To ensure the country remained competitive in a changing global economy, back in the 1970s Finland’s government undertook a substantial overhaul of its education system.
Unlike other countries that focused on competition in education, however, the foremost emphasis of the new Finnish model was on equity: that all children had the same opportunity to learn, regardless of where they lived or their family situation. The school system was seen not as a way to produce star performers, but an instrument to reduce social inequality.
Officials believed a single approach would be ineffective for meeting the needs of the nation’s diverse communities. As such, they did not implement a top-down approach to education, but allowed schools and teachers to choose how to utilize their time and resources as they see fit. With the exception of one matriculation exam that high-school students write to qualify for post-secondary studies, they also eliminated standardized tests, preferring to give teachers the authority to design their own forms of assessment.
To cope with such responsibility and autonomy, Finnish teachers are highly qualified. All educators have a master’s degree, and only about 10 per cent of applicants are accepted into the extremely competitive faculties of education. Because citizens recognize teachers play such a critical role in child development, these learned professionals are accorded as much respect as the country’s doctors.
None of this would be particularly remarkable, perhaps, were it not for the fact the system the Finns created today produces some of the best students in the world. Finland has been the top-rated Western nation on the world’s foremost educational test, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), since its inception in 2000.