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.