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[Opinion] Finnish Education “Hyvaa”

Posted December. 09, 2004 22:32,   


There is one Finnish word that even children who do not understand English know: “Hyvaa.” This is the word which appears in a chewing gum commercial, which means “well done.” This word has reportedly replaced the original name of the chewing gum with the surge in the number of fake products. Recently, Finland has become famous for one more reason. In a global survey of the scholastic skills of 15-year-olds in 41 countries, the only country that surpassed Korea was Finland. Unlike Korea, which ranked a mere 29th in the International Competitiveness Index, Finland has topped the list from 2000 to this year. The nation has also maintained the number one spot as the most corrupt-free nation worldwide since 2000, as shown from its Transparent International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen said in his speech at the ILO World Commission, “The secret to the world’s highest competitiveness is education.” The success of education cannot be achieved solely with words or the college entrance exam system. They should be accompanied by funding. Education Minister Tuula Irmelir said in the BBC interview just after the international survey of scholastic skills was conducted, “A small nation of five million must invest in higher education to survive.” This is why Finland is one of the top among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member nations in terms of education spending, which accounts for 14 percent of the total public spending and 7.3 percent of GNP.

However, it is not that the central government intervened in the process. In the early 1990s when youth unemployment soared to 30 percent during the economic recession, Finland implemented a sweeping education reform. This included increasing the authority of the municipal bodies, schools, and teachers. In this country, where students aged 7 through 16 study in the same school, no stringent exams are given. This is because the teachers’ observation is most precise. Teachers with higher than master’s degrees are respected and have pride in their vocation despite their moderate compensation. The education level of schools is almost the same regardless of regions, whether it be a school in the capital Helsinki or that in a rural area.

The key is after the compulsory education system. Some 30 percent go to vocational high schools instead of regular high schools depending upon their ability, but they can proceed with obtaining a master’s degree afterwards due to the flexibility of the system. Therefore, 83 percent of the young labor force is college graduates, including those from polytechnic and vocational colleges. Colleges strictly nurture talents with technological skills demanded by businesses. This is where the national competitiveness that leads the high-tech information and science technology comes from. Then, until when will we insist on the “equalization” of high schools and keep college entrance exams, employment, and competitiveness separate issues?

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial writer, yuri@donga.com