Education: Finnish Style

For Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions:

  • How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly?
  • How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers?
  • How do you foster competition and engage the private sector?
  • How do you provide school choice?

What matters to Sahlberg is that, in Finland, all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits.

“Here in America,” Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, “parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It’s the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same.” Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

Synopsis: Sharing is caring! Cooperation, not competition, Equity, not exclusivity.


  1. Either we continue down our current path and provide excellent education for the exclusive few while alienating the masses.
  2. Or we adopt s “sharing is caring” mentality and seek opportunities to lift one another. Also give teachers more prestige, pay, and responsibility.

Proposals for Change:

  • Let Universities place even greater weight on applicants who demonstrate group learning and mentoring behaviors.
  • Challenge prep schools to seek out less-privileged schools to mentor.  Let students be responsible for helping other students learn.
  • Let the President emphasize the power of social media.  That will influence school district decision makers on where to allot their budgets.
  • Adopt an open, educational network in which teachers can share their ideas.  The host could charge users a modest fee just to maintain the Learning Management System. This would allow teachers to take responsibility for their own curriculum.
    • Teachers share resources across school districts, states, and even nations.
    • Create school partnerships.
    • Create a common core.
    • Let students network with one other; share and showcase creative ideas at a distance.



About bryantanner

I'm obsessed with learning via the appropriate technology. My professional mission is to effectively deliver instruction to learners in a way that yields the greatest results for all stakeholders involved.
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