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Learning from Finnish educators

Published: August 17, 2013
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I was a teacher in the American public school system in the 1950s and 1960s. I was involved with teacher education until 1990. The learning processes for children and the teacher/student relationships in our pre-No Child Left Behind schools were similar to those in present-day Finnish schools, as described by Pasi Sahlberg, Finland's minister of education and culture, in “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?”

Finnish students rank first in science and second in reading and math on the standardized Program for International Student Assessment test (PISA). American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 12th in reading on the same test. More than 90 percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, compared to 75 percent here. The only mandated standardized test is the PISA exam taken in the senior year of high school.

Critical thinking, creativity and the arts are valued. Teachers and schools aren't graded or in competition with one another. The schools are “run by educators; not business people or career politicians.” Teachers contribute to the national curriculum, providing guidelines, not prescriptions. Curricular decisions are made at local levels. Teacher salaries are equal to those of other professionals. Teachers have the same status as doctors and lawyers. They are highly respected.

Teachers who taught during America's “Golden Years of Education” will recognize and appreciate Finnish education.

Peter S. Pierro, Oklahoma City