It was a great honour for me, as part of my commitments to the GELP (Global Education Leadership Program), to come face-to-face with the most talked and written about education jurisdiction in the world — Finland. As our host, Auli Toom, at the University of Helsinki acknowledged, thousands of visitors come from all parts of the world to try to understand just what it is that Finland is doing so right, and what can be taken from it and applied to their own jurisdiction. Pasi Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? is a wonderful introduction to understanding what Finland is doing and why it is working so well. However, nothing quite beats seeing the “educational change” face-to-face.
In Sweden, just a 55-minute flight away, they are talking the same educational language (high-performing) and have the same goals (personalized learning), but in other ways, the Finnish experience couldn’t be more different. Whereas Sweden has a universal voucher system and a system that embraces choice and competition, Finland has focused on equity and equal opportunities.
This will be the first of two posts exploring the Finnish system. The visit to the university focussed on the pre-service of teachers, as will this particular post. The following presentation gives a solid overview of both the Finnish education system and their teacher training programs:
The teacher education program at the University of Helsinki receives about 1000 applicants annually, and admits about 100 to their program. They, along with the other universities with teacher training, only create space in their education programs balanced on the needs of the system; in British Columbia, the number of teachers being trained is dramatically greater than the number of teaching vacancies.
It has also been widely discussed that Finland obtains the “best of the best” teachers. Many will apply for teaching and then, if unsuccessful, look to other areas like medicine and engineering — this is somewhat the reverse of what happens in North America. It is clearly not the pay that is different. Toom describes teacher compensation as similar, if not less, to what it is in BC. She argued that the workload, shorter hours and longer vacations are part of the attraction, but these are similar to most jurisdictions around the world. Much of the discussion comes back to the place of teaching in society — as a profession held in extremely high regard.
The funding model is very different for university – it is free in Finland. While it is very competitive, with less than half of the applicants gaining admission, successful applicants do receive a fully funded education. The continuum of the system is also important to understand; students do not start school until seven years of age, and prior to that a highly subscribed user-pay (though nobody is denied access) pre-school or Kindergarten system exists. At 16 years of age, students move into an upper secondary program, or a vocational program, or (and this worries the Finns) some leave school all together. At age 19 (about one year later than in Canada), students enter university.
It is also true that all teachers have a Master’s degree. They complete a three-year Bachelor’s program and a two-year Master’s program. This is different in structure to BC, but not in total number of years — with the typical BC education graduate completing a four-year Bachelor’s degree and a 12-month Education degree. In Finland, admittance to an education program includes a 100-question, multiple-choice test to gauge appropriateness, and for those who advance beyond this round, an interview system that assesses appropriateness for the profession.
Finland has also harmonized the main parts of their teacher education programs, with a common approach to teacher education, across the country. British Columbia sees huge variances based on particular university programs and with greater autonomy at the hands of its universities.
In looking at their teacher-education model, there are a number of pieces related to cohesiveness and alignment that are ones we could learn from in British Columbia — from the focus on deep research as part of preparation, the strict focus on pedagogy, the link between spaces in programs and system requirements, and the common approach from all teacher education programs –these are all areas that could use additional work in BC.
As a fellow high-performing system (it is always worth reminding ourselves BC is in the top grouping of jurisdictions along with Finland) the challenges that they have identified for their system, sound very familiar to us:
- Special Education
- Student Engagement
Having spent more time understanding the Finnish education system, it is interesting to see where they have been, but more interesting to see where they are trying to go — many of the same places we want to go in British Columbia.
I have previously written about Finland, and what I have learned about their system through GELP (here), in looking at their efforts for change in a highly successful system.
More to come . . . .