When Size Doesn’t Matter

Is Intensely working children the only way to ensure collegiate success? It’s time to review if these now-antiquated systems can truly deliver.

class act_Dec 2017

Why is the education system in Finland so good? How does such a tiny European country manage to outdo the likes of the US, Japan and other developed countries in academic achievement? The Finnish model is very different from what we traditionally think school is or what it was like when most of us studied.

Then, what sets this small country apart? Let’s take a look at some features from their education system and see how it compares to your experience back home or in China.

First, it should be noted that only the top-10 percent of high school graduates are considered for teaching programs. Compare this to the top-40 percent being admitted for my state, New South Wales (NSW), in Australia.

On average, a primary school student in the US will have 27 minutes for recess compared to roughly 60 minutes in Sydney. The average Finnish student will have 75 minutes. All of this means that Finnish kids have more time to enjoy being kids.

Teachers in Finland are required to have at least a Master’s degree, however students entering teaching programs also have the benefit of having their studies fully subsidized by the state. It cost me around 11,000 AUD to do my Master’s in Australia, and it’s partially subsidized by the government. Other countries’ future teachers may incur several more thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.

As a result of these high standards, teachers in Finland are held in the same esteem as doctors and lawyers. Finland recognizes that high quality education is essential, which all starts by recruiting high quality teaching candidates and supporting these candidates during their studies.

Students there also receive more opportunities to interact with their teachers. The average ratio of students to teachers is 12:1. That is, there are 12 students for every teacher. In Sydney (Australia), it’s around 30:1. New York City is 24:1. I do not even want to guess what the ratio might be in China.

It must also be pointed out that there are no separate classrooms for accelerated learning or special education (or “special needs students”). Still, while everyone learns together, one in every three Finnish students also receives some sort of special help in school (an extra student support teacher, for example).

I have seen a higher number of these student support teachers in the NSW school system, and while I do not know the exact ratio, I am pretty sure it is not one in three. I also cannot help but contrast this with my experience in China, where you would be hard pressed to find a set of parents who would be willing to even admit that their child may need extra assistance with his/her studies, lest they lose face.

Also surprising is that the average Finnish student will take only one standardized test—when they are 16 years of age—during their primary and secondary educations. Compare this with the average US student who take at least 10 before ever entering high school.

The average fifth grader in the US will also have around 50 minutes of homework per day, which is in keeping with the “10-minute rule” of giving 10 minutes of homework for each grade a student sits (10 minutes for grade 1, 20 for grade 2, etc.). Finnish students will rarely have any homework.

On average, a primary school student in the US will have 27 minutes for recess compared to roughly 60 minutes in Sydney. The average Finnish student will have 75 minutes. All of this means that Finnish kids have more time to enjoy being kids.

Not only does all of this result in Finland routinely topping PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment), but it also results in Finland recording a 93% high school graduation rate, as compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in the US. It also means that around 67% will go on to study in university, the highest rate in all of Europe.

Some food for thought.

Category Class Act