Monday, 16 November 2009

Finnish perceptions of educational challenges: Previous Research

The drawbacks of the Finnish education system deserve addressing as well.  
  • The Finnish education system has the danger of resting on its laurels.  Room for improvement still exists!
  • There is "meager" attention paid to gifted students, and the education system needs to further develop the skills of the academically talented.  
  • There are gender differences: girls attain higher scores in reading literacy than boys.
  • School students expressed negative perceptions of school climate and school satisfaction in the PISA questionnaires.
  • Swedish-speaking Finns score lower than the Finnish-speaking Finns in PISA.  
  • As the population of the country grows increasingly heterogeneous, many acknowledge the difficulty in adhering to the ethos of equality.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Eleven - Additional Reasons

This section addresses reasons not fitting in themes of the previous posts.  
  • High interest in reading: The interest in reading in Finland supersedes socio-economic, cultural, or linguistic background of the students.  
  • High appreciation for education in general: Education is held in high esteem in society and enjoys political consensus.
  • Textbooks: are of high quality and cover contextual relationships, for example, "Science and Society" or "Science and Humans"  
  • Finnish students assert a higher level of effort in school, and ultimately, PISA.  
  • Concept of Learning: The rather old-fashioned manner in which teachers see students as responsible for learning, and encourage both individual and cooperative learning processes.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Ten - Cultural Homogeneity

The cultural homogeneity of Finland allows the country to achieve in education and PISA. 

Finland, a country with a generally homogeneous population, does not have the same issues, or at least to the same extent, as countries with varying cultural backgrounds and heterogeneous populations.  

Cultural homogeneity does have its advantages, however, as Valijarvi et al. attribute cultural homogeneity as a source of strength for the country.  In other words, Finland has enjoyed political consensus, especially in matters of education.  The "mutual understanding" achieved through this consensus allowed for the reforms of the 1970s to pass "without huge political contradictions" (Valijarvi, et al., 2007).  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Nine - Comprehensive School

The comprehensive school of Finland, which has roots in the Nordic principle of equality, also influences the Finnish PISA outcomes.  The comprehensive school has many features that provide a supportive environment for all students, regardless of academic talent.

The comprehensive school provides a good foundation for the education system, with philosophy of equity, support of students through heterogeneous grouping, special education, individual attention, and inclusion.  The comprehensive school allows all students to attend the same school with their peers, despite any difficulties the students may have.  

Nearly all students attend the comprehensive school until the age of sixteen, but the school will adapt to each child's needs.  The schools use teacher-planned curriculum for a student-centered, inclusive environment.  The ethos of inclusion allows for vast support for weaker students through a very developed special education program.  

The comprehensive school, a non-selective school, calls for support for those with difficulties.  Only 2% of students need to repeat a grade and only 0.5% of students fail to earn a comprehensive school degree.  

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Eight - National Curriculum

The Finnish National Curriculum entrusts teachers with great freedom in teaching.  Teachers, with their established academic prowess and high skills, have earned a great deal of trust from the Ministry of Education and the Board of Education, municipalities, and schools for their quality of work.  The National Curriculum allows teachers to teach in the manner they see fit.  

The National Curriculum, born in the 1990s, allows for municipal, school, and teacher autonomy.  The advent of the National Curriculum also increased the responsibility of teachers over their own teaching, and encouraged them to design their own lessons.  

The National Curriculum is the background of Finland's flexible education system.  It also illustrates the trust from the national level in the local level in administering teaching and learning.  No national tests exist, nor do league tables.  Schools do not compete with each other.  National assessments occur only by sampling and only to identify areas to improve within the education system.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Seven - Teachers

The high quality of teachers has proved itself a salient factor behind Finland's high PISA outcomes.

Teachers have a strong commitment to their work and a high level of training, as all teachers have master's degrees.  Teachers have a low admission rate to teacher training programs in universities.  

Within the profession, teachers have a high amount of trust, respect, and autonomy.  Finnish teachers, regarded as educational experts, have gained the trust in Finnish society to teach the difficult, heterogeneous groups of students.  

For these reasons, teachers and the teaching profession hold high status in Finnish society.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Six - Equality

The Nordic philosophy of equality is a salient factor behind Finland's high PISA scores.  Equality of opportunity, the philosophy of equity, and especially a commitment towards decreasing low achievement play a significant role in Finland's PISA outcomes.  Finland's PISA scores show a narrow gap between high and low scorers on the literacy scale; furthermore, low scorers in Finland score higher than many of their counterparts in other OECD countries.  Finnish schools have the smallest variation between each other in the OECD.  This equality also stretches across geography, meaning there is very little difference between rural and urban schools, and across regions such as North or South.  

The principle of equality also clarifies the low impact of socio-economic background of Finnish students compared to other OECD countries.  The standard of equity also permeates the philosophy of the Finnish comprehensive school, with homogenous grouping and non-selective entry.  Finnish students also show some of the smallest differences between weak and strong students in PISA.  

Finnish students have achieved this with less time in school than students in the OECD countries, and with average expenditure.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Five

In addition to explaining reasons behind Finnish success in PISA on its website, the Finnish National Board of Education holds yearly conferences addressing the topic.  I attended this conference twice, once in 2005 and once in 2008.  

The 2008 conference listed the following as notable features of the Finnish education system:
  1. Equal opportunities for education
  2. Regional accessibility to education
  3. Decentralized administration -- local implementation
  4. Publicly funded education system
  5. School free of charge
  6. State financial aid scheme for students
  7. Learning environment with possibilities of individual attention, innovation, recognition of prior learning
  8. Virtuous cycle of teaching
  9. Welfare state crucial to the success of education
In general, the sources mentioned in this post and previous posts (Valijarvi, et al., Valijarvi and Linnakyla, the Ministry of Education in Finland, the Finnish National Board of Education) give consistent reasons for Finland's PISA success.  

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Four

The Finnish National Board of Education also lists its reasons for Finland's PISA outcomes, quite similar to those of the Ministry of Education:
  1. Equality of opportunities
  2. Comprehensive education
  3. Flexibility of system
  4. Cooperation
  5. Individual support of teachers
  6. Non-high-stakes testing
  7. High-quality teachers
  8. Active learning

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Three

The Ministry of Education also addresses the reasons behind Finland's high outcomes in PISA on its website.  It does not list one reason; rather, it lists many.  

The Ministry of Education lists the following background reasons for Finnish success in PISA:
  1. Equal opportunities
  2. Comprehensiveness of education
  3. Competent teachers
  4. Student counseling and special needs education
  5. Encouraging evaluation
  6. Significance of education in society
  7. A flexible system based on empowerment
  8. Cooperation
  9. A student-oriented, active conception of learning

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part Two

In addition to the two documents by Valijarvi, et al., Valijarvi and Linnakyla also published an article addressing the matter.

Valijarvi, et al., Valijarvi and Linnakyla do not credit one reason behind the results, but rather a "web" or a "whole network of interrelated factors" such as comprehensive school, the structure of the education system, teacher training, students, families, and Finnish culture.  

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Finnish perceptions of PISA Success: Previous Research, Part One

Finland's success in PISA has led to publications both within and outside Finland addressing the issue.

The University of Jyvaskyla, a respected university in Finland, and especially respected for the caliber of the Department of Education, released two articles on the matter.

A document entitled "The Finnish Success in PISA -- And Some Reasons Behind It: PISA 2000" was written in 2002 by Professors Valijarvi, Linnakyla, Kupari, Reinikainen, and Arffman. A similar document addressed entitled "The Finnish Success in PISA -- And Some Reasons Behind It 2" was released in 2007 and was written by Professors Valijarvi, Kupari, Linnakyla, Reinikainen, Sulkunen, Tornroos, and Arffman.

The second document described the Finnish reaction to high outcomes in PISA and the paradigm shift of educational interest that occurred after the release of PISA results:
The outstanding success of Finnish students in PISA has been a great joy but at the same time a somewhat puzzling experience to all those responsible for and making decisions about education in Finland. At a single stroke, PISA has transformed our conceptions of the quality of the work done at our comprehensive school and of the foundations it has laid for Finland's future civilisation and development of knowledge. Traditionally, we have been used to thinking that the models for educational reforms have to be taken from abroad. This sudden change in role from a country following the example of others to one serving as a model for others reforming school has prompted us to recognise and think seriously about the special characteristics and strengths of our comprehensive school (Valijarvi, et al., 2007, p. 3).

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Data Collection and Research Approach

I conducted research qualitatively, using observations, interviews, and documentary research. The nature of qualitative research assumes a "world in which reality is socially constructed, complex, and ever changing" (Glesne, 1999). In order to fully capture and understand the nuances within the Finnish educational context, I decided on a qualitative approach to the research.

I chose to interview education officials and investigate lower secondary schools, purposely covering the same age group as in the PISA surveys. I also chose to interview Finnish education ministers, Finnish PISA test administrators, professors of education in Finland, PISA test creators at the OECD, heads of schools, an teachers in order to gather data and to explore the research questions.

Research Questions

This research originally stemmed from an interest in Finland. This interested spawned an academic interest concerining the bilingualism of the country. However, the advent of PISA sparked a new twist on the academic interest of the country, relating specifically to its education system.

Many have wondered about the reasons for Finnish success in PISA and the factors behind it.

This is the main research question:
  • In light of the results of the OECD's PISA surveys, how can we explain the phenomenon of Finland's educational success?

Upon further investigation, two sub-questions emerged. The first tackles the perceptions of Finns involved in education on their performance in PISA, as well as the perceptions of the PISA creators at the OECD.

The second one takes some of the warnings of policy borrowing into account and delves into the external factors influencing Finland's success in PISA.

  • What are the perceptions of Finland's education officials, PISA test administrators, heads of schools, and teachers of this success and how do they explain the outcomes?
  • Which external factors, historical, social, political, and cultural, influence the success of Finland in PISA?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Acceptance Criteria and Course Requirements for Teacher Training Programs

For acceptance to the University of Helsinki teacher training program, applicants must:

1) Pass the university entrance examination with a high score
2) Pass a book test
3) Have an interview
4) Perform a teaching exercise based on a group interaction.

During their studies, they must take a research-based approach to teacher training. Therefore, they must study for a master's degree. Teachers of Grades 1-6 must have a master's degree in pedgagogy, while subject teachers must have a master's degree within their subject, although they can choose to write a master's degree in pedagogy.

All teachers have teaching practice in special teacher training schools affiliated with a university's teacher training program.

Teacher Training Today

Curently, twelve universities have teacher training courses. Moving all teacher training to the university level shows the unification within the teacher training programs, no matter what the level or discipline (Begrem, et al., 1997).

Finland has more professors of education than the rest of the Scandinavian countries combined (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994).

Today, teacher training courses still accept approximately 10% of their 5,000 applicants (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994; Sahlberg, 2007, p. 154).

All teachers have a univeristy education. Teachers for pre-primary schools have a bachelor's degree from either a university or a polytechnic. Teachers in vocational schools need to have a higher or postgraduate degree within their subject, either from a university or a polytechnic. If a higher degree does not exist within their field, they must have the highest possible qualification within their subject. In addition to academic qualifications, vocational teachers must have at least three years experience within their field, in addition to the pedagogical coursework.

Professional Teachers

Teachers in Finland are perceived as professionals. This stems from both the shift of teacher training to an academic subject in universities, and the educational reforms decentralizing decision-making to schools (Begrem, et al., 1997).

Professional teachers:

1) Perceive personal enrichment as a professional asset
2) Appreciate cooperation and interaction with students and colleagues
3) Realize their responsibility and value their autonomy
4) Dedicate themselves to their work (Begrem, et al., 1997).

The decentrlization and devolution of school control also add to the increased responsibility of teachers. The current Finnish school curricula allow teachers freedom and autonomy, in addition to a culture of trust for teachers within Finnish society. This trust even includes politicians and economists, something rare in other countries (Simola, 2005).

Popularity of Teaching

Teaching also enjoys popularity. A 2004 poll of upper-secondary school graduates showed that 26% of students naming teaching as the most sought-after profession (Sahlberg, 2007). Even though there are some teaching shortages (especially in mathematics and science) teaching is still the most popular profession and overtakes careers such as law, medicine, engineering, and journalism (Simola, 2005).

The popularity of teaching comes from the master's degree requirement. The degree benefits both schools and society as a whole. A qualified teacher can gain employment not only in schools but also in occupations within both the public and private sector. A teaching degree also allows entrance to other postgraduate degrees, with explains an increase in PhDs among teachers and principals. Master's degrees also indicate the depth, breadth, and general high quality of teacher training, in addition to reinforcing trust in teachers by society and parents (Sahlberg, 2007).

High Status of Teaching

The teacher education reforms have succeeded in improving the quality of teachers and their status in society (Begrem, et al., 1997). The enviable position of teachers in Finnish society reaps great benefits for the education system. The respect and high status of teachers come from people from all types of socio-economic backgrounds (Simola, 2005).

Along with the high status of teachers come respect and satisfaction from the consumers, the parents. A 1995 survey showed that 86% of parents had high satisfaction with teaching (Simola, 2005).

Teacher Training: Major Reforms, Part Two

The reforms to teacher training help explain the respect for teachers and teaching in Finland:

"The long march of teachers from despised and underprivileged civil servants to the core of the academic elite has been more glorious and successful in Finnish society than in most countries of the world" (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994, p. 521).

The example of primary school teachers illustrates this fact. Even as far back as 1890, primary school teachers wanted their training within universities, and not in seminaries (Simola, 2005). Before World War II, more primary school teachers had an upper-secondary education than their colleagues in any other country. After the founding of the Jyvaskyla College of Education in 1934, more universities developed faculties of education, eventually including the training of primary school teachers and raised the level of their training within the educational hierarchy. In the 1950s, the teachers' union insisted that primary school teachers have training at the same level of grammar school teachers, from a university (ibid.).

The educational reforms of the 1970s fully supported the training of primary school teachers at the university level. The comprehensive school reforms (1972-1977) and the teacher education reforms (1973-1979) had a sister reform, the General Syllabus and Degree Reform in Higher Education (1977-1980), which abolished the bachelor's degree and subsequently raised the level of primary school teacher education to the master's level in 1979 (Simola, 2005).

Teacher Training: Major Reforms, Part One

In 1971, the Teacher Training Act moved all teacher training to the university level. These teacher training reforms mirror the school reforms of the 1970s. Seven universities at that time had teacher training departments, one of them Swedish-speaking. These programs all led to a master's degree in education, the formal training for all teachers in Finland, including the primary school level.

Primary teacher training, originally a three-year program at teacher training colleges, expanded to a four-year, then finally five-year programs in universities in the late 1970s (Sahlberg, 2007). The reforms to prepare teachers as professionals and researchers create the foundations of teacher training reforms.

The attention to teacher training within the general educational reforms illustrated the objective of professionalizing and "academizing" teacher training (Begrem, et al., 1997). It also closed the gap between educational science and teacher education. Finnish teachers, even those not currently engaged in any educational research, thus maintain a strong knowledge of educational theory (ibid.).

Finnish teacher training maintains popularity and high quality. In 1982, only 10% of applicants were accepted into teacher training programs (Whittaker, 1983).

Teacher Training: History, Part Two

Independence in 1917 further emphasized the need for a united teacher training system. In 1934, the Jyvaskyla College of Education trained teachers after completion of secondary school. Even at this early time, teaching and teacher training held great respect in Finland, eventually achieving an established academic status (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994).

The reforms of teacher education in Finland illustrate the educational change so closely interwoven with politics, the economy, and society, and the reassessment and reconstruction the Finnish government underwent in the twentieth century (Begrem, Bjorkvist, Hansen, Carlgren, & Hauge, 1997). Post World War II forced Finland to reconsider the role of education in social and economic development.

Despite the founding of post-secondary teacher training institutions, many of the teaching seminaries continued to exist. In 1968, however, a committee determined that all teacher training courses would require an upper-secondary school qualification and that they would consist of a four-year course of study, culminating in a master's degree in education. Therefore, all teacher training would take place in universities (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994).

Teacher Training: History, Part One

We can see the history of Finnish teacher training in three phases:

1) "Quasi-monastic" training, in order to educate the agrarian society
2) Teacher training in seminaries
3) University teacher training

Under Russian rule, a movement began to nationalize education and teacher training. A Finnish-speaking seminary opened up in the 1863, and a Swedish-speaking seminary opened in the 1870s.

The development of a basic national school increased the need for more structured teacher training.

Despite the enviable position that Finnish teachers enjoy today, this ascent to a high place in society took a great deal of effort. This included a resistance from the land-owning peasant class to having schools within their municipalities until the early 1900s, when, at that comparatively late time, nearly every municipality had a school (Simola, 2005).

The bitter Civil War of 1918 divided the country and also its views of teachers and education. The War led some to believe that only missionary-style teaching could save the immoral masses, some to stop believing in a universal society, and the elite to no longer believe in education for all (Simola, 2005).

Not until World War II did the country begin to re-unify in its view of teaching and education, as teachers once again became worthy of trust.

Teacher Training: Background

The teacher training programs of Finland reflect the high status of teachers and the professional reputation of the teaching profession. In the Nordic countries, teaching has an element of professional competition, as those unqualified for teaching become excluded from the labor market. The trend towards professionalism and the movement towards university training also affected teacher training in Finland. The "academic drift" of teaching and other professions to the university level provides examples of this new trend of "neo-academic higher education curricula" (Kivinen & Rinne, 1994). In both Sweden and Finland, th emovement of teacher training to the university level coincided with the reforms of the comprehensive school, showing some consistency between the two countries (ibid.).

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

PISA Results for 2003: Scores for Swedish-Speakers

For the 2003 PISA survey, the Finnish PISA team incorporated all of the Swedish-speaking schools in the PISA sample.  

They published the findings with a separate score for the Swedish-speakers.  

Here are the scores for the 2003 survey:




Therefore, the 2003 PISA data shows that Swedish speakers score lower than Finnish speakers.  The blue bar in the graph shows the average scores of all participants in Finland, not just Finnish speakers.  

Education for Swedish-Speaking Finns: Part Five

More recently, these events have happened:
  • Resettlement of Finnish refugees
  • Post-War reconstruction
  • Increased Finnish economic power
  • Finnish nationalism
These events have led to intermarriage between the two language groups, lessening the stronghold of the Swede-Finn identity.

Although the percentage of Swedish-speakers has remained constant over the years, their percentage in the overall Finnish population has decreased.

Language shifting occurred, and Finnish became the language of the labor market.  

Swedish-speakers also emigrate to Sweden, further decreasing their percentage in the Finnish population.  

In 1977, Paulston stated, "The Swede-Finns continue to surpass national education norms, and especially those SF [Swedish-speaking] youth who live in towns and regional urban centers ... The continuing high priority of urban Swede-Finns on formal schooling is apparent." 

Education for Swedish-Speaking Finns: Part Four

Between 1880 and 1881, Swedish-speaking students numbered 1,764 while the total of Finnish-speaking students came only to 786.  In 1908-1909, however, the Swede-Finn numbers remained constant at 1,771 while the number of Finnish students grew to 4,756.  

During the 1920s and 1930s, Finnish-speaking university students battled for the "Finnification" of the University of Helsinki.  The prevalence of Swedish-speaking professors and Swedish as the language of instruction placed a great onus on the Finnish speakers.  

The large number of Swedish schools and large size of the Swedish-speaking upper class encouraged an "overproduction" of Swedish-speaking university students in comparison to the size of the Swede-Finn population (Paulson, 1977).  Today, the University of Helsinki still has a quota for Swedish-speaking students and professors, and Abo Akademi in Turku caters only to Swedish speakers.  

The separate education for Swede-Finns reflects the mutual acknowledgment of the difference between both linguistic groups.  

Education for Swedish-Speaking Finns: Part Three

With Finnish independence came official bilingualism, and with this, the Swedish-speaking Finns pursued a policy of cultural autonomy and separatism.  Along with this came separate Swedish-speaking schools.  
The Constitution of Finland clearly defines the rights of education in the Swedish language.  In Section 17, the Constitution confirms the two national languages of Finland, and asserts the right to use the mother tongue in official capacities, such as courts of law and government documents. It also affirms the provision for cultural and societal necessities, on an equal basis, in the mother tongue.  

In 1920, with the founding of the Swedish Department in the Central Bureau of Schools, both Swedish schools and Finnish schools held, legally, an equal position.  

This advantageous minority position does not find  a parallel with the Finnish-speaking minority in Sweden.  

Click here and here and here for pictures of signs in both the Finnish and Swedish languages.  

Click here for a map of Finland showing the Swedish-speaking areas.  

Education for Swedish-Speaking Finns: Part Two

In response to the Finnish nationalist movement in the mid-19th century, the Swedish-speakers started their own counter movement, but only in the interests of the upper classes.  The common Swedish-speakers did not have a part in this movement.  Many viewed the Finnish language as the language of peasants and felt superior to Finnish speakers.  

In 1906, Swede-Finns founded the Swedish People's Party in order to unite the entire Swedish-speaking population in Finland, irrespective of social class.  

The uniting of Swede-Finns supports their view that Finland, much like Switzerland or Belgium, has a culturally and linguistically pluralistic society, and that both nationalities and linguistic groups have existed side-by-side throughout Finland's history.  

Education for Swedish-Speaking Finns: Part One

Swedish-speaking Finns, called finlandssvenskar in Swedish and suomenruotsalaiset in Finnish, hold a unique place in Finnish society.  
The Swede-Finns constitute a "declining cultural, economic, and social elite [which] has sought to maintain ethnic identity boundaries through control of a separate Swedish-speaking school system and widespread non-formal educational efforts" (Paulston, 1977).  

According to Paulston, separate schooling allowed the Swede-Finns to maintain the survival of their minority group.  Although a minority, Swedish-speaking Finns had an atypical role compared to other ethnic minorities.  They constituted a high percentage of the economic and social elite of Finland, with "superior resources, historical dominance, and psychological advantage" (Paulston, 1977).  

Education for Saame

The Saame, or Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland, have constitutional rights to cultural autonomy.  They have their own parliament that has educational influence.  For the municipalities located in the Sami areas, pupils learning the Sami language must have the provision of primary education in the language, if requested by the parents.  Education in the Sami language, therefore, does exist in the Sami-speaking areas of Lapland.  


In the 1990s, LUMA was born.  The LU in LUMA stands for luonnontieteet, or natural science, and the MA stands for matematiikkaa, or mathematics.  LUMA began in 1996 as an attempt to improve skills in science and mathematics.  

Jointly supported by the general school and vocational school tracks, LUMA attempted to raise interest in science and mathematics as well as achievement in those areas, especially among girls. 

The Ministry of Education, National Board of Education, universities with teacher training courses, municipalities, and schools all had stakes in the project.  

Tertiary Education

At the tertiary level, students can attend a polytechnic or a university.  

Polytechnics focus on a more practical training of professionals for their careers.  Currently, Finland has 29 polytechnics, most having good connections to business and industry.  

Finland's first university was founded in 1640 in the city of Turku.  When the capital moved to Helsinki in the early 19th century, the university moved as well.  Not until independence did more universities emerge.  The university network today includes nearly every subject and enjoys geographical distribution all around Finland.

The state administers the universities, but they have widespread autonomy.  Polytechnics have municipal or private administration.  

Students enter university through entrance exams.  The polytechnics differ from universities as they have a more practical focus.  For example, doctors receive their education through universities, while nurses do so through polytechnics.  Engineers can take either path, and they are referred to as insenoori or diplomi-insenoori indicating whether they have studied at a polytechnic or university, respectively.  

The education reforms of the 1990s upgraded the polytechnics to the higher education level.  Polytechnics also gained the ability to grant master's degrees, undertaken after three years of work experience by the candidate.  

Monday, 27 July 2009

Vocational Education

Some students choose to continue their education in the vocational track.  They learn in a school environment, but do have some work-based learning as well.  

The apprenticeship schemes in vocational schools have expanded recently, and approximately 10% of the vocational course takes place in an apprenticeship environment.  

Institutions carrying out vocational education receive a license from the Ministry of Education, but municipalities and companies carry out the education itself.

In initial vocational education, students can receive 53 qualifications out of 116 study programs. The qualifications can come under seven sectors of vocational study:
  1. Natural sciences
  2. Technology and transport
  3. Social sciences, business and administration
  4. Tourism, catering, and home economics
  5. Health and social services
  6. Culture
  7. Leisure and physical education
  8. Humanities and teaching
Vocational education and training in Finland believes in giving students the knowledge and skills necessary for vocation competence and employment, in addition to knowledge and skills needed for further studies and lifelong learning.  Therefore, students in the vocational sector have 1/3 of their curriculum filled by general studies. 

Recently, it has become popular for students to gain qualifications in both the academic and vocational sectors of upper-secondary education.  10% of students in the vocational track take classes in the general upper-secondary schools, and 8% take the matriculation exam.  

Upper-Secondary School

After compulsory school, students can choose between upper-secondary school and vocational school.  Students may choose an optional tenth year of compulsory school, if they feel they need more time in compulsory school to improve grades or better select post-compulsory school options.  

Approximately half of the continuing students choose upper-secondary school and half choose vocational education.  Students applying to upper-secondary school fill out an yhteiskaku, an application based on their marks from school and also lists their preferences for upper-secondary school.  

Enrollment in both sectors of upper-secondary education have increased in the past few decades.  97% of students completing compulsory education continue on to upper-secondary school.  Students completing the vocational track sometimes enter the academic track after the completion of their course, and vice versa.  

In both sectors, students have both mandatory and elective subjects.  In general upper-secondary school, students have compulsory courses and choose at least ten advanced courses for the three-year duration of school. 

Much like compulsory school, local authorities have responsibility for general upper-secondary schools.  

A matriculation examination takes place after the completion of upper-secondary general education.  The National Core Curriculum provides the basis for the examination, which has a minimum of four tests: the compulsory mother tongue examination, plus three assessments chosen from the second national language, mathematics, foreign language, and general studies.  The matriculation certificate gives eligibility to enter tertiary education.  

School Evaluation

Finnish schools self-evaluate; in other words, they have no school inspectorate.  The government entrusts the schools, the providers of education, to carry out the National Core Curriculum and to evaluate and monitor their own quality.  

This school self-evaluation occurs every three years. It consists of surveys with parents, personnel, and students, in addition to teacher meetings over different issues within the school.  

An example:  School evaluation in Helsinki takes into account these factors:
  1. School achievement compared to national samples
  2. Parental opinions
  3. Health reviews
  4. Curriculum evaluations
  5. Evaluating the annual plan
Schools start the year with an annual plan, and use these self-evaluations to ascertain if they have achieved their goals.  The ethos of self-evaluation implies a culture of trust within schools, and therefore eliminates the need for inspectorates and league tables.  The Evaluation Council for Education and Training works with the Ministry of Education to aid the self-evaluation of schools.  


Assessment in Finnish schools comes strictly from the teachers.  The decentralized nature of Finnish education allows for this.  

Primary schools do not use testing in order to concentrate on teaching.

After fifth grade, the law prohibits numerical grading in order to prevent student competition.  

Each student receives a report once a year, and teachers may administer an additional report halfway through the year.  

At the end of compulsory school, students receive a certificate of completion.  

Special Needs Education

Finnish schools provide extensive special needs education.  The schools provide special support for students with difficulties, disorders, and disadvantages.  

All students have the right to the same educational objectives and possibilities; therefore, students with various difficulties have the right to individual support.  The extent of this support depends on the extent of the difficulties.  

The Basic Education Act defines students with special educational needs as those affected by illness, disability, or reduced functional ability, those who need more mental or social support, or the students who have risk factors in their development that affect their learning.  

The philosophy aims first to include students within the mainstream classroom, in order to provide them with the same opportunities as their peers.  The second option provides special education in a separate class, group, or school.

In 2006, 7.7% of students received special education, while in 1998, 3.8% of students needed more attention.  The Board of Education attributes this to better diagnosis of disabilities such as dyslexia.  

Basic or Compulsory School

Basic or compulsory school covers nine years and begins at the age of seven. Some 99.7% of students complete basic school in Finland, which gives it one of the lowest dropout rates in the world. In the 2006-2007 school year, the entire country had 350 school dropouts.  

The government finances the education, but the municipalities control the spending of the money for local schools.  

Local authorities assign a place in school for each student, close to their homes. However, the students have school choice and can apply for a place at another school. Basic education is the responsibility of the municipalities.  

The system has full, public financing. 

The current system of education comes from the reforms on the 1970s (see previous post). The reforms combined the Finnish equivalent of primary school, secondary modern school, and middle school into the nine-year compulsory school.

You can read more about secondary modern school here and here.  

Compulsory school breaks down into two sections, the lower stage and the upper stage.  The lower stage lasts six years and the upper stage lasts three years.  In the first six years of compulsory school, students have classroom teachers, and in the last three years, they have subject teachers.  In the upper stage, students have both mandatory and optional subjects.  

The National Core Curriculum

The National Core Curriculum, created by the Finnish National Board of Education, provides teachers with a plan of educational objectives as well as assessment criteria.  Although the board of education lays down the guidelines, the municipalities and schools place the curriculum into the local context, and the teachers hold the responsibility  of carrying out the curriculum as they see fit.  

In 1970, Finland introduced the first national curriculum, with strong centralization.  The curriculum has undergone three reforms since its inception, in 1985, 1994, and 2004.  

In 1985, the National Curriculum became the National Core curriculum, with increasing emphasis on a municipally-based syllabus.  The reforms also abolished ability grouping and increased eligibility to studies after compulsory education.

In 1994, the reforms delegated power further to the municipalities and schools.  The changes also abolished school inspections, encouraged cooperative learning, and created a "thinner" core curriculum.

The 2004 reforms reversed the curricular reforms and strengthened the core curriculum.  It also re-distributed the lesson hours, emphasizing goals instead of content.  The reforms in general have strengthened the roles of local authorities and schools, and stress the relevance of local and school-specific curricula.  They have also increased the role of student welfare and special education, in addition to individualized student learning.  Although the reforms of 2004 have increased the control of the local authority over the curriculum, the latest reform has applied more regulations to the National Core Curriculum, for the Board of Education felt it needed to provide more guidance.  

Expenditure in Education

Finland spends approximately 10 Billion Euros per year on education.  Within this expenditure, Finland spent the following percentage of the budget in each educational sector in 2005:
  • Pre-primary (six-year-olds) - 2.9%
  • Basic education - 36.5%
  • Upper secondary general education - 6.4%
  • Vocational education and training - 14.7%
  • Higher Education: Polytechnics - 7.8%
  • Higher Education: Universities - 17.9%
  • Other education - 3.9%
  • Administration - 2%
  • Financial aid - 7.8%

The Organization of Teaching and Learning

The organization of teaching and learning in Finland comes from four areas:
  1. The Basic Education Act and Decree (see previous post)
  2. The Government's Decree: give more detailed goals of education
  3. The National Core Curriculum (details to come in a future post)
  4. The Municipal and School Curricula: the implementation of the national curriculum according to local needs.  

The Basic Education Act

In the Finnish constitution, educational rights come under Section 16.  Children have rights to education free of charge.  Under this decree, public authorities must guarantee equal opportunities for education, despite special needs, for all students no matter their economic background.

The Basic Education Act, effective from 1 January 1999, states:

"Education shall be provided according to the student's age and capabilities and so as to promote all students' healthy growth and development" (Finnish National Board of Education). 

This act, purposely simple, functions as a starting point for education and takes differences into account.  

The Basic Education Act also maps out the minimum and maximum time spent in school for students.  Students in compulsory school have 190 days of school, from four to seven hours of school per day.  The Act also encourages integrative, interdisciplinary themes in education and encourages good basic competencies.  

Seven Key Education Policies

Finland's education system enjoys political consensus on the major issues by its political parties. Seven key policies encapsulate the main issues under agreement:
  1. Depth: the importance of knowledge and learning
  2. Length: Long-term educational goals, rather than short-term gains
  3. Breadth: The responsibility of education falls at all levels of government
  4. Justice: Equity of quality and access of education
  5. Diversity: Strong principles of inclusive education and heterogeneous classrooms
  6. Resourcefulness: Trusting that creativity and competency override "routine experience"
  7. Conservation: Balancing proven, efficient education methods with new innovations

The Finnish Education System: History and Reforms

Between 1856 and 1866, compulsory folk schools began to develop alongside the private secondary schools, established both the break the church monopoly and to advance the progress of Finnish-speakers.  The creation of these folk schools allowed those without a wealthy background or with Finnish as a mother tongue access to education.

At the time of independence in 1917, education was seen as a tool for maintaining national identity, literacy, and political freedom.  

After World War II, Finland found schooling a bit disjointed owing to the class and language differences.  The education system also gave very little possibility of transfer between the tiers of education after the age of eleven.  After the exam at age eleven, those successful could continue with secondary education, and leave school at the earliest at fifteen.  Those who did not study at secondary schools could study more practical subjects.  

Originally, the education system of Finland was under centralized control.  However, in the 1960s a restructuring occurred and the Ministry of Education established a new local education administration.  The Finnish Ministry of the 1960s found especially useful the educational models from Sweden and Germany.  

The 1970s brought major reforms to the Finnish education system.  This time in Finnish history also became a point of transition for many aspects of Finnish life.  Many viewed the education system as biased towards the Swedish-speaking upper class, and not to the needs of the Finnish people.  Government committees proposed to make schools comprehensive and egalitarian, to make general and vocational subjects interrelated, and to standardize schools in outlying areas.  These reforms faced heavy resistance.  Opponents to the reforms argued that it was impossible to educate the entire population.  The government proposed that these reforms take place in a "rolling" manner, between 1970 and 1985.  Geography determined the first areas to see reform, as examples of "inadequate education" made way for the new comprehensive system, beginning in the North in 1972 and ending in the Helsinki area in 1977.  

In the 1980s, the education system undertook a market economy model and underwent decentralization.  This decentralization of the education system increased the autonomy of schools, and therefore accountability for schools and teachers.  The schools have the responsibility of producing learning outcomes, while the government has the responsibility of providing for the schools in order to meet their goals, therefore creating a cycle of trust in the governance of Finnish education.  

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Day Care and Preschool

In the 1860's Uno Cygnaeus brought the concept of kindergarten to Finland.  In the 1970s, the government passed the Child Day-Care Act, which decreed that all day-care centers provide supervision by registered child-care providers.  

Click here and here and here to learn more about Uno Cygnaeus.  

The Finnish Ministry of Education sees preschool as a part of the early childhood education process as assisting in the goal of equal educational opportunities for all.  Currently 96% of children partake in the preschool system.  The curriculum is prescribed at the national level but carried out at the municipal level.  

A study in the 1970s by the Ministry of Education and that for Social Affairs and Health allowed for a pre-class consisting of six-year-olds to begin the first year of comprehensive school, if seen relevant by the local council.  The transitional year for six-year-olds provides the strong foundation for high-quality education for the Finnish people.  In the 1990s, it became a goal for all six-year-olds to have the right to attend preschool education.  Today, six-year-olds have the right to free schooling, under the organization of the municipalities.  School for six-year-olds takes place in either schools or day care centers.  This way, students have preparation before basic education.  All day care teachers have university training.  

Since 2001, the Basic Education Act has administered the provision of preschool education, which is an obligation of the local authorities and a right for families.  

The Finnish Education System

The Finnish education system has a straightforward structure.  The system consists of basic/compulsory school, upper secondary school, and university/tertiary education.  Finland also has extensive preschool provision and day care.  

Click here for a diagram of the Finnish education system.  

Finnish Schools: Some Early Observations

In 1931, Gilmour observed a school in the Helsinki area, the Kaisaniemen Kansakoulu.  She documented that all children had medical examinations twice a year, and noted "the orderliness, the politeness, the independence, the thoroughness, the co-operative spirit, the initiative, the absence of self-consciousness" (p. 63).  

Gilmour observed that the Finnish primary school sought "'through labour to labours' to keep a close connection with practical life" (p. 64).  She also remarked how the Finnish school provided a strong foundation for those who continued with study in addition to those who would leave the education system sooner than some of their peers.  

In 1968, Binham noticed the remarkable welfare available to students through the schools: "Everything at the elementary school is free -- free books, free meals, free medical and dental treatment, and for children living more than three miles from school (the rule rather than the exception in more remote districts) free transport.  Clothes and shoes are also provided for needy pupils" (p. 157).  

In 1970, Bacon detected a sense of practical and applied education.  He uses the example of language.  Finnish students spent a considerable time on modern languages, rather than classical languages.  He also observed how early school ended for the children.  Even today, PISA data shows that Finnish students spend very little time in the classroom compared to their counterparts in other countries.  

The Education System of Finland: Some History

Observers of the Finnish education system, even in the beginnings of the early twentieth century, noted its excellence.  

For example, in 1926, Fox wrote, "The educational system in Finland is excellent.  There is practically no illiteracy, and every young citizen has a chance of obtaining a University education" (p. 129).  

Fox also stated, "Primary school, secondary school, and University education flourish in Finland.  The three Universities have yearly increasing numbers of students.  The great extent of the international recognition of Finnish scholarship gives proof of the soundness of the country's educational system" (p. 132).

The beginnings of Finnish education, much like in other countries, has roots in the church.  The movement for education and literacy began with the reforms of Mikael Agricola in the sixteenth century.  In the seventeenth century, the church began the ambitious task of teaching the nation to read.  The church required all those wishing to marry to be literate.  Furthermore, in 1686, the church demanded that all should be able to read a considerable number of religious texts.  Therefore, the church's influence on education, in addition to educational programs initiated by the state, allowed for high levels of literacy at an early date.  The first records for literacy, in 1880, chronicled 97.6% of Finns over ten years of age literate.  

The nineteenth century also called for education beyond church walls.  In 1863, training began for teachers of non-church education in Jyvaskyla.  In 1866 the Senate passed a law establishing folk schools.  After independence, a universal School Attendance Act was passed, and the country provided free education for everyone aged seven to sixteen.  

Although the growth of Finnish education followed a similar pattern to that of most industrialized countries, this development came later.  For example, the Compulsory Education Act came later than other European countries, even Nordic countries, in 1921.  

Sunday, 12 July 2009


The Finnish word sisu often arises when investigating and researching the country, including the people, the history, the society, and the culture.  The concept of sisu permeates everything from the Finnish attitude during World War II to its recent victory in the Eurovision Song Contest.  

"Sisu is a key word in Finnish.  It means dogged determination, strength of character or just plain guts.  Few nations have battled against such a harsh climate and, at times, against such overwhelming odds as successfully as the Finns; they have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, and today, their average income per head ... is among the world's 10 highest" (Chislett, 1996).

The concept of sisu arises even when describing the Finnish education system.  

Here is another definition:

"Sisu is a unique Finnish concept.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless what it takes.  Sisu is a special strength and persistent determination and resolve to continue and overcome in the moment of adversity ... an almost magical quality, a combination of stamina, perseverance, courage, and determination held in reserve for hard times." (


The Church holds much responsibility for the spread of learning and elementary education.  The establishment of an organized church sparked a demand for education and academic training.  The Reformation encouraged the knowledge of Finnish, and a Finnish translation of the New Testament appeared in 1548, with a translation of the entire Bible in 1642.  This body of religious literature, in Finnish, also helped the spread of the Finnish language and literacy through the Church.  Those who could not read could not take communion, and those who could not read their catechism could not marry.

Secondary school owes its roots to the Lutheran Church.  Cathedral schools, church schools, and monasteries educated the Finns until state schools emerged in the 1870s.  

Most Finns, close to 90%, belong to the Lutheran Church, and approximately 1% belongs to the Finnish Orthodox Church.  

An Ecclesiastical Act by the Parliament governs the church, and many church members pay an optional church tax to fund the church.  Schools teach religious education, mainly within the Lutheran Church, but those with Orthodox affiliations will learn about their Orthodox faith.  

Finnish Society

Finnish society has long adhered to an egalitarian philosophy.  Welfare spending for Finland makes up more than 40% of the GDP.  The government spends money on unemployment benefits, education, pensions, health care, and social services.  Although high compared to its OECD counterparts, Finland's spending on social welfare is on an even level to that of other Nordic countries.  The Welfare State adheres to a philosophy of early intervention in order to preempt more severe or chronic problems later.  

Finland has long provided women with excellent rights.  Finnish women first earned the right to vote in 1906, the first in Europe, and the high proportion of women in parliament also reflects a society of liberated women.  In fact, the first parliament in 1906 had nineteen women.  Today (2009) Finland has a female president, Tarja Halonen.  

Finland has a very generous maternity program.  Mothers-to-be choose between a cash payment or a package of baby clothing, bottles, and other accessories for a newborn baby.  

Click here for pictures of the 2009 baby package! 

Mothers are allowed 105 days maternity leave (not including weekends or national holidays) at 80% of the original salary.  

Fathers can take between 1 and 18 days paternity leave.  

Combined parental leave allows 158 days of parental leave, shared between the mother and father.  The baby should be around nine months old when parental leave ends.  

Parents of multiple-birth children can take leave at the same time and have extended parental leave.  

Adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents.  Children adopted from abroad have the same rights as adopted Finnish children.  

Parents whose children are not in municipal day care may claim child home care or private care allowance.  

Click here for more information about these social services.  

Political Background of Finland

Finnish politics has largely enjoyed consensus and coalition governments.  Due to a multi-party system, no party has enough power to solely govern the country.  The coalition-style politics have given continuity and consistency on many fronts, including economics, education, and foreign policy.  For most part, the Center Party, formerly the Agrarian Party, and the Social Democrats have been the two leading parties in Finnish politics.  

Parliamentary elections are held every four years.  The 200-member Eduskunta has proportional representation.  Presidential elections occur every six years, and the president may only serve two consecutive terms.  

The 1919 Constitutional Act grants widespread power to the president.  The power of the president offsets the potential instability of the parliament.  When taking office, presidents renounce their political party affiliation in order to take precedence over any political skirmishes between the many political parties.  The president appoints the prime minister.  

Influence of Language

The Finnish language possesses unique characteristics that separate it from other European languages.  In fact, the distinctiveness of the language demonstrates the Finns' uniqueness as a people and remains an extraordinary characteristic.

The centuries under Swedish rule enhanced the pride in their language, due to the necessity of Swedish, used in all officialdom, including education.  The bilingualism of Finland, stemming from Swedish rule, adds a new dimension to the influence of language.  

Under Swedish rule, Finnish speakers were forced to accommodate the Swedish language.  The people of Finland expressed their nationalist feelings in Swedish, the educated of Finland spoke in Swedish, and schools used Swedish as the language of instruction.  This led to a feeling of superiority in reference to the Swedish language.  The advantages for Swedish speakers were significant.  Many adopted Swedish as their mother tongue.

Despite, or because of this, a Finnish nationalistic sense emerged, and through this came the fight for the Finnish language.  This nationalism emphasized education for all, and the expansion of the Finnish language to a position equal to Swedish, and to have two official languages.  

Many in Finland championed the use of the Finnish language.  Church reformer Mikael Agricola translated the prayer book and the New Testament into Finnish.  A.I. Arvidsson, a poet, encouraged modernization and the expansion of education.  He felt Finland could achieve these goals by removing the language barriers between the two languages.  He said: "We are no longer Swedes, we cannot become Russians, let us therefore become Finns in thought, feeling and deed."  

Finnish began to infiltrate education.  In 1941, the Finnish Lyceum started teaching Finnish, and the university in Finland established a chair of Finnish in 1850.  In 1858, the first Finnish secondary school started in Jyvaskyla.  

The constitution of 1919 declared official bilingualism in Finland.  

This link to Swedish culture and language does allow Finland to cooperate within the Nordic community.  Finland assumed Scandinavian identity after independence, rather than affiliating itself with the East.  

Finland: Some History, Part Four

The 1980s saw Finland expand economically.  Finland's growth in the 1980s came at the top of the performance levels of OECD countries.  Some Finns referred to their country as the Japan of Europe.  

During this time, Finland wished to assert a more European identity.  For example, Finland joined the European Free Trade Association in 1989, despite pressures from the USSR.  The persistence of the Cold War meant that Finland had to tiptoe around such matters.  

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had both favorable and adverse consequences for Finland. However, politically, the dissolution of the USSR opened the door for European Union membership.  Finland could now coordinate its politics with the rest of Europe and not worry about Soviet relations.  The first of January, 1995, Finland became a member of the European Union.  

Economically, Finland suffered because of close trade ties with the former USSR.  A recession, lasting from 1991 to 1993, saw a virtually full rate of employment plummet to a rate of 20%.  430,000 jobs were lost at that time.  The recession so deeply affected Finland that many Finnish economists liken it to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  

It took until 1996 for Finland's economy to recover and eventually to fulfill the criteria for the European Monetary Union.  Finland transfered its currency from the Finnish Mark to the Euro in 1999.  A report in 2003 by the OECD praised Finland for high levels of investment in research and development, a strong financial sector, and a post-recession economic growth rate double that of the OECD as a whole.  

Finland: Some History, Part Three

The wars and strife united the Finnish people.  In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, "The Finns have won the moral right to live in everlasting peace and independence in the land they have so bravely defended." Finland also evaded the Soviet Union's grasp.  "One theory is that Stalin feared the Finns would take up arms again and mount a ferocious resistance" (Chislett, 1996).  

Hence, the Finns in following generations valued freedom, liberty, and democracy.  

Post-War, Finland spend time recovering from its wounds.  The country denied millions of dollars in aid due to Soviet pressure, but allowed them to gain the trust of their neighbors.  

Finland paid back its war debts by 1952, the same year as Helsinki hosted the Olympics.  This time signified the end of an era in Finland, the time of unease and apprehension.  

After Stalin's death, the USSR and Finland began new relations, and the Soviet Union became Finland's main trading partner.  Nevertheless, Finland felt the chills of the Cold War, sharing a border with the Soviet Union while struggling to maintain neutrality.  

Finland: Some History, Part Two

Unfortunately, Finnish independence did not come at a peaceful time.  Before independence, a class divide began to grow and tensions began to simmer.  They divided into the "Whites," consisting of Finnish military officers and the bourgeois, and the "Reds," the extreme socialists and the working class.  A coup in 1918 began a bitter and bloody civil war.  The Whites, supported by Germany, beat the Reds, receiving help from the newly-formed Soviet Union.  

Although Finland chose a new monarch, Prince Friedrich Karl of Hessen, German politics at the time forced the German monarchy to collapse and Prince Friedrich Karl to abdicate his throne even before arriving in Finland.  Subsequently, Finland became a republic.  

After the Civil War, Finland asserted its neutrality and independence.  Unfortunately, the beginnings of a new war began to simmer.  In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a pact consigning Finland to the Soviet sphere of interest.  Stalin and the USSR attacked Finland on 30 November 1939.  The Winter War, although but a hiccup in the grand scheme of World War II, but drew great respect for Finland from other countries in the world.  Roosevelt referred to the Winter War as the "rape of Finland" and Churchill stated the invasion was "a despicable crime against a noble people."  

The Continuation War, beginning in 1941, marked when Finland joined the Germans in attacking the Soviet Union, in order to take back the land lost during the Winter War.  Many historical accounts state strongly that Finland did not ally itself with Germany; rather, Finland was looking to regain its lost land.  In the end, the Moscow Armistice required that Finland cede back to the USSR most of the land originally ceded after the Winter War, in addition to a nickel mine and a port on the Arctic Ocean.  Furthermore, Finland had to expel the Germans from their country, leading to the Lapland War.

The Lapland War began in September 1944.  The Germans employed a scorched earth policy, which ended in severe destruction in Northern Finland.  Finland eventually banished the Germans in 1945.  In the end, Finland lost 87,000 people during the wars between 1939 and 1945, amounting to 2.3% of the population.  The war also left 60,000 people disabled, in addition to the devastated North due to the scorched earth policy.  

Finland: Some History, Part One

Who are these enigmatic Finns and what is their history?  In 1970, Walter Bacon wrote this passage:

"But where does Finland belong?  Is it a Baltic state, like Estonia?  Is it part of Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with which it is linked and with which it has such close ties?  Is it really a part of Russia?  Or is it something different from all of these?"  

Although Swedes did inhabit some places in modern Finland, Finns lived in relative obscurity and in a separate, isolated peace until the Middle Ages.  By the middle of the 14th century, Sweden held Finland fully under its control.  Although "benevolent overlords," according to Hall, 1967, the only contention between the Finns and the Swedes came down to the matter of language.  Swedish was the language of schools, politics, and all aspects of official life.  Educational and social advancement required the use of the Swedish language, but most Finns refused to give up their unique language.

Russia occupied Finland between 1714-1721.  A war between Sweden in Russia in 1809 began a new era of Finland as a Grand Duchy of Russia.  Although part of Russia, Finland remained autonomous and retained the Lutheran Church and Swedish as the official language.  One of the czars during Russian rule, Alexander II, championed the use of the Finnish language.  However, Alexander III and Nicholas II did not prove to be so liberal.  Lenin, a supporter of Finnish autonomy, came to power in November, 1917, and the Finns declared their independence in December, 1917.  

Finland: A Brief Background

Finland, or Suomi in Finnish, is a Nordic country sharing borders with Sweden, Russia, and Norway.  Across the Gulf of Finland lies its neighbor, Estonia.  

See here for an excellent map of the Nordic countries.

Approximately 5.3 million people live in Finland.  The capital city is Helsinki.  

Finland is a bilingual country, with Finnish and Swedish as its official languages.  Finnish a Finno-Ugric language, is most closely related to Estonian and has no linguistic relation to most European languages.  Swedish, an Indo-European language, has close ties to other Scandinavian languages and other Germanic languages.  

Swedish as an official language directly relates to Finland's history.  Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden for approximately 600 years, then part of Russia for approximately 100 years.  Finland gained independence in December, 1917.  

Finland is a representative democracy with semi-presidential parliamentary system.  The current president (in July 2009) is Tarja Halonen, and the prime minister is Matti Vanhanen.  

Finland follows the Nordic model of a Welfare State, with egalitarian values, expansive child care, free education, and free heath care.  

Many also recognize Finland for its products, most significantly mobile phone company Nokia.  Fans of design will also recognize Finland for companies such as Iittala, Arabia, and Marimekko, among others.  Architect and designer Alvar Aalto has also made a significant impact in the design industry.  Fiskars scissors dominate cutting in homes, offices, and schools, and many Finnish athletes have made an international name for themselves, including my favorite, Teemu Selanne.  

PISA Results for 2006

The 2006 survey expanded to 57 countries and covered 90% of the world's economy.  This particular survey focused on scientific literacy.

These figures illustrate the scores for countries relevant to my research: the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland; South Korea, Japan, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  

You can see the the PISA scores and distributions for all participating countries in the Relevant Links section listed on the right.  




PISA results for 2003

The following are some figures based on the PISA scores of 2003.  The 2003 survey, which focused on mathematics, added a problem solving section.  The ideal fifteen-year-old problem solver "can think about the underlying relationships in a problem, solve it systematically, check their work and communicate their skills" (OECD, 2004, p. 3).  In the 2003 survey, 41 countries participated.  

These figures illustrate the scores for countries relevant to my research: the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland; South Korea, Japan, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  

You can see the the PISA scores and distributions for all participating countries in the Relevant Links section listed on the right.  





PISA Results for 2000

PISA not only "ranks" the participating countries according to mean score, but also publishes the distribution of low-, mid-, and high-scorers in the measured literacy areas.

PISA 2000 surveyed 315,000 students in 43 countries.  The following are some figures I generated for my dissertation, based on the PISA scores of 2000.  They illustrate the scores for countries relevant to my research: the Nordic countries of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland; South Korea, Japan, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  

You can see the the PISA scores and distributions for all participating countries in the Relevant Links section listed on the right.  




Saturday, 11 July 2009


The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), intended for administration every three years, tests students nearing the end of many countries' compulsory education, at age fifteen, on their acquired skills necessary for life in the knowledge economy.  

PISA assesses fifteen-year-olds in three "literacy" areas: reading, mathematics, and science.  The 2000 survey focused on reading, the 2003 on mathematics, and the 2006 on science.  

The first administration of PISA occurred in 2000.  From the PISA 2000 data, three general themes emerged:
  1. Autonomous education systems perform better than centralized ones.
  2. Education systems that monitor and assess their performance have better results than those that did not undertake period assessments.
  3. Countries that provide support to low-performing students have overall higher academic achievements than those who do not.  
The 2003 survey added a problem solving section, as that year's survey focused on mathematics.  The 2006 survey included 57 countries (including OECD and non-OECD) and covered over 90% of the world's economy.  


The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), based in Paris, has thirty member countries and commits itself to "democratic government and the market economy" (

The OECD emerged from the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) founded in 1947 as NATO's economic counterpart, in order to reconstruct Europe after World War II.  

Today, the OECD views education within a lifelong learning context.  The OECD also publishes Education at a Glance every year, which lists a number of policy-oriented indicators, developed by the countries themselves.  The aim is to provide OECD countries with comparative information about the differing organization and function of their education systems.  

In response to the member countries' interest in comparative student performance, the OECD created PISA.  

The Motivation for this Blog

This blog originates from my doctoral dissertation, entitled An Investigation of Reasons for Finland's Success in PISA.  PISA, an acronym for Programme for International Student Assessment, is administered by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in Paris.

PISA developed from the OECD countries' desire to know how the education system in one OECD compared to that of another.  First administered in 2000, PISA measured mathematic, scientific, and reading literacy.  The concept of "literacy" differs from mastery of curricula; rather, it emphasizes the application of knowledge in real life.  

Administered every three years, PISA has created a sensation in educational circles, among politicians, and even in the general public.  The visibility of the OECD as well as PISA has allowed for this.  

The three administrations thus far (as I am writing in July, 2009) has shown some countries that consistently perform at the top level of PISA, namely, Finland, Japan, and South Korea.  

Finland's consistent top performance has drawn much attention from around the world.  What about this country has led to such admirable results in PISA?  My doctoral dissertation focused on this question, and tried to uncover the reasons behind Finland's high outcomes in PISA.  This blog will convey some of the information I uncovered, hopefully in fewer words than my 400+ page dissertation, and in an interesting manner.