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Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

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Finnish Lessons is a first-hand, comprehensive account of how Finland built a world-class education system during the past three decades. The author traces the evolution of education policies in Finland and highlights how they differ from the United States and other industrialized countries. He shows how rather than relying on competition, choice, and external testing of students, education reforms in Finland focus on professionalizing teachers' work, developing instructional leadership in schools, and enhancing trust in teachers and schools. This book details the complexity of educational change and encourages educators and policymakers to develop effective solutions for their own districts and schools.

167 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 2011

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Pasi Sahlberg

18 books58 followers

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5 stars
217 (27%)
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199 (25%)
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35 (4%)
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11 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 119 reviews
Profile Image for Mem Morman.
53 reviews5 followers
September 17, 2012
I bought this book after reading an article based on it in Smithsonian magazine. I've read it slowly and found the first couple of chapters the most interesting. I have, in my lifetime, been a professional educator, and I have the background to read and interpret this book - which is NOT written for a popular audience - but it also clearly tells me that I am not up-to-date on the latest educational theory.

Finland has the best educated young people in the world. Finland? Really???!!?? How did that HAPPEN? This book tells us how. It was a deliberate action taken over decades and involving the whole country. Not just certain schools in Finland are excellent - ALL schools are excellent. Not just some students are high achievers - ALL students are high achievers. How do they do it? What learnings can I take from their methods? Here are just a few.

1 - Stop testing. Finnish schools do not do standardized tests. The first standardized test that most students take is the one at the end of high school. There is no such thing as teaching to the test.

2 - Make teaching the highest status profession in the country, and make it the most difficult to get into. It's easier to get into med schoo in Finland than to be accepted for teacher education. They have the best, brightest, most empathetic, and best-trained teachers possible, and then, amazingly, they let them loose in the classroom and let them teach without interference.

3 - Formal education doesn't begin until age 7, and continues - with various options - for the next nine years. Not everyone goes on to university. There's plenty of successful technical and on-the-job education. But everyone learns at least two, and usually three, languages other than Finnish.

The book was not an easy read, but was a fascinating exposition on what education can be when the whole country backs a system that educates every child to make the best of his or her abilities.
169 reviews
Want to read
November 7, 2011
Just watched a CNN special on education. Finland and South Korea are at the top. Not sure how I feel about the South Korea program as the children study from 8am to sometimes midnight which I don't think fosters creativity and pragmatic skills that are needed to succeed. However; Finland ranks number one in science and two in math. They spend less time in the classroom, don't start school until they are 7 and yet excel much more than the rest of the world. They say their key is the best teachers (only 1 in 10 get into a Master's teaching program and are viewed in the same class as doctors) and no standardized testing. They evaluate their teachers constantly but also reward them. At the same time they do not have the same problems we have in America, mainly poverty and the amount of children that grow up in poverty. After working in schools that have "disadvantaged" kids, I am interested to read this book to see what they say.
Profile Image for Matty-Swytla.
491 reviews72 followers
November 27, 2017
I'll save you some very dry and repetitive reading by suggesting you go directly to chapter 5 of the book (the last one) and you'll get all the relevant info in a nicely condensed form with some helpful ideas for the future development of education.

The rating isn't lower because the author argues for a different approach to education than a strictly competetive one where teachers and students are constantly graded and ranked, which does not help to actually improve student learning, but only pushes teachers to focus on exams. Smaller classes and specialised help in class for students with special needs is sound logic as well.

I already see some of the ideas the author describes in Finnish schools implemented in my own country - Slovenia. We haven't gone all the way (with no numerical marks until grade 10), but there's certainly a larger focus on student learning than exam results. My didactics professor couldn't shut up about the Finns anyway, so lots of information here was familiar to me.
Profile Image for Marten Wennik.
210 reviews6 followers
August 9, 2012
Wow, I finished this book the other day and was quite impressed. It does, however, really chafe me as a teacher to know that we have a messed up system in the US and are really not interested in making the long term commitment to fixing our problems. It must come from being the biggest (although I realize I cannot quantify that statement) spend and throw away society in the world. Like so many resources, we Americans just keep throwing away and buying something newer or seemingly better with no understanding how to use or respect what we have bought.

We need to stop saying that we are investing in our kids and then chop arts and critical thinking programs. We have to embrace the profession of education as an honorable profession and put into place serious changes to the way we think about academic growth and child development.

We can do it, but we have to commit to the long term, not just political, short term, slogan mongering!
Profile Image for Paul Signorelli.
Author 3 books13 followers
January 31, 2013
Pasi Salhberg--in "Finish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?"--doesn't pretend to have a universally applicable solution to the problems we face in providing effective learning opportunities. But the wonderfully produced snapshot he provides of the Finnish school system and its support of vocational training is something none of us can afford to ignore. If we're at all interested in seeing how the top-ranked education system worldwide produced its successes, we're in the right place with "Finnish Lessons". This is not a book that is useful only to those in academia. The descriptions of a learning system that eschews a single-minded emphasis on testing and explores, instead, ways to engage all learners and provide them with communities of learning that produce results, touches any trainer-teacher-learner. It's a fabulous approach to the wicked problem of reinventing learning, and Sahlberg engagingly and concisely helps us understand what he and his colleagues have achieved. The writer turns to a broad roadmap, in the final pages of his book, to help us explore what he and his colleagues have created. Suggesting that we create "a community of learners that provides the conditions that allow all young people to discover their talent" (p. 140)--and there'ss no reason why we have to limit ourselves to "young people" here--he suggests four broad steps: development of a personal road map for learning; less classroom-based teaching; development of interpersonal skills and problem solving; and engagement and creativity as pointers of success. If we can adapt any part of these Finnish lessons by applying them in our own settings, perhaps the wicked problem of reforming education and lifelong learning here in the United States will become a little less wicked.
Profile Image for John Martindale.
742 reviews78 followers
March 18, 2016
My word, this book was dreadfully dry. The writer is a product of the Finnish school system, so I suppose that is one Finnish lesson I got. He did mention that interesting tid bit about how Fins don't like small talk, illustrating the point with a story of how two Finnish friends after a long absence met up at a bar and after the 4th beer, one of them said "cheers" at which the other retorted "Did we come here to talk or drink?" Yeah, Fins don't strike me as the most friendly and cheery lot.

But yeah, this book could have been a magazine article and nothing would be lost. He mentions things like how Finland was once average, but now there are on top showing there is hope for America which keeps doing the same idiotic thing hoping for different results, if it repents and goes the way of Finland. Finland he says has less test; less home-work, less class-time, less teaching, etc... etc... but better results, also they are all about equality, free secondary education, paying high salaries to highly trained teachers and so on. But yeah, there you have it, after trudging through most of this painfully boring book, he seems to just repeat the same stuff again and again without actually expounding on any of it in an engaging and illuminating manner.
Profile Image for Elif.
37 reviews
May 26, 2020
It was dry and repetitive. I guess it wasn't me alone who had trouble reading when I looked at the reviews.
If you want to get useful information about the Finnish education model, read the direct chapter 5 or read Pasi Salberg’s other book, "FinnishED Leadership". I got the effective ideas that I can apply in my own classes from this book, "FinnishED Leadership".
Unfortunately, "Finnish Lessons" is mostly repetition
Profile Image for Sylvia Moore.
28 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2014
If you want to learn about THE alternative to the high stakes testing, competition and privatization regime that has invaded American education, please read this book. Every educator should read this book. Dr. Sahlberg gives a great explanation as to how Finland's more collaborative and equitable approach to education provides better outcomes than the business management schemes favored by the so-called "education reformers." As Dr. Sahlberg cautions, not all of the features of Finland's education system may translate well to other nations, but America can still learn something from the Finns. The crux of the matter is that the U.S. needs to get back to treating education as a public good, not as a commodity. Teaching must be treated as a respected profession that requires a high standard to enter and provides good pay. Educators should be in charge of our schools, not businesspeople and "turnaround specialists" who have no experience in education.
Profile Image for Phyllis.
227 reviews3 followers
July 5, 2012
As we all have learned the Bush "No Child Left Behind" program has not been successful in meeting our education goals and needs in the US. However, "Finnish Lessons..." provides strategies from which we all can learn. Sahlberg discusses three Finnish paradoxes of education. 1. Teach less. Learn more. (Finnish teachers teach just under 50% of the number of hours US teachers teach.) 2. Test less. Learn more. "The trend of students' performance in mathematics in all text-based accountability-policy nations is similar--it is in decline. 3. More Equity through growing diversity. "Finland has attained success in building increased equity through increased ethnic and cultural diversity in its society."

Teaching has become a top job in Finnish society. I suggest you read this book.
Profile Image for Boris.
92 reviews12 followers
June 22, 2013
Ok... so I really liked parts of this book. There were a lot of facts that hit me hard. Graduation rates in the us being around 75% compared to Finland's 93%, for example. There were a lot of interesting insights and the window into a significantly different culture was really fantastic (can you imagine: "The most able and talented individuals go into teaching").

Now why does it get 2 stars? It was dry. Dry, dry, dry. I love reading, but I got through much of this book in 5-10 page chunks.

Worthwhile, but definitely not pleasant.
Profile Image for Peter Atkinson.
59 reviews3 followers
January 28, 2016
In the Introduction to Finnish Lessons, Pasi Sahlberg succinctly outlines the reasons why other countries should examine the highly successful Finnish educational system:

- It’s dramatic rise from a mediocre to exemplary system that has both raised the bar and
narrowed the gap in learning for all students;

- The Finnish Way of change – which lacks school inspections, standardized curriculum, high-
stakes student assessments, test-based accountability, and a race-to-the-top mentality -
offers alternatives to the competitive, market-driven education policies;

- The Finnish Way points to interesting possibilities for interdependencies between education
and other sectors; and,

- The Finnish story gives hope to those who are losing hope in public education that, with
patience and determination, a struggling educational system can be transformed.

In the Introduction, the author also summarizes the key features of the Finnish Way of education:

- A clear vision of education (the Finnish Dream) in which all students learn well and
performance differences among schools are small – and all with reasonable cost and effort;

- A belief that teaching is a prestigious profession, which has led to the most competitive
teacher-education system in the world, a great deal of professional autonomy for teachers, and
access to purposeful PD throughout teachers’ careers;

- Finnish schools lack standardized testing, test-preparation, and private tutoring;

- Finnish teachers teach less and Finnish students spend less time studying than their peers in
other countries; and
- Ready access for all students to special education, personalized help, and individual help.

Chapter 1 presents an historical overview of educational reform in Finland. The first part of this chapter tells the story of the Finnish journey towards universal basic education. By 1970, peruskoula (primary and lower secondary school) was set at 9 years and codified as compulsory. Two tracks of non-compulsory upper secondary school were set: General Upper Secondary School and Vocational Upper Secondary School. A 3rd pathway made available for students coming out of lower SS is a 10th grade Career guidance and counseling was made a mandatory part of peruskoula, including the requirement that all students spend 2 weeks in a selected workplace. The school year in General Upper Secondary School was re-organized into shorter periods of time (6 or 7 weeks) such that teachers assess student's achievement 5/6 times per subject per year. About two-thirds of the courses are compulsory with students free to choose from many elective courses to round out their program. Courses in General Upper Secondary School are not age cohort-based – There aren’t fixed classes or grades. Instead, students can choose whatever courses they want in a given year. (ie. a student could take 10th and 11th grade science in the same year.)

Only USS students are required to write the National Matriculation Exam – a high
stakes tests conducted twice a year. Students must take a language
test and then their choice of 3 of 4 other assessments to complete the exam. 40% of USS students actually start first in the Vocational Upper Secondary School. It is easy for students to move between the two forms of upper secondary school, and students in one can take courses in the other. Vocational Upper SS has a mandatory on-the-job training requirement. During 3rd year of lower secondary school, all students are entitled to 2-hours/week of guidance and counseling.

In terms of completion rates, only 0.2% of students don't complete compulsory education (peruskoula), and 95% (2009-2010) of students who complete compulsory education immediately go on to one of the 3 education pathways. 93% of students
who opt for upper secondary school complete it, although 10% of Vocational Upper Secondary School students do not complete the program. The completion rate for finishing Upper Secondary School in 3.5 years is only 75%.

The Finnish education system in Finland has achieved equity of outcomes. Among OECD countries in 2009, it had the smallest (about 7%) between-school variance on the PISA reading scale. The average variance in other OECD countries is 42%. One possible factor in the equity of outcome is the flexible nature of its special education system, which allows students to opt in and opt out as needed. Close to 50% of Finnish students in compulsory education receive special education services at some point during their compulsory education years. Unlike many countries, that enrol students in special education as problems surface, in Finland intensive spec. Ed. diagnosis and programming occurs during primary education and even before school entry.

Equity follows into post-secondary education as university and polytechnics (college) are free. More than 60% of upper secondary school graduates enrol in post-secondary education. The result free access is that more than 50% of the Finnish adult population participates in adult education programs.

Also contributing to equity of outcome are the compensations to avoid factors related to poverty. Finland provides voluntary free preschool and free lunches for all students. As well, to avoid profiling students at a young age, grade-based assessments are not normally used during the first 5 years of peruskoula.

Three reasons are given for why Finnish students excel in mathematics achievement. First, math teaching is strongly embedded in curriculum design and teacher education in primary education. In fact, 15% of students in primary teacher-education programs specialize in mathematics. As well, Finland has a strong focus on problem solving in teacher education. Lastly, education of math teachers is based on subject didactics and close collaboration between the faculty of mathematics and the faculty of education.

There are similar reasons why Finnish students excel in science. For one thing, primary teachers are trained to provide experiential and hands-on science opportunities for students. Also, more and more (10%) of primary teachers have studied science education in their teacher education program.

Finnish students tied for first (with Danish students) among OECD countries in civic knowledge in the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study. Finnish students reading literacy also remains at an internationally high level.

Good educational performance in Finland has been attained at a reasonable cost. Total public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP in Finland was 5.6% in 2007 while the OECD countries average was 5.7%.

Two paradoxes are at the heart of the Finnish way of education. First, Teach Less; Learn More. Finnish students start compulsory education later (at age 7) than students in other OECD countries, have fewer daily and yearly (about 5500 hours as compared to the OECD average of 6500 for 12 to 14 yr. Olds) number of instructional hours. The shorter instructional day gives Finnish more time for PD during the work day. The second paradox is Test less; Learn more. PISA and other international test data suggest that math and literacy achievement in test-based accountability-policy nations is in decline while it has increased in Finland.

Finns continue to value teaching as a noble, prestigious profession. A case in point: There is an over-abundance of applications to teacher education programs. Annually, only about 1 of every 10 applicants is accepted in primary teacher education programs. Primary teacher candidates are selected not only based on matriculation exam scores but also on an interview.

Three reasons are given as to why teaching is a much sought after career in Finland:

- Finnish teachers experience professional autonomy;

- Teacher education has high academic status as it consists of a Master’s degree and is research-
based (ie. The teacher education program includes a thesis requirement, making teacher
education research oriented); and,

- Finnish teachers earn more as they acquire more teaching experience.

Associate/supervisory teachers must prove competency to work with student-teachers.
Finland does not have a centrally coordinated teacher induction program for new teachers. There are no strict national standards for or descriptions of student learning outcomes that Finnish schools must include in their curriculum. The National Framework Curricula provide some guidance and regulations; however, curriculum planning is the responsibility of teachers, schools, and municipalities.

There is no formal system for teacher performance appraisal.

The Finnish Way in education contrasts with GERM (Global Education Reform Movement):

GERM Finnish Way
Standardized testing Customized teaching & learning
Literacy/Numeracy focus Creative learning focus
Prescribed curriculum Risk taking encouraged
Test-based accountability & control Shared responsibility & trust
Market-oriented reform ideas Education sector best practices, ideas & innovations

The Finnish Way in education is “a professional and democratic path to improvement that grows from the bottom , steers from the top, and provides supports and pressures from the side.” (105) It aligns well with Hargreaves and Shirley’s Fourth Way.

This chapter suggests that educational progress in Finland should be viewed in the broader context of national economic and social development and renewal.

The spirit of innovation and creativity in the Finnish education system is a by-product of Finland’s movement to a knowledge-based economy.

The Finnish education system has evolved in a similar manner to Finland’s unique socio-economic system – a marriage of the welfare state with a knowledge-based economy.

National income equity is statistically related to many positive outcomes including:

- Greater number of literate citizens
- Science achievement
- Fewer school dropouts
- Less obesity
- Better mental health

“Models for educational change in Finland have often been borrowed from abroad, but educational policies were crafted and then implemented in the Finnish Way.” (124)

The current GEREM culture of accountability in the public sector in many parts of the world threatens school and community social capital; it damages trust and builds suspicion, low morale, and professional cynicism.

An “overlooked” feature of the Finnish education system is the high level of reading literacy of children – both from the home culture of reading and the individualization of reading programs in schools. Another overlooked feature is the design of schools – which are designed in collaboration with teachers.

Profile Image for Jenny.
61 reviews
August 22, 2018
I started this book last summer but didn't finish the last chapter until now. It was recommended reading for one of my ED classes and found it to provide a consistent message that provides insight into another country's education system and how high-stakes testing isn't the magic answer. Finland is in fact all the rage because they did so well on international tests without having a standardized-test focus in their education, which is admirable in itself. But as Sahlberg states in the beginning, you can't rent your dreams from someone else, and he supports this by arguing that Finnish education is part of the overall Finnish welfare state. I don't think we should go adopting socialism so that our students can live up to the Finnish ideal and I don't think Sahlberg would agree with that either. We need to establish what our goal is for public education, and education more broadly, and that requires a goal for employment/citizenship etc., that we can all agree on. Therefore, while I think there are some important specifics, such as a response-to-intervention (American term) type system that is heavily relied upon in the younger grades, a willingness to radically reconfigure the school system in terms of requirements, professional autonomy for teachers, and a less-is-more approach in terms of the number of hours spent in school, overall the message is that an education needs a goal and from there you can hammer out the specifics of how that goal will be attained.
Profile Image for Maxim Kavin.
142 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2021
Эта книга, как работа Тимоти Уокера — коллеги автора по цеху — «Финская система обучения», открывает нам понимание того, почему Финляндия имеет лучшее образование в мире. Но если Уокер основывается на эмпирическом опыте, то Сальберг изучал эту систему абстрактно, в теории, хоть и сам является учителем. Например, очень показателен факт углубления в историю становления финской системы образования, чего нету у Уокера.
Profile Image for Jonna Higgins-Freese.
704 reviews44 followers
July 21, 2013
I won't repeat the general info that other reviewers have given, but the points that most interested me and that I want to remember as I open conversations at my own children's school.

First, Finland has achieved good results across the board -- with very little variation between schools/students based on socioeconomic factors, etc. That impressed me. Second, they have based their schooling on the belief that ALL children can learn, and something on the order of 50% of all Finnish students take advantage of some kind of special education at some point in their careers. It's not a lifelong label, but something that's simply provided as a matter of course if a student is struggling to help him/her get back on track.

All students are held to the same standards in math, foreign language learning, etc. and are expected to be able to learn. Finnish teachers spend about half as much time in the classroom as their American counterparts (they are also responsible for curriculum design and building administration). Finnish students don't begin school until they are seven and do not spend exceptionally long days at school. They tend to have 15-minute movement breaks every hour and lunches that range from 20-75 minutes.

The author is also clear that the high educational outcomes don't occur in a vacuum. Only 4% of the children live in poverty (as oppsed to over 20% in the US); all have comprehensive health care, early childhood care, free preschool, and free lunch every day for all students. (I think here of Nel Nodding's observation that the notion that even children who live in poverty can learn to some extent serves only to excuse the fact that they live in poverty, besides the fact that it's also not true). He also points out that Finland spends only about 5% of GDP on education (compared to the US 7% for much worse results).

I've also been involved in a variety of quality improvement work, and so it was interesting to me to see how having trusted, high-quality teachers, each of whom is involved in a community of practice and knows how to do research, is more effective than the command-and-control models used in the US.

Favorite quotes "Consequences of a high stakes testing environment include avoidance of risk taking, boredom, and fear" (26).

"Traditional school organization based on presentation-recitation models of instruction, age-grouping, fixed teaching schedules, and the dominance of classroom-based seatwork has been gradually transformed to provide more flexible, open, and interaction-rich learning environments, where an active role for students comes first" (27).
Profile Image for Jackie.
8 reviews2 followers
January 17, 2013
Finland's educational policies have been in our news for a while now, so it was nice to hear details about Finland's success directly from someone who has been a part of it for the past two decades. Although many of Finland's solutions to their mediocre education system are worth examining and considering, this book still left much to be desired. One of the key pieces to Finland's success, according Sahlberg, is the public funding of all education for its citizens, including at the university level. Arts and physical education, free school meals for all, as well as comprehensive special education and counseling services, are all publicly-funded. Yet, Finland spends less on education (as a percent of their total GDP) than we do, and we achieve well below Finland in all measures. The author started to allude to how they are able to do more with less by briefly describing how the act of not allowing students to repeat a grade can save money, but I have a hard time believing that that is the whole story. I really wished that he had gone deeper into the "how do we pay for it all" issue, as I'm sure many American educators would like to be able to bring concrete examples of solutions to our own problems to the table during discussions with our policymakers now and in the future. I also have to say that the book was incredibly repetitive. It felt as though I could find the same few points re-written on almost every page.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,532 reviews5 followers
October 21, 2014
Hmmmm....let's see. A tale of two countries: one country, Finland, pays its teachers incredibly well, recruits them from the top echelons of their university system, and allows them great flexibility in their curriculum design and lesson planning. There is a lot of local control with national goals, but no corporate driven national testing. The children in this country start school later, attend fewer hours, and have lots and lots of recess. These children--who are almost never poor, hungry, homeless, or sick because of this country's socialist welfare system--score the highest on planet earth in math and reading. And, because this country is honest about human potential and inclinations, students are directed into one of three tracks after the equivalent of middle school: vocational, higher ed. vocational, or university.

The other country is the United States.

Three stars because the print was too small and the book was boring. With that said...wow. Just, wow.

Profile Image for Nan.
530 reviews29 followers
April 28, 2012
Let's move to Finland. That's what many teachers will think after reading this account of Finland's move from an average educational system in the 1990s to the premier position it enjoys today. An emphasis on cooperation rather than competition, professional collaboration (and the time to actually do it), trust in teachers' abilities and creativity, and a minimum of standardized testing are just a few of the hallmarks of Finnish schools. And guess what? They work. We have much to learn from Finland's innovations but, unfortunately, I doubt we ever will.
Profile Image for Karen Chung.
389 reviews89 followers
April 15, 2014
The writing is dull, repetitive and tedious - the text could be cut down to about 1/3 of its current length without much loss in information, and it really could use a little journalistic snappening up. If it was written directly in English by the Finnish author, it's quite impressive, but in places it shows that his native language is not English - e.g. occasional problems with articles and prepositions. But I found in it enough useful ideas on how to improve education that it was worth sticking with. The next book I picked up flew along, possibly due to the big contrast in written style!
Profile Image for Begench Yazov.
1 review12 followers
April 8, 2021
I highly recommend learning Finnish lessons through their achievements in the last three decades. In contrary to S. Korea, they made by creating effective distributed leadership in schools and by increasing the role of teachers. Obviously, those changes affect the long term sustainable development in Finnish education and most importantly it helps to maintain the teacher's reputation in the community.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
141 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2015
Finland is number one in the world in education, by doing everything we don't do. Respecting teachers, allowing time for play and little standardized testing. I'm going there this summer to check it out.
Profile Image for Jamie.
3 reviews3 followers
October 30, 2014
This book gives a great overview of the changes in the Finnish education system and how they have contribute to the Finland's top ranking of the world's education systems.
Profile Image for Fraser Kinnear.
774 reviews37 followers
February 11, 2018
In the early '90's, the Finnish education system was roughly average in quality and results across all OECD countries. Over the past 20 years, it improved markedly. This book discusses the structure of the school system, and what Sahlberg thinks created that success.

This reform began in the 1970's, so obviously took a while for reform to take hold. It wasn't clear to me why the first 2 decades didn't see the same improvements as the second two decades, and I would have been interested to see what changed.

Regardless, the results have been impressive, beyond their regular ranking at the top of standardized performances across countries:
- Performance differences between schools are small: "Finland has ~7% between-school variance on the PISA reading scale, while the average between-school variance in other OECD countries is ~42%.
- There's no high-stakes, standardized testing until near the end of school
- They're relatively efficient with funding. For example, in 2007, the Fins spent 5.6% of GDP on public schooling, compared to 7.6% of GDP (we have the highest level of spending on education in the world)
- US teachers spend almost 2x more time teaching every week than Finnish teachers, who devote the difference in that time to preparation, and helping individual students and families
- Finnish students rarely get >30 minutes of homework a day (less than any other OECD nation), and few take private tutoring

How did they do it? A few key ideas:
-"The finnish system has infected by market-based competition and high-stakes testing policies. The main reason is the education community has remained unconvinced that competition and choice with more standardized testing than students evidently require would be good for schools"
- Special education is treated much differently than in the US. "Nearly 1/2 of all Finnish students receive some form of special education at some time before completing school." These students are not removed from the rest of the classroom. Nor are students typically held back grades, as Fins have recognized that this strategy isn't very effective
- Finnish school provide all pupils with free and healthy lunch every day, regardless of their home socio-economic sitaution. Child poverty is <4% of the population, compared to >20% in the US
- 2/3 of 10-14 year olds and >1/2 of 15-19 year olds belong to at least one youth association

But perhaps most important is that, in Finland, being a teacher is enormously prestigious. "Finland is perhaps the only nation that is able to select its primary school teacher students from the top quintile of all high school graduates year after year". This cohort of high-achievers are given enormous control over their job, with minimal guidance or oversight. Finland has chosen to sacrifice the benefits of standardization (it's hard to manage what you don't measure) in exchange for the benefits of autonomy.

Who knows if this would work here, but it's encouraging to see that it works over there.
Profile Image for Wes Young.
Author 1 book4 followers
July 5, 2021
As a high school teacher, I can say I'm glad I read this book. Reads like this help focus me on the broader vision of education, and that motivates me and realigns me as I do my day to day job in the classroom. That being said, this book is a good read for every citizen, not just teachers. I do not agree with all that Sahlberg claims, but he does give a good look at how schools function in Finland, and this look questions some of the legislative assumptions surrounding schools in the U. S. A few key points that have my wheels turning: 1) Finland treats teachers as professionals and puts more trust in them to run their schools and their curriculum. There is, resultantly, less stress on large scale standardized testing and other such top-down accountability measures. I fear American culture (and I mean the citizenry at large) sees teachers as low budget automaton "delivering" the scripts to the children, keeping them busy during the day, and providing a punching bag to strike at when the service is poor (like a Huddle House waitresses when the waffle is cold). 2) Competition between schools is not the Finnish model. Every citizen deserves and needs a quality education, no matter what district he/she lives in. This calls for a rethinking of the charter school and school choice and budget-cuts-if-you're-failing practices in America. 3) More student seat time in a classroom does not equal more learning. This one, despite its less interesting political blood pressure compared to my other two, is actually the most interesting. Teachers get this. We go to work and sprint-teach all day with very little time for ourselves (we get one little planning period, that's all) and virtually no time to collaborate or attend professional learning or, I don't know, sit and read a book on schools in Finland. (Even something as obvious as scheduling time for a writing teacher to grade the piles of student writing is a foreign concept in America. This is why so many ELA teachers just don't have the kids write. Sheesh.) These type things we typically do on our own time. Not so in Finland. Teachers teach less (kids don't start school until age 7, and they have less seat time each day than U. S. kids) but have more open time "on the clock" to plan curriculum and collaborate and grow as professionals. I like that. I mean, if I'm going in for heart surgery, I want the latest methods. I don't want a surgeon doing it the way they did in 1985 because he's had no time to read medical journals and keep up to speed with the latest research. I'm afraid American teachers live so "in the red" (RPM metaphor) that we don't take time to keep our knives sharp.
One last note: I go four stars rather than five because the book was a bit repetitive at times.
Profile Image for Kevin Pugh.
Author 2 books4 followers
November 17, 2017
The Finnish education system is a remarkable success story. And if anyone knows anything about Finnish education, it's Pasi Sahlberg. In his book, Sahlberg provides an informative and inspiring account of Finland’s transformation from educational mediocrity to excellence. A prominent theme throughout his book is that Finland’s educational system represents a stark contrast to the Global Educational Reform Movements (GERMs) that are based on such principles as standardized curriculums, test-based accountability and control, and market-oriented reform strategies. Sahlberg comments, “The main message of this book is that there is another way to improve education systems. This includes improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to educational professions” (p. 5).

In Finland, teachers are given are large degree of autonomy and responsibility in the schools. They help design the curriculums and assessments. In fact, they were involved in creating the current Finnish system and there is a large degree of ownership of the system by Finnish teachers. The teachers are also well prepared (all are required to have a masters degree) and well supported. Teaching hours per teacher are among the lowest of all developed nations (nearly half that of the US), which allows more time for collaboration and leadership.

Sahlberg writes, “The Finish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvement” (p. 9).

The US is not Finland and it would be naïve to believe that the Finnish model could simply be transplanted to the US. On the other hand, there is a lot we could learn from the Finnish model and it just might save us from our current GERM infection.
Profile Image for Dharmabum.
109 reviews10 followers
September 30, 2017
Having worked in education for more than a decade, it is impossible not to have heard of the 'Finnish phenomenon'. In more recent times, I have had the fortune to visit some of the schools there to learn. When I went for the second time, I decided that I ought to read this book.
What stands out, for me, is how the entire story can be a classic case study in 'Systems Thinking'. Sure, the Finns began working on reforming their education system somewhere in the 1970s. However, all the change that they have managed to bring about doesn't stand alone, but is inextricably interwoven around other economic, social and political changes that came along to support the reform in the education system.
In that sense, I believe it is a strong lesson for any of us trying to reform education. I would rate this book as a must read for anybody in the education policy space.
Profile Image for Jess.
98 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2020
I think Pasi is excellent and I love his philosophy of education, Finland's philosophy of education, I should say. But I really struggled through this.

So much of it was just depressing because Australia is GERM infected. And that's GERM, Global Educational Reform Movement, and it's killing our system and driving good teachers out.

And don't even get me started on what it does to kids!

Even though it was a bit of a slog to get through at times, this book did give me extra encouragement that I'm on the right track and I'm going to do my best to protect my students from beauracratic garbage and let them learn.

My favourite quote was:

"Teach less. Test less. Learn more."

I'm going to print that and hang it in my classroom as my 2020 philosophy.
Profile Image for Whitney.
317 reviews5 followers
December 11, 2017
I gave this book a low rating because it wasn't what I was looking for. This is a 10,000 ft overview of Finnish educational policies and social values that have resulted in excellent schools. Because I teach in an independent school, many of the polices and conditions described are either not applicable (goverment funding) or already in place (no high-stakes testing). What I am looking for is a much more detailed description of what schools look like. What is the daily schedule? How do teachers collaborate? What kinds of projects and assessments are they designing? How do they differentiate instruction for individual learners?
Profile Image for Sarah.
92 reviews
July 23, 2018
100% recommend for any of you who are curious as to why I came to Finland to study education reform! I had originally bought this book to answer those questions myself before I left on my study abroad, but ran out of time and left it at home for space-saving reasons. Luckily for me, this book was required reading for my Social, Cultural, and Philosophical Foundations of Education course, so I finally got the chance to read it! Enjoyable and easy read, that discusses the intersections of Finnish national culture, teacher education policies, and the welfare state with education policy, without becoming too complicated or technical.

Profile Image for Ahmed Hamad.
58 reviews6 followers
June 2, 2018
I'm not sure what I think about this book. I mean the forces that moved Finnish education to its current state were brilliantly described in great details -I guess-, but it sort of had less of an impact on me simply because Pasi Sahlberg decided to repeat each idea in just the right number of times to render this fascinating topic quite boring. Thankfully, it was not boring enough that I decided to let go of the book because after all it does contain great ideas that are worth reading.

If I were to recommend anything, I'd say just read the intro and chapter 5. Maybe follow that up by reading a summary and googling the topic.
May 8, 2017
За той проміжок, поки читала книжку, на очі мимоволі потрапило півдесятка публікацій про основні складові успіху фінів. Автори роблять зовсім різні акценти, критики зауважують, що ситуація мінлива і насправді проблеми існують, але найінформативніша з цих статтей, що доповнює багатьма деталями книжку, – інтерв’ю «Фокусу» заступника однієї з київських шкіл Тетяни Швець «Учить по-фински».

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