Participating in the PISA test (Programme for International Student Assessment) since 2000, Finland has ranked consistently near the top in all PISA listings. There are many factors explaining the good performance of Finnish schools that China is looking to learn from.
China took part in PISA test for the first time in 2009, and students in Shanghai caused a stir by outscoring all their counterparts in dozens of other countries and regions in reading, maths and science.
Both countries’ performances have been a surprise to many observers, leading to global interest in their education systems. A number of factors explain the good performance of Finnish schools. These include:
Equality – Inclusion of all students, meaning that the country guarantees each student a similar level of education
More than just education – Finnish schools are “full service” schools, offering more than just classroom education. The ultimate goal of Finnish schools is the well-being of all children. The Finnish school system takes students’ meals, transport and health into account – offering help if needed.
Special teachers -A specially trained teacher is assigned to each school to work closely with class teachers to identify students in need of extra help and provide this. Schools have a “pupils’ multi-professional care group,” consisting of the principal, the special education teacher, the school nurse, the school psychologist, a social worker and teachers. Students can get help for any concerns – academic, medical or social. If the required help is beyond the school’s capabilities, it will seek outside help.
Excellent teacher quality -Finnish teachers are the kings and queens in their classrooms, with full autonomy and authority on how to teach, what to teach and how to evaluate students. Teachers enjoy so much trust from students and parents because they have received high-quality training. Each teacher holds at least a research-based Master degree.
Students’ responsibility for learning -In Finland, the school infrastructure and curriculum are student-oriented. The role of a school is not purely an education provider, but rather a learning assistant to the student. Students get a “student guidebook” at the beginning of each school year with blank course schedules. They fill in their own study plan, around which everything else is designed.
China has been very keen to learn better strategies and technology from other countries. However, changing from a test-oriented system to a Finnish student-oriented approach will not be easy. A core feature of China’s educational reform strategy is updating the curriculum to meet real-world needs. It also pledges to reduce workloads and return to students more freedom to decide what to learn and more time to do what they enjoy doing. However, as long as vicious competition exists in society, students and their parents and teachers will not have enough power to make the transformation on their own.