"There is no doubt: the Finnish school model is the best in the world," said Claude Anttila, education consultant and professor at the Finnish National Board of Education, at a symposium sponsored by the Centrale des Syndicats du Quebec (Quebec's major teachers union) earlier this year. She pointed out that Finnish students consistently rank at the top of international tests. Moreover, there are effectively no school dropouts: 99.7 per cent of 17-year-olds have completed their secondary education. Even dropping out of pre-university, professional or technical courses at the junior college level is very rare. And Finland is actually reducing the achievement gap between girls and boys.
How has Finnish education managed to do this? Professor Anttila, who for many years was a teacher and a director of a Finnish junior college (gymnasium), identified a number of principles that guide the Finnish school model: equal opportunity, regional and school autonomy, funding equity, professional responsibility, abandonment of high-stakes testing, highly qualified and motivated teachers and sustained political support. In her talk she traced the developments that set the foundations for the Finnish school model.
The reform of the Finnish educational system in the 1970s Was based on a conception of equity and democracy, explained Professor Anttila, "and supported by all succeeding governments and ministries." Schooling was made free, including all school materials, school meals, transportation and extracurricular activities. Today, no matter where a student lives, whether in Helsinki (the capital) or, say, in Utsjoki 1,300 kilometres north of Helsinki, the same program and the same teaching materials and resources are used. The status of the school is also the same: a public school under the authority of the local government. Across Finland, students follow the same common core of subjects until the age of 16.
While there is no magic bullet, a key to the miracle of Finland's school success is that great efforts are made to ensure that no student repeats a grade during the compulsory nine years. Rather than issuing a report card that reflects problems and points to failure, the Finnish teacher makes "assessments based on skills and developments in the course work and behaviour, while identifying strengths and areas where students need to make greater efforts." The purpose of evaluation is to judge what has been acquired and what still...