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." (


  1. Jennifer, Your definition of 'sisu' is correct, according to what I was taught by my Finnish parents. They were first generation Finnish/Americans. I grew up with Finnish as my first language but was not encouraged to keep it upon entering school. I am curious as to why you chose the Finnish issue for your Doctorate? I will read the rest of your blog during the next few days.

  2. Dear Willo,

    Thank you for your comment! I am glad that I have defined sisu correctly. It is a hard concept to define/describe when you are not a native Finnish speaker.

    Where were you born and raised? Why did your parents move from Finland?

    I decided to use Finland for my doctorate for a variety of reasons:

    1) I have a keen interest in the Nordic countries.

    2) I was very interested in the education system of Finland, as well as education policy in the two official languages, Finnish and Swedish.

    3) If studying education in Finland, the PISA issue becomes an obvious choice.

    How much have you heard about Finland and PISA in the United States?

    All the best,


  3. Dear Jennifer,
    I was born and raised in northwest South Dakota, USA. All of my grandparents immigrated from Finland, found jobs in the Black Hills Homestake Gold Mine, and then went north to settle and homestead in an area called the Cave Hills which was a ranch community of Finnish Immigrants.

    The positive news here about Finnish education has been interesting and amazing. I am a BS EDU K-12 Library Media graduate and have taught in both elementary and high school here in Omaha, Nebraska. I retired in 1995.

    Your Blogspot is the first I have heard of PISA, but surely this is where the news of Finnish excellence in education has originated. I just looked it up and am horrified that the US is not on the list of countries involved. Maybe our deplorable system is too embarrassing for inclusion.

    An aside: Being a teacher in the public system there was a time when I was skeptical about home-schooling. I was taken aback when our daughter-in-law (with and education degree) decided to home-school our five grandchildren. The happy results of that are that four of them entered college at 16; this year the fifth has passed the college entrance exams at 15. He will enter college in the fall. He won't be 16 until December.

    One of my goals, after I finish writing the biography of my Dakota Homestead Teacher great aunt, is to relearn/learn Finnish.

    Thank you for your reply! Willo

  4. Dear Willo,

    Thank you for your reply! You must be very proud of your grandchildren.

    Good luck with learning Finnish! I took two intensive Finnish language courses over two summers in Finland. It is a fascinating language, albeit difficult.

    All the best to you.