Finland for parents.

Shared opinions soaked in knowledge & experience.

WHY ? Why does Australia do so poorly in PISA tests, compared with countries, like Finland, who don’t have any national blanket tests?



“Today we have fallen in love with objectively quantifying reality and see it as a solution to our problems. Today, students are judged and judge themselves upon such pitiful scales, the scales of measurement.” [Russell Hvolbek : The End of Education.]


 What does Finland Do ?

For parents who wish to know.

Finland is a country with an education system that scores highly on PISA tests, but has no high stakes testing programs [e.g. NAPLAN,NCLB,NS] of its own. It does not believe in the kinds of blanket testing carried out in GERM countries such as Australia, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S.A., all parts of the Global Education Reform Movement. With little interest and no stake  in the outcomes, Finland offers to undertake PISA tests just for fun. The term GERM was constructed by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland who has a mission to share the schooling accomplishments of Finland with world educational leaders who are prepared to think about what they are doing to their children. Australia is not included in that category; we Aussies don’t like to strain ourselves too much thinking about the things that really happen to kids at school.  Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons, and his advice have been totally ignored by Australian politico-testucators and given the ‘silence treatment’ by the Australian press. No reason has ever been provided for giving such a prestigious educator the short shift. Anyhow, who cares?

In PISA scores, Finland is ‘up there’ with Singapore, Japan and South Korea for very different reasons. West Pacific countries, from Seoul to Tasmania and Stewart Island all believe in the power of fear as a teaching weapon. It’s part of our Western Pacific cultural DNA. There is a wide spread belief in these countries that heavy, high stakes testing that promotes both fear of failure and the attachment to monetary rewards motivates children to do well at certain standardised tests. Australia, for instance, has a legacy of one-hit end-of-year examinations that decide the future of candidates who are forced into the contest.  It’s part of our DNA. Carried to the extreme in the East Asian galaxy, signs of which are appearing in Australia, is the promotion of a total school focus on testing success through [1]more time at school, [2] reducing school learnings only to the quantifiable, [3] extended use of adult-oriented didactic teaching techniques, [4] more after-school time at back-yard tutoring businesses and [5] heavy homework assignments. Jealous of near-neighbour’s accomplishments, she who must be obeyed now demands this sort of schooling for Aussie children.  This is Australia’s schooling future, but, trust me, you have it all wrong, dearie.

Sadly, that is what is happening in schools. Test-based schooling using a one-size test-based curriculum aimed at PISA results is inevitable. Who cares?  Yet …

Finland pupils spend less time at school routines than most other western countries. By age 15, they have spent less than 4 years of ‘formal’ schooling yet accomplish higher scores in the PISA tests for 15 year-olds than most. 4 years. Yes. 15 years is the age that children contest PISA, at which Finland excels. Your thinking principal will be able to explain why this is so. Make sure you ask.

Why is Finland so different? It has thought about schooling for a long time and continues to do so. “Finland’s leaders realized in the 1940s that its non-system of exclusivist frequently private, and often inefficient schools – a system based on the idea that ‘everyone could not learn everything’ –would not help the nation move from an agrarian to a manufacturing country.” [Connie Goddard] While pondering and discussing and examining its own conscience for many years, it developed a national conscience of wanting to ‘own’ its system, rather than ‘rent’ one from another nation.

In 1970 it started to develop a system based on drastic philosophical and structural changes. As Pasi Sahlberg states in Finnish Lessons P.9: “The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation – not choice and competition – can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Members of the Finnish business and banking community were as sceptical and critical, [as  their Australian counterparts tend to be] until the 2001 PISA results were announced. How did we get way up there? Australia’s business community, however, maintained its criticism of schooling procedures for good reasons until 2008 when it paid for Joel Klein to visit Australia on Julia’s advice, to sell his gospel. The big boys just went the wrong way.  Bad move. Reformation in Australia took the standard GERM direction, and ‘rented’ the New York system.

How does Finland teach learners to achieve with joy and relish?

Finns have empowered their teachers. They believe in them and what they do. Teaching is one of the most prestigious of occupations. They don’t need to ‘test’ their teachers and their schools by testing pupils using defective devices nor pontificate on what WE [politicians] will do to increase standards when they slip. Finns believe in the power of the profession and they have deliberately assisted it to grow in its own knowledge and to be proud of its professional ethics.

Finns don’t use the word ‘accountable’ in any generalised sense. Accountability resides within each person in the learning chain in a collaborative community way. Teachers develop their curriculum collaboratively. They would never copy nor ’rent’ one structured to one-size-fits-all that maintains mediocrity through the fear of test results, like we do down here. They believe in limitless achievement and the joy in learning as much as one can. As Connie Goddard says in her review of Finnish Lessons: “Overall, Finnish Lessons provided valuable evidence that investing in teachers and instruction –rather than in tests and inspections – can bring about admirable, even excellent, results.”

These are amongst the most obvious differences between a successful learning culture and ours There are so many other different lessons that we can learn from such a schooling authority and from our gross error in following an urban NY dysfunctional system administered by measurers. What should fair-dinkum Aussies do?

  1. Stop the inanities of the introduced test-based system – NAPLAN.     
  2. Think and talk.  [Take time. Talk with practitioners.]
  3. Think of the future. What kinds of school ‘products’ does Australia need?
  4. Value the act and the art of teaching.
  5. Think dinky-di Australian.

Only then is there any chance of being in the ‘top 5 by 25’ PISA results….if that’s the aim of Australian schooling. Start with the banning of ridiculous blanket testing.


How many school’s professional libraries, departmental chief’s private libraries, Education Ministers’ book shelves, political party rooms and political candidate’s home shelves contain:

  • FINNISH  LESSONS by Pasi Sahlberg and
  • FERTILIZERS, PILLS & MAGNETIC STRIPS – The Fate of Public Education in America by Gene Glass
  • THE DEATH & LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM – How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch


Please allow me to introduce the blog-site of Gene Glass, distinguished educator, renowned researcher into class-size issues and famed opponent of Competency Based Education, 1980s’ style. It’s worth searching through.

Click‘Care for Kids’

Phil Cullen


9 thoughts on “Finland for parents.

  1. Pingback: What’s All This About Finland’s Education System…? « SaveOurSchoolsNZ

  2. Reblogged this on Thinking in the Deep End and commented:
    Information our parents need if they are to place high stakes testing into an acceptable context, the same context employed in Finland. We would also benefit from a closer look at Singapore where teachers are given a 10% “white space” each week in which to THINK and plan.

  3. One important thing to add about education in Finland: there learning is emphasized over teaching, hence learning is perceived as meaningful activity. I am a Finn, was trained and worked there as a teacher, and in my experience the student centered practice makes a real difference in learning. Students are much more independent in their learning (than here in the U.S.), and learning is seen as process instead of product. It is impossible to measure the progress of individual learning process with standardized testing – but products are easily measurable with standards. While the whole Finnish system cannot (and should not) be adopted as it is due to the cultural differences, the pedagogy of dialogic learning can be used in any system, because increased learning proficiency also improves the test scores.

  4. Pingback: What does Finland Do ? For parents who wish to know. | Tuba City Unified School District No.15

  5. Finnisch miracle: fata morgana?
    Finnish students’ achievement (15 y) declined significantly: study of University Helsinki
    University of Helsinki – Faculty of Behavioral Sciences, Department of Teacher of Education Research Report No 347Authors: Jarkko Hautamäki, Sirkku Kupiainen, Jukka Marjanen, Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen and Risto Hotulainen
    Learning to learn at the end of basic education: Results in 2012 and changes from 2001
    S.: The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 is significant. The level of students’ attainment has declined considerably: under the mean of the scale used in the questions. The difference can be compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA reading literacy from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the OECD average. The mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still falls above the mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has declined from 2001.
    Since 1996, educational effectiveness has been understood in Finland to include not only subject specific knowledge and skills but also the more general competences which are not the exclusive domain of any single subject but develop through good teaching along a student’s educational career. Many of these, including the object of the present assessment, learning to learn, have been named in the education policy documents of the European Union as key competences which each member state should provide their citizens as part of general education (EU 2006).
    In spring 2012, the Helsinki University Centre for Educational Assessment implemented a nationally representative assessment of ninth grade students’ learning to learn competence. The assessment was inspired by signs of declining results in the past few years’ assessments. This decline had been observed both in the subject specific assessments of the Finnish National Board of Education, in the OECD PISA 2009 study, and in the learning to learn assessment implemented by the Centre for Educational Assessment in all comprehensive schools in Vantaa in 2010.
    The results of the Vantaa study could be compared against the results of a similar assessment implemented in 2004. As the decline in students’ cognitive competence and in their learning related attitudes was especially strong in the two Vantaa studies, with only 6 years apart, a decision was made to direct the national assessment of spring 2012 to the same schools which had participated in a respective study in 2001.
    The goal of the assessment was to find out whether the decline in results, observed in the Helsinki region, were the same for the whole country. The assessment also offered a possibility to look at the readiness of schools to implement a computer-based assessment, and how this has changed during the 11 years between the two assessments. After all, the 2001 assessment was the first in Finland where large scale student assessment data was collected in schools using the Internet.
    The main focus of the assessment was on students’ competence and their learning-related attitudes at the end of the comprehensive school education, but the assessment also relates to educational equity: to regional, between-school, and between- class differences and to the relation of students’ gender and home background to their competence and attitudes.
    The assessment reached about 7 800 ninth grade students in 82 schools in 65 municipalities. Of the students, 49% were girls and 51% boys. The share of students in Swedish speaking schools was 3.4%. As in 2001, the assessment was implemented in about half of the schools using a printed test booklet and in the other half via the Internet. The results of the 2001 and 2012 assessments were uniformed through IRT modelling to secure the comparability of the results. Hence, the results can be interpreted to represent the full Finnish ninth grade population.
    Girls performed better than boys in all three fields of competence measured in the assessment: reasoning, mathematical thinking, and reading comprehension. The difference was especially noticeable in reading comprehension even if in this task girls’ attainment had declined more than boys’ attainment. Differences between the AVI-districts were small. The impact of students’ home-background was, instead, obvious: the higher the education of the parents, the better the student performed in the assessment tasks. There was no difference in the impact of mother’s education on boys’ and girls’ attainment. The between-school-differences were very small (explaining under 2% of the variance) while the between-class differences were relatively large (9 % – 20 %).
    The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 is significant. The level of students’ attainment has declined considerably. The difference can be compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA reading literacy from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the OECD average. The mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still falls above the mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has declined from 2001.
    The mean level of attitudes detrimental to learning has risen but the rise is more modest. Girls’ attainment has declined more than boys’ in three of the five tasks. There was no gender difference in the change of students’ attitudes, however. Between-school differences were un-changed but differences between classes and between individual students had grown. The change in attitudes—unlike the change in attainment—was related to students’ home background: The decline in learning-supporting attitudes and the growth in attitudes detrimental to school work were weaker the better educated the mother. Home background was not related to the change in students’ attainment, however. A decline could be discerned both among the best and the weakest students.
    The results of the assessment point to a deeper, on-going cultural change which seems to affect the young generation especially hard. Formal education seems to be losing its former power and the accepting of the societal expectations which the school represents seems to be related more strongly than before to students’ home background. The school has to compete with students’ self-elected pastime activities, the social media, and the boundless world of information and entertainment open to all through the Internet. The school is to a growing number of youngpeople just one, often critically reviewed, developmental environment among many.
    The change is not a surprise, however. A similar decline in student attainment has been registered in the other Nordic countries already earlier. It is time to concede that the signals of change have been discernible already for a while and to open up a national discussion regarding the state and future of the Finnish comprehensive school that rose to international acclaim due to our students’success in the PISA studies.

  6. View of Finnish teachers versus view of Pasi Sahlberg
    Oxford- Prof. Jennifer Chung ( AN INVESTIGATION OF REASONS FOR FINLAND’S SUCCESS IN PISA (University of Oxford 2008).
    “Many of the teachers mentioned the converse of the great strength of Finnish education (= de grote aandacht voor kinderen met leerproblemen) as the great weakness. Jukka S. (BM) believes that school does not provide enough challenges for intelligent students: “I think my only concern is that we give lots of support to those pupils who are underachievers, and we don’t give that much to the brightest pupils. I find it a problem, since I think, for the future of a whole nation, those pupils who are really the stars should be supported, given some more challenges, given some more difficulty in their exercises and so on. To not just spend their time here but to make some effort and have the idea to become something, no matter what field you are choosing, you must not only be talented like they are, but work hard. That is needed. “
    Pia (EL) feels that the schools do not motivate very intelligent students to work. She thinks the schools should provide more challenges for the academically talented students. In fact, she thinks the current school system in Finland does not provide well for its students. Mixed-ability classrooms, she feels, are worse than the previous selective system: “ I think this school is for nobody. That is my private opinion. Actually I think so, because when you have all these people at mixed levels in your class, then you have to concentrate on the ones who need the most help, of course. Those who are really good, they get lazy. “
    Pia believes these students become bored and lazy, and float through school with no study skills. Jonny (EM) describes how comprehensive education places the academically gifted at a disadvantage: “We have lost a great possibility when we don’t have the segregated levels of math and natural sciences… That should be once again taken back and started with. The good talents are now torturing themselves with not very interesting education and teaching in classes that aren’t for their best.
    Pia (EL) finds the PISA frenzy about Finland amusing, since she believes the schools have declined in recent years: “I think [the attention] is quite funny because school isn’t as good as it used to be … I used to be proud of being a teacher and proud of this school, but I can’t say I ’m proud any more.”
    Aino (BS) states that the evenness and equality of the education system has a “dark side.” Teaching to the “middle student” in a class of heterogeneous ability bores the gifted students, who commonly do not perform well in school. Maarit (DMS) finds teaching heterogeneous classrooms very difficult. She admits that dividing the students into ability levels would make the teaching easier, but worries that it may affect the self-esteem of the weaker worse than a more egalitarian system Similarly, Terttu (FMS) thinks that the class size is a detriment to the students’ learning. Even though Finnish schools have relatively small class sizes, she thinks that a group of twenty is too large, since she does not have time for all of the students: “You don’t have enough time for everyone … All children have to be in the same class. That is not so nice. You have the better pupils. I can’t give them as much as I want. You have to go so slowly in the classroom.” Curiously, Jukka E. (DL) thinks that the special education students need more support and the education system needs to improve in that area.
    Miikka (FL) describes how he will give extra work to students who want to have more academic challenges, but admits that “they can get quite good grades, excellent grades, by doing nothing actually, or very little.” Miikka (FL) describes discussion in educational circles about creating schools and universities for academically talented students: 3 Everyone has the same chances…One problem is that it can be too easy for talented students. There has been now discussion in Finland if there should be schools and universities for talented students… I think it will happen, but I don’t know if it is good, but it will happen, I think so. I am also afraid there will be private schools again in Finland in the future … [There] will be more rich people and more poor people, and then will come so [many] problems in comprehensive schools that some day quite soon … parents will demand that we should have private schools again, and that is quite sad.

    Linda (AL), however, feels the love of reading has declined in the younger generation, as they tend to gravitate more to video games and television. Miikka (FL), also a teacher of mother tongue, also cites a decline in reading interest and an increase of video game and computer play. Saij a (BL) agrees. As a teacher of Finnish, she feels that she has difficulty motivating her students to learn: “I think my subject is not the … easiest one to teach. They don’t read so much, newspapers or novels.” Her students, especially the boys, do not like their assignments in Finnish language. She also thinks the respect for teachers has declined in this past generation. Miikka (FL) also thinks his students do not respect their teachers: “They don’t respect the teachers. They respect them very little … I think it has changed a lot in recent years. In Helsinki, it was actually earlier. When I came here six years ago, I thought this was heaven. I thought it was incredible, how the children were like that after Helsinki, but now I think it is the same.
    Linda (AL) notes deficiency in the amount of time available for subjects. With more time, she would implement more creative activities, such as speech and drama, into her lessons. Saij a (BL) also thinks that her students need more arts subjects like drama and art. She worries that they consider mathematics as the only important subject. Shefeels countries such as Sweden, Norway, and England have better arts programs than in Finnish schools. Arts subjects, according to Saij a, help the students get to know themselves. Maarit (DMS), a Finnish-speaker, thinks that schools need to spend more time cultivating social skills.

  7. Pingback: Tuba City Unified School District – What does Finland Do ? For parents who wish to know.

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