Friday, April 8, 2011

Education in Finland

According the international tests, the best educational systems in the world are in Singapore, South Korea, and Finland. Singapore and Korea work very hard at this, but the Finns don't. Their kids spend less time in school than American kids and do less homework. The sort of nighttime cram schools so important in Asia are unknown in Finland. So how do they do it? Good teachers:
But Finland's sweeping success is largely due to one big, not-so-secret weapon: its teachers. "It's the quality of the teaching that is driving Finland's results," says the OECD's Schleicher. "The U.S. has an industrial model where teachers are the means for conveying a prefabricated product. In Finland, the teachers are the standard."
That's one reason so many Finns want to become teachers, which provides a rich talent pool that Finland filters very selectively. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, 1,258 undergrads applied for training to become elementary-school teachers. Only 123, or 9.8%, were accepted into the five-year teaching program. That's typical. There's another thing: in Finland, every teacher is required to have a master's degree. (The Finns call this a master's in kasvatus, which is the same word they use for a mother bringing up her child.) Annual salaries range from about $40,000 to $60,000, and teachers work 190 days a year.

"It's very expensive to educate all of our teachers in five-year programs, but it helps make our teachers highly respected and appreciated," says Jari Lavonen, head of the department of teacher education at the University of Helsinki. Outsiders spot this quickly. "Their teachers are much better prepared to teach physics than we are, and then the Finns get out of the way. You don't buy a dog and bark for it," says Dan MacIsaac, a specialist in physics-teacher education at the State University of New York at Buffalo who visited Finland for two months. "In the U.S., they treat teachers like pizza delivery boys and then do efficiency studies on how well they deliver the pizza."

I am not sure how another country could replicate this model; in the US, we pretty much respect people according to how much money they make, and we don't know how to motive young people to pursue a poorly paid career. Letting teachers teach whatever and however they want seems like a non-starter here. As a simple first step, though, it might help if Republican politicians stopped fulminating about what a bunch of lazy blood-suckers public employees are.

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