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Finnish Education

Posted October. 11, 2010 11:42,   


Finland is known for Nokia, Finnish saunas and Xylitol but the Scandinavian country is more famous for its education system. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment conducted every three years, Finland ranked first in 2000, 2003 and 2006. Progressive figures in Korea’s education sector, left-leaning education superintendants and newly inaugurated officials at public education offices visited Finland en masse last week. The state-run Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation invited Jouni Välijärvi, president of the Institute for Educational Research in Finland, to visit Seoul last month and held a forum on Finland’s education policies. Korea is more than eager to learn from Finland’s experience.

Kindergarteners in Finland do not learn letters and figures. Unless the temperature falls to 16 degrees below zero Celsius, Finnish children have to play outside even if it rains. How can a country with no tests, grading system, classes according to academic ability, or private educational institutes achieve such remarkable academic performance? Finnish President Tarja Halonen had the answer: the people are the best resources. This means her country, with a small land size and no natural resources, makes investment in public education a top priority.

The key to Finnish education is equal and free education. In 1963, Helsinki made it mandatory for all students to attend public comprehensive schools. A few private schools for gifted students in arts exist, but the government supports operational costs for such schools. When other European countries introduced the principle of competition to public education to fight complacency, Finland strengthened measures to provide its people with more equal access to education. Despite this, the magazine U.S. News & World Report chose Finland as a model country for education from which the U.S. should learn most.

With a population of only 5.3 million, Finland focuses its education system on helping students fully realize their potential by considering individual differences. By contrast, Korea’s 50 million people are accustomed to competition in education. The Finnish people’s tax burden accounts for 44.5 percent of GDP, while that of Koreans is a meager 19.3 percent (as of this year). Though Finns pay heavy taxes, they are confident that their government will use the money in a transparent and equitable manner. Instead of making its people compete against each other through grades, Finland helps its people compete with themselves. Yet blindly adopting the Finnish system of equal education without consideration of the Scandinavian country’s unique education environment will turn out futile.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)