Finland is often mentioned as a “miracle” in many different contents.
The land of blond and sauna had a troubled history with the neighboring Soviets and lack of natural resources, yet in the second half of the 20th century they were able to build an eminent economy backed by industry. The original success story was mostly build on forestry and metallurgy (shipbuilding and such), however Finland now is a leader in knowledge-based industries. If you heard about Nokia, Linux, Skype or Agnry Bird, then you know something that was made in Finland, a country smaller than Maryland in terms of population.
One would expect that a leader in knowledge-based industries must have a good education system. In fact Finnish students generally excel in international tests like PISA, so this little country became the role model of high-quality elementary and secondary education, too. So how did they achieve it? That is the most interesting part.
Many educational expert says that the way to the Holy Land is hard work, more hard work, lot of invested money, and fierce competition to push both students and teachers till their limits. Squeeze more, get more. In fact, if we take a look at the Far-Eastern education models and countries, China, Korea, Japan, we see that this model can work. However, as many times in life, there is not a single good answer to the challenge, and Finland shows this clearly: Finnish education is the opposite from each and every single angle. In Finland, there are no private schools, there are no standardized national tests, and there is no “study longer!” advice to the kids. What is even more interesting, the central focus of education policy is not excellence or talent-breeding / wunderkind cloning. The focus is equality: the role of education system is to provide an equal grand for any children to be successful in the future, irrespective to family background, wealth or other factors. The other interesting element is the lack of competition: the community-centered Finnish actually feels bad about competition, therefore it is a minor factor in the education.
One of the best source to learn about this system is Pasi Sahlberg (his website). He call himself a school improvement activist, but he is not the whale-and-panda-huger-type of activist, more of the ” Director General of CIMO (Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) in Helsinki, Finland”-type one. I just found his new book, “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? “(book,website) and hope to learn more, how to teach kids in a more relaxed way, shorter contact hours and more effectively.