Finland is the highest ranked country in education by many measures. To further understand and compare U.S. education vs. Finland, I watched The Finland Phenomenon:Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, from the Robert Compton Documentary series on Global Education, directed by Sean T. Faust. At first, I was thinking that I wasn’t really learning anything new or surprising. I’m not sure where I’d already heard most of the information. It may have been The Smartest Kids in the World or World Class Learners.
In any case, if you don’t have time to read two complete books, the documentary is a quick way to get a good overview of the Finland school system if you can get your hands on a copy. It isn’t readily available.
U.S. schools vs. Finland schools
So why is the Finland school system so important? Several quick facts at the start of the film summarize it well.
In Finland, students —
- Don’t start school until they’re 7 years old.
- Get 3 full months of summer vacation.
- Spend fewer hours in school per day compared to most of the world.
- Have little homework.
- Are rarely tested.
And in spite of that, Finland’s education ranks at the top of the world by almost every measure, in all sorts of rankings. According to the documentary, Finland students perform the best on the PISA education test. Electronics is their biggest manufacturing industry with Nokia being the world’s largest producer of mobile phones. Finland spends 3.5% of their of their GDP on research and development, 3rd only behind Sweden and Israel. Finland also has more researchers per capita than any other country.
I find all that significant, because I firmly to believe that the countries who lead the world in the future are going to be the ones who lead in innovation and development of new products.
So how is Finland education different from that of the United States? If you’re familiar with education in the United States, you’ve probably know that in an effort to improve our school system —
- We’re starting students in school younger and younger.
- Summer keeps getting shorter.
- The school day is getting longer.
- Students usually have lots of homework and homework even in the summer.
- We’ve got lots of standardized tests.
The Finland Phenomenon shows that if you look at Finland as an example, we’re clearly going in the wrong direction.
You can say that Finland is a very different, and much smaller, country than the United States. But if you look at a single state instead, Minnesota is a similar size and has similar demographics (it was even settled by Finnish immigrants.) And Minnesota doesn’t even come close to Finland’s statistics.
Regardless of whether or not we could completely copy the Finnish school system, what can be learn from it?
In my next post I’ll look at how the Finnish educational system is structured.