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Why Are Progressive Educators Rushing to Visit Finland?

Posted October. 08, 2010 11:28,   


A number of Korean education officials mostly with a progressive perspective flew to Finland last week, including Chang Hwi-guk, superintendent-elect of the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education, and Lee Cheong-yeon, a former member of Incheon’s education board.

Others who went were progressive officials from education offices that newly elected superintendents in June.

They were part of a 36-member team formed by the 21st Century Education Research Institute to learn about the educational systems of other countries. While the institute is not well known, its founder Ahn Seung-moon, a former member of the Seoul education committee, is known to have deep knowledge of the Finnish education system.

Ahn organized a campaign on an “education network of hope” that played a significant role in progressives winning the June elections for municipal and provincial education chiefs. He has led the team in charge of visits to Finland for three consecutive years.

Some say officials from municipal and provincial education offices joined the visit led by a private organization. A source at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, however, said it is rare for government employees to join a trip organized by a private organization.

A Seoul education inspector who visited a country in northern Europe said he did so under orders from Seoul superintendent Kwak No-hyun, adding his trip was approved by the office.

Keen Korean interest in Finnish education is expected to continue. More than 10 books on the topic have been published in Korea since the beginning of the year, and many Korean educational organizations are sending delegations to the Scandinavian country.

In addition, the Seoul education office’s training center is giving lectures on the Finnish education system. Kwak will also visit Finland late this month.

An official at the Finnish Education Ministry, however, asked The Dong-A Ilbo if it was necessary for Korea to send more visitors to the country.

The progressives are interested in the Finnish model because it boasts an “equal education” in having its students perform well in tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment. Finland has no state-administered scholastic achievement tests and all education there is free.

Finland also has no teacher evaluations. The country has achieved what Korea’s progressive education community wants: abolition of scholastic achievement tests, free school lunches, free public education, and no teacher evaluations.

Skeptics, however, say the Korean education system should not be directly compared to Finland given differences between Korea and Finland, whose population is just 5 million. A Korean high school principal said the progressive educators have also turned a blind eye to the clear score requirements for admission that each Finnish high school has.