Finland, as we see in the Time magazine article excerpted below, has far better schools than we do. Good teachers are one reason but the author lists many others, among them lack of standardized testing. The Finnish system seems almost to be the mirror image of ours own. More links here.
It would be simple to apply Finland’s methods to our public schools, if it weren’t impossible. None of those methods would be acceptable in a nation that prizes ignorance and despises learning; none could be universally adapted where local control of schools is the object of mindless worship; none could be equitably applied when schools are funded so largely by property taxes.
Dumb is as dumb does. Mediocre schools are what we secretly desire, and arrange to get — they are not a bug, but a feature.
But Finland’s sweeping success is largely due to one big, not-so-secret weapon: its teachers. “It’s the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland’s results,” says the OECD’s Schleicher. “The U.S. has an industrial model where teachers are the means for conveying a prefabricated product. In Finland, the teachers are the standard.”
That’s one reason so many Finns want to become teachers, which provides a rich talent pool that Finland filters very selectively. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. That’s typical. There’s another thing: in Finland, every teacher is required to have a master’s degree. (The Finns call this a master’s in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.) Annual salaries range from about $40,000 to $60,000, and teachers work 190 days a year.
“It’s very expensive to educate all of our teachers in five-year programs, but it helps make our teachers highly respected and appreciated,” says Jari Lavonen, head of the department of teacher education at the University of Helsinki.