Since the Finnish education system is all the rage these days, I thought I'd pass along some simple comparisons and truths as touted by the Finnish Ministry of Education itself. You can (should) read more in depth on your own at The Finnish Education System and PISA 2006.
Here's a quick comparison of western education systems versus the Finnish system:
Western Model of Education (a.k.a, the U.S.)
The Finnish System
Standardisation: Strict standards for schools, teachers and students to guarantee the quality of outcomes.
Flexibility and diversity: School-based curriculum development, steering by information and support.
Emphasis on literacy and numeracy: Basic skills in reading, writing, mathematics and science as prime targets of education reform.
Emphasis on broad knowledge: Equal value to all aspects of individual growth and learning: personality, morality, creativity, knowledge and skills.
Consequential accountability: Evaluation by inspection.
Trust through professionalism: A culture of trust on teachers’ and headmasters’ professionalism in judging what is best for students and in reporting of progress.
In pre-primary and basic education, pupils are entitled to any welfare services they might need for full engagement in their respective education programmes, including general health and dental care for all students.
Here's a simple comparison of the pre- and post-1990's Finnish education models. You can most certainly see the resemblance of the 1970's and 80's model to the direction our U.S. model is heading.
Finnish situation in 1970s and 1980s
Finnish situation in 1990's/2000's
Centralised control and decision -making
Devolution of power
• Centralised curriculum
• Long-term plans
• Budgeting based on expenditures
• External evaluation: inspections
• School-based curricula
• Distinctive educational profiles of schools
• Self-direction and self-regulation
• Learning organisation as a mode instutional structure
• Self-evaluation and own control
• Performance-based funding
Both classroom and subject teachers attain master’s degrees (300 ECTS); the former in education, the latter in their respective subject(s). Besides consolidating their professional qualiﬁcations as a teacher, this allows and prepares all teachers to continue academic studies to doctorate level. The academic status of classroom teacher education has undoubtedly contributed to the continuous popularity of teaching profession in Finland, as well as to the trust parents feel towards their children’s teachers and the school in general.
However, as in many other countries, the situation is not so bright concerning subject teachers, and in ﬁ elds like science and mathematics the number of applicants does not allow for similar rigorousness in screening, even if also they go through a special process of selection including an interview.
So the essential question is this: If we want to copy, and indeed exceed, the successes of the Finnish system, why are we heading in the direction that system already proved doesn't work?