Lessons from Abroad – Finland

Finland has been getting tremendous amounts of positive publicity for the success of their education system. They have catapulted up the PISA rankings and based on aggregate scores, Finland is now ranked as the #1 education system in the world. At the TCDSB Student Success Conference, renowned education expert Andy Hargreaves compared the Finnish system to a Ferrari because it the nexus point of innovation and performance. Hargreaves compared Canada to a thoroughbred racehorse because of the tremendous focus on improvement at the expense of innovation.

What makes the Finnish system so great? The first video from the American Teachers Federation focuses on the following success indicators:

1) Teaching is a highly respected profession where all teachers are required to hold a Master’s degree. The opinions of teachers are taken into account when important decisions are made. Job embedded professional development and teacher collaboration are core to the development of all educators.

2) The relationship between teachers and administration is extremely close. There is a synergy between these two important roles.

3) The focus on the individual student in a priority. Differentiation is organic to the process.

The second video from the OECD via Edutopia takes a closer look at the focus on the individual child. Key points from this video include:

1) Early identification of students who are struggling. The goal is to deal with learning gaps early so that struggles do not compound. The special education resource teacher is engaged early in the process to observe students who are struggling.

2) There is not a stigma attached to special education support in Finland. Upwards of 90% of kids in the system have received support in some manner.

3) Every school in the system has a student welfare committee made up of school personnel who meet twice monthly. The goal is to regularly discuss the development of all children but especially those who have been flagged. Individual problems are dealt with on a case by case basis. These issues range from the emotional to academic level.

The Finnish system places a huge emphasis on people and not bureaucracy. Policy is of secondary concern to the welfare of students and educators. Surprise, surprise..putting people first actually works!

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