The Finnish school system is known all over world, or at least in the OECD world, to be the best in almost everything, and many are the delegations that travel to Finland to see and experience the Finnish schools.
I was on one of those delegations last week as a part of the Microsoft Summer Institute (more on that later), and what I saw on the visit to a primary school in the outskirts of Helsinki was not very different to what I would experience in a Danish school. On average, the teachers teach 24 lessons a week (in Denmark 25), and the schools have more or less the same funding as in Denmark, so the magic comes from something else than time and funding.
The magic dust that makes the difference, I believe, is the common understanding of the shared values in society and the shared values about education.
Let me explain. Every 10 years or so, the Finns change the curriculum in their schools, not because politicians want to make a statement, but because times are changing and curriculum needs to be in sync with time.
The current change in curriculum coincides with the nations centennial as an independent nation, so along with the change of curriculum, the people of Finland have discussed what citizens Finland needs in the future, and they came up with 8 competences. Competences that are generally accepted as the competences needed in the future, and competences that are natural to focus on in the new curriculum.
Talking to the school leader and the staff, this common understanding continued; Yes, we do a good job; Yes, we have the time, money, autonomy, etc. that we need. Talking to conference participants who visited other schools showed the same picture: a very positive reflection on schools and the school system, and a general and positive understanding of the school as the common foundation of the nation.
So what can we learn from the Finns? We can learn from their approach to school, and not make school a battleground for politicians, unions, short-term goals and narrow interests from different groups in politics and society. Schools are the common foundation of a nation and the building bricks of the future for people, nations and the global society. I hope that all the delegations flocking to Finland will learn that lesson and start a national and global dialogue on why and how to form the school for the future for the children.
Mette With Hagensen, EPA Vice President