What Can We Learn...From Finland?

Greg Luterbach, Superintendent of Schools - As part of our Four-Year Plan process we are looking to successful jurisdictions to see what we might replicate. In this blog, I'm looking at Finland. 

Finland is touted as having the world’s leading public education system. The country’s comprehensive focus on education has meant that it is prioritized at all levels of government and public life. It also has allowed for and encouraged innovation in the approach taken toward making the education system accessible and effective for all.   

Every aspect of Finland’s public education system, from requirements of teachers, to school size and structure, to assessment, is geared toward ensuring students learn the skills to use and expand the knowledge they receive in school for the rest of their lives.    

It starts with teachers: all teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree. But their education doesn’t end there – teachers continually participate in professional development, honing their skills through peer evaluation with other teachers, attending lessons taught by "master” teachers, and through listening to and learning from the students they teach. One of the most distinguishing features is that Finnish teachers focus on early intervention, as outlined in this video:

Then there are the classroom environments themselves. The structure of the classes contributes to the success of Finland’s education system, developing inquiry-oriented, methodical thinkers. Viewed as a laboratory, the classroom encourages students and teachers to work collaboratively to explore real-world situations, integrating numerous subjects into one lesson and allowing students to draw from and apply their entire knowledge in every class.  

Finally, educational assessment in Finland is a stark difference to that in other countries. Finland’s system includes very little homework, few assignments and almost no standardized testing. This approach shifts students’ focus from simply repeating what they’ve learned to developing the skills they need to continue to learn. Despite this lack of formal assessment, Finnish students consistently achieve high scores in the few exams they are required to take, including the PISA exam, an assessment program that evaluates students in 72 countries worldwide. 

Alberta students also perform quite well on the PISA exam, but as the Finnish education system has known for some time, exam scores are not the best indicators of a well-rounded, quality education. So, what can we learn from Finland’s approach to education? How can we help guide our students toward applying the knowledge they acquire and continuously adding to it?  

How might Rocky View Schools garner greater students and community participation in goal-setting and decision-making? Would doing so give ownership of education to all those who are impacted by it, ensuring that we are all invested in the success of our students. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.