The Finnish education system is built on trust. Trust in the quality of teachers. Trust in the training given to teachers. Trust in the ability of a teacher to decide the method of teaching, teaching material and assessment needs of his/her students. Essentially, trust in the autonomy of teachers to decide what is best for his/her students.
This culture of trust means that Finland has no school inspections and hence have no school inspectors. They have no school or student ranking system and there is barely any national testing. The only major test that all students have to write is the school leaving exam at the end of 9 years of basic schooling.
Teachers, however, have to work hard to earn this trust. With a 10% acceptance rate, only the very best applicants are accepted for teacher training program. Once accepted, they are given rigorous training on educational philosophy, educational sociology, special needs education etc. It takes 3 years of study to become a KG teacher. Those looking to become class teachers or subject teachers have to study for at least 5 years. Teachers teach around 20 sessions of 40 – 45 minutes a week, spending the remaining time on lesson planning, notebook correction, parent interaction etc.
Finnish teachers are highly supportive of their students. They believe in equity amongst students and attempt to provide encouragement and individualised support to all students. Strengthening student thinking skills, self-confidence and tolerance are core priorities for teachers.
While teachers have all kinds of material and technological tools available to them, they believe that technology should be an enabler and not the primary driver in a classroom. The teacher is seen not just as a deliverer of content but as a guide and a mentor for young minds.
– Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
“Finnish educators believe that teachers should be at the center of a child centered education system. They work to ensure that teachers have what it takes to accomplish the task of educating a country.”
Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Education Expert and Author, has explained the high performance of the Finnish education system to be the result of the high levels of Professional Capital enjoyed by teachers. This is a combination of Human Capital (the knowledge and capabilities of teachers), Social Capital (the value addition that teachers have by being a part of their school team, their community, the education system in Finland, the global networks of teachers that they are a part of etc. ) and Decisional Capital (the benefits that teachers receive by being a part of the decision making regarding the content they teach, the methods that they can use to teach, the evaluations that they can carry out, the school improvement discussions, teacher profession development etc.).
The result of all this is that Finland has a high-quality education system. For a free schooling system, Finland has managed to maintain quality in schools across all regions, with there being only a 6% variation in performance between schools. The fact that less than .5% of students of students drop out of school (amongst the lowest in the world) is a testament to the value that education adds to the lives of students in Finland.
There are multiple lessons that any country can learn from the system in Finland. The first one is that the quality of teachers and the training provided to them needs to be improved for any country to have a marked improvement on the performance of their education system. This, however, is not sufficient in itself. Steps need to be taken to improve their Social Capital and Decisional Capital of teachers as only then will the system be ready to support and empower teachers.
A comprehensive education reform program has to be centered around teachers. Selecting the best teachers and empowering them to perform at their best levels is key to transforming any education system.