Two professors from CHC’s Education Department recently traveled to Finland to explore the reasons for that country’s consistent ranking at the top of all western, industrialized countries when it comes to education.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the reading, mathematics and science literacy of 15-year old students. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as collaborative problem solving, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The assessment began in 2000 and is administered every three years; it is designed to emphasize functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. The test is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries.
Assistant Professors of Education, Teri Wiedeman-Rouse, Ed.D., and Jennifer Cressman, Ph.D., wondered what qualities they might discover in Finnish schools that could potentially be incorporated into the education and preparation of pre-service and in-service teachers in CHC’s Teacher Education program.
The professors spent nearly a week in Helsinki, Finland, where they visited the Department of Education and spent several days in a middle-level school (grades 5-8). In Finland, all schools are equally funded by the federal government, which guarantees all students receive the same quality education. In the United States, the system of funding school districts based on property taxes can perpetuate social inequality and uneven quality of education. In Finland, administrators, educators and parents participate in advisory councils within individual schools, maintaining local control. They spent the last two days of their trip in Stockholm, Sweden.
“It was striking what the students are typically exposed to,” says Wiedeman-Rouse. “Sewing, knitting, cooking, music, wood shop, physical education … and there is no standardized testing except at the end of eighth grade to determine whether he or she is taking the academic or technical route.”
Students there begin formal schooling at age 7 and from the beginning, are asked what they like to do, what they are good at and what they might like to do when they grow up. The professors observed that a robust vocational-technical program creates an equally valid path for students to pursue as academics. Students can even pursue additional vocational training and degrees, including doctoral, in vocational specialization. And at a certain age, they are given the opportunity to go out and work two days a week in their desired field to get experience and decide if they like it or not.
Additionally, inclusive general education classrooms are the norm, and all children can access special education teachers and services, and almost 50 percent of students do so.
“The whole idea of education there is that it is inclusive, important and equal,” says Wiedeman-Rouse.
“Everything I believe is good for children and teachers is in practice there,” adds Cressman. “Finland gives us a vision of what is possible and what we believe, in America, works in theory is actually already practice.”
The professors believe the element of trust that pervades the entire system – between administrators and teachers, teachers and children, parents and teachers — is a large part of why Finland has been so successful in creating an educational system that is a beacon for the world.
Drs. Wiedeman-Rouse and Cressman are looking forward to offering a colloquium in the fall 2015 semester for the CHC community. Ultimately, they would like to take teacher candidates and in-service teachers back to Finland with them, so they might witness firsthand the success of the Finnish educational system.