Friday, February 22, 2013

No quizzes, tests or homework: the secrets of Finland’s success

by Taylor Lunka, News Writer
     Finland surprised the world by ranking No.1 out of about 80 countries for the highest scores on a standardized test evaluating education systems in 2000.

    The United States has ranked consistently between 15 and 25 in the past several years.
DeLaRosby describes characteristics of the Finnish education system during last Tuesday’s lecture entitled “Finland’s Education System and What We Can Learn From It.” Photo by Quinn Huelsbeck.

    Students had the opportunity to learn about the successes of Finland’s education system Tuesday evening when Pacific Lutheran University’s Director of Academic Advising Hal DeLaRosby gave a lecture on Finland’s education system in the Scandinavian Cultural Center.

    During the lecture, DeLaRosby pointed out what sets Finnish students apart from those in other countries.

    “The Finnish are very trusting people,” DeLaRosby said. “Their natural resource is their people.”

    The program to become a teacher includes both a three-year Bachelor of Arts degree and a two-year Masters Degree. All levels of teachers, including primary school teachers, are required to have a Masters.

    Only 10 percent of those who apply to become a teacher at the university level are selected for the degree.

    DeLaRosby said that even though teachers are paid less in Finland than they are in the United States, teaching is a “highly desirable role in comparison to doctors and lawyers.”

    The education system is also much different than the United States.

    DeLaRosby said there are no school achievement exams, no inspections and no probation times for teachers.

    Students don’t start basic education until they are seven-years-old. Even though that is a later age than the U.S., DeLaRosby said Finnish students are scoring higher on exams. School days for K-12 are shorter, consist of more breaks, include free hot lunch and have no homework.

    Students are enrolled in basic education until age 16 and then have a choice between two high schools: vocational high school or general high school. Vocational high school specializes in students focusing on their career who want hands-on experience prior to entering the job market. General high school prepares students to move on to a university, like PLU, after graduation.

    Students can transition between the two at any time, DeLaRosby said.

    He also said that although school in general starts at a later age than in the U.S., foreign language education starts earlier.

    When Finnish students begin their basic education, they are introduced to English and taught it throughout their basic education years until age 16.

    Once they are in high school, a Scandinavian language is added. Most students choose Swedish or Danish.

    Junior Tommy Flanagan, who spent spring semester 2012 in Finland, also spoke during the lecture regarding his experience in the country.

    He explained that once students get into a university, it is completely free.

    “Students will often spend several years [in college] because they can have an extra job, take some time off and come back,” Flanagan said. “It’s not a race to get done in four years before your scholarships expire.”

    DeLaRosby then spoke about what the United States can learn from Finland.

    There are no private schools, there are no standardized tests and DeLaRosby repeatedly emphasized equity in the Finnish system.

    “The Finnish challenge and support their students. It’s all about learning together,” DeLaRosby said.

    Students at the lecture expressed approval of Finland’s education system.

    First-year Lian Pauly said she was impressed by Finland’s system.

    “I like the way they don’t rush you to do something. They allow you to figure out what you want to do and give you time instead of having you be put into a four year expectation of college,” she said.

    Sophomore Jennifer Kness agreed.

    “I like how they give you more options when you’re younger,” Kness said. “When you get to university, it’s not ‘how am I going to pay for all this?’”  Kness said she is spending $40,000 each year for college, but “I wouldn’t have to worry about that in Finland.”

    DeLaRosby concluded by telling everyone the United States comes up with most of these ideas through scientific research, but only Finland chooses to implement them.