of the salaries but because of the lack of discipline, the rampant, redundant practice of overloading often meaningless paperwork, uninformed principals and superintendents, and might I add, a lack of peers among the teaching staff. Before demanding numbered accountability, the entire system (teacher unions, tenure, merit pay proposals based on subjective evaluations or standardized test results, vacillating school boards and other obstinate bureaucracies) needs to be overhauled. The overarching goal remains – attracting candidates that can rectify the school system’s problems, most of which are attributable to a half-century- long brain drain.”

  • http://bryantanner.wordpress.com Bryan Tanner

    I appreciate you sharing the audio recording of the interview. It was especially interested for me to hear the tone of the speakers. It gave emphasis to certain parts that I couldn’t gather from the synopsis.

    I found your post when doing research for my own: http://wp.me/p11xzy-ez

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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