Finland’s Success in Literacy

Pirjo Sinko, Counsellor of Education for the Finnish National Board of Education, delivered a keynote address at the AATE/ALEA National Conference in Hobart on 11 July.

Some of the major points from the keynote are summarised below. (Comparisons with Australia are added in parentheses; they were not discussed by Ms Sinko.)

1. The OECD Program for International Student Assessment continually shows that Finland has exceptional results in literacy.

2. Finland has the smallest difference between the best students and the weakest students. (In comparison, the difference between Australia’s best and worst students is unacceptably wide.)

3. Finland has the smallest difference between students in the best geographical areas and students in the worst geographical areas. (In comparison, the differences between areas in Australia are huge. In Australia, postcode is the best predictor of whether or not a student will be academically successful.)

4. In Finland, education is totally free, including lunches, travel and books. Education is comprehensive and non-selective; there are no elite schools. (In Australia, there are extreme differences between schools. Schools in poor areas generally have sub-standard buildings, grounds and materials; schools in well-to-do areas are generally superior.)

5. In Finland, teachers design their own curricula and their own assessments; there is central steering, but local control. (In Australia, teachers are required to follow a State curriculum, a National test, and various State tests.)

6. In Finland, pre-school for 0 – 6 year olds is child-centred and play-based. Children do not start primary school until age 7. There is strong support for weak readers and writers within a system that supports equality and inclusion; there is no streaming! 37% of first grade children get additional support. (In Australia, young children start school aged 4 ½ to 5 ½ and generally head straight into a very formal program required by the relevant education authority.)

7. In Finland, teachers must have a Masters Degree and only 10 – 12% of applicants gain admission to a teacher education course. Teachers are well paid and highly valued in the community. (In Australia, ‘anyone’ gets into a teacher education course; the academic level required is very low. Teachers are not valued in the community. Even politicians criticise teachers publicly.)

8. Finland has one of the world’s best library systems. (Many government schools in Australia don’t even have a librarian!)

9. Finland: quality through equity. ‘Equal opportunities’ is the leading principle in education policy. Differences in socio-economic status of families have little impact on the students’ reading achievements. (In Australia, socio-economic status has a major impact on educational opportunity.)

Courtesy of the Literacy Educators’ Coalition. Link to website

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