Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The "Finnish Miracle" of Education

Finnish students spend fewer hours per day in school than their U.S. counterparts, and even less time in the classroom than students in Shanghai and South Korea. This is significant because the PISA study, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD 2009), consistently ranks Finland, Shanghai, and South Korea as the top countries in reading, math, and science test scores.
OECD, 2009 - Hyperlink: See Bibliography

When Finland topped the list during the first year of the PISA study, many Finns thought that the results must be a mistake because the Finnish school system was never intended to manufacture academic excellence, but alternatively was born of the lofty goal to give every Finnish child exactly the same opportunity to learn irrespective of family background, income, or geographic location. So how does a country spend less time instructing students and still attain the highest test scores in reading, math, and science without even trying? The explanation for what is now referred to as the “Finnish Miracle” is that numbers do not drive people, but people and relationships drive numbers. More specifically, test scores and accountability do not drive people to excellence, but engagement, curiosity, collaboration, and creativity drive students as well as teachers towards academic excellence.

In contrast to the Singapore and South Korean school systems, Finnish schools spend very little time testing students. In fact, Finland uses no standardized testing to measure students’ progress from year to year. The only standardized test that Finnish students take is called the National Matriculation Exam (Partanen, What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success 2011), which every student takes at the end of his/her high-school education. In place of standardized testing, teachers are encouraged to develop their own curriculums and are taught how to develop their own evaluation and assessment techniques. Without the need to teach-to-the-test, Finnish teachers have more time to teach students using the best-known education techniques. Instead of lecturing, Finnish teachers spend the vast majority of school time directing hands-on, project-based learning (e.g., exploring in nature, cooking in the kitchen). This approach to education engages children and inspires them to think creatively, collaborate, and to become problem solvers.


OECD. PISA 2009 Results. 2009. http://www.pisa.oecd.org/document/61/0,3746,en_32252351_32235731_46567613_1_1_1_1,00.html (accessed May 22, 2011).
Partanen, Anu. What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success. December 29, 2011. http://www.linkedin.com/news?actionBar=&articleID=1015598382&ids=cjgRd3cSej4MciMPejAMc3wVcj0Nb3AMdjcOe3oNc34IczwPe3ARdj4MciMVejcTc3cQcj0N&aag=true&freq=weekly&trk=eml-tod2-b-ttl-1&ut=3BiwjpucgOsR41 (accessed May 22, 2012).
—. "What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success." December 29, 2011.

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

I recently read this article by Clayton Christiansen out of Harvard entitled, “How will you measure your life?” It is what he tells his students on the final day of his class.

One of the items that he mentions sticks out to me. It reads as follows:

“One of the theories, . . . . . how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more [people think] that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people."

I’m sure you can see why it sticks out.