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
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.