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    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
  • Education: United States and Finland a Study of Contrasts
    Posted On: Dec 12, 2016

    Education: United States and Finland a Study of Contrasts

                                            Dr. Joseph W. Brennan

    Finland has one the best educational systems in the world, yet this was not always the case. At one time it was opting to privatize its school system leaving only twenty-five percent of its students in the public school system. This privatization is now being promoted in the United States. Ironically the Finns rejected this as “Stalinistic”. How would American conservatives respond to that?

    Finland’s education system progresses, America’s regresses. Their students have placed first in science and near the top in math and reading when compared to fifty seven other countries in the Program for International Student Assessment. By contrast, U.S. students in similar tests scored twenty-fifth in math and twenty-first in science. While culturally and historically different, American educational philosophy differs radically from that of the Finns. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also reminds us that the Finnish school system is virtually one hundred percent unionized, and demonstrates the positive effects of collective bargaining.

    Unlike American children, Finns begin school at age seven. Their early education is based on Friedrich Froebel’s theory that children learn through play opportunities. Government sponsored pre-school programs focus on self-reflection and social behavior, and emphasize personal responsibility. Academic reports are not issued for the first five years. There is little importance given to testing. Rather than concentrating on high achievers, Finish schools offer special assistance to those with learning difficulties. Home work is limited to a half an hour a day, and less time is spent in the classroom than in the U. S.  Three month vacations are the norm. What results is less discrepancy between the educationally challenged and the gifted, the lowest level of difference among fifty-seven nations.

    Another contrast is the educators themselves. Teaching is an honored position. Competition for college admittance is difficult, but education is free. A Masters Degree is required for every teacher; tenure is easier to obtain than in the U.S.; and salaries are commensurate with the level of education. All teachers belong to a strong labor Union. Teaching is this environment leads to few early resignations. The educational environment is generally relaxed and free of political interference.

    Students in their thirteenth year of studies are directed to select either of two educational tracts. Only fifty-three percent will eventually enroll in university level studies based on their examinations. The rest will receive vocational training designed for opportunities in the workforce. Students may change from one tract to another. All studies are free. There is no special recognition for individual achievement, no honor societies. Schools do not engage in sport activities, marching bands, or proms.

    We must note the unique features in Finnish society that impact on their educational system. It is a homogeneous nation. Its people share the same culture, language, and historic heritage, and are not challenged with multi-lingual and multi-cultural issues. As a prosperous country it still doubts its ability to confront globalization. Efforts need to be made to improve gifted student programs. Fourteen percent of male students drop out before completing the tenth grade, while seventy percent of students accepted for college are female.

     Finnish educational philosophy, its fundamental procedures contrast with those of the United States. Teachers are respected as are their Unions. Collective Bargaining resolves points of differences. Teachers Unions are seen as coordinators not as competitors in the educational process. Teachers are not identified as problematic and children are aware of their responsibility to learn. When asked if the Finnish model could be replicated in other countries Heena Virkunen, the Finnish Education Minister, wisely indicated that her country’s uniformity in language, culture, and history might make it unlikely for its system to be duplicated in other nations. This may be so, but Finland is model of teacher acceptance, effective collective bargaining with Unions, and its emphasis on student personal responsibility. All these are positive examples of what needs to be replicated in American education. 

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