The Finland Phenomenon: 5 Factors for Success in Public Education Written by Contributor - Tuesday, 05 Jun2012 09:01 By Marcus A. Hennessy, CEA (Continuing Education Administrator), ret.In recent years, Finland has garnered global attention for more than its reindeer herds and Nokia phonefactories. Fact is, this small country of 5.4 million people—about the same population as the State ofMinnesota—is considered a world leader in public education.Finland literally stunned the academic world in 2001 after results from the first Program for InternationalStudent Assessment (PISA) educational survey ranked their students first in reading and among the top fivein math and science. Sponsored by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD),PISA tests over half-a-million 15-year-olds in 70 countries every three years to measure proficiency in threecore areas: reading, math, and science. This dominance has continued into the fourth round of PISA surveyswith Finnish students placing third, sixth and second, respectively, in 2009. th stEager to bolster what many consider to be America’s dismal PISA rankings (17 in reading, 31 in rdmathematics, and 23 in science), U.S. policymakers have taken a closer look at Finland’s education systemand have discovered at least five critical factors that contribute to its success:Striving for EquityAfter identifying entrenched flaws in their education policy, Finland’s reformers overhauled the system inthe 1980’s to establish more egalitarian approaches, including: Shunning the traditional approach of rewarding star performers and instead embracing equity in student treatment across all demographic sectors; Ensuring all schools receive the funding they need to meet national mandates; Keeping schools entirely public: there are no private schools in Finland, even at the university level.Fewer Standardized Tests, More Creative TestingUnlike schools in the U.S. which regularly give assessment tests to measure student performancethroughout K-12 matriculation, there is only one standardized test for Finnish students, administered at theconclusion of their equivalent of high school. Up to that point, Finnish students are assessed through testsdesigned and administered by their teachers.Better Teachers Mean Better StudentsOne paramount goal of the Finnish educational reform process was to improve the quality of teachers,starting at the very beginning. Finland’s teaching degree programs accept only about ten percent ofapplicants, roughly the same median admissions rate as Ivy League schools, and all teachers are required toobtain the equivalent of a Master’s Degree in Education. In his blog post, Steve Hinnefeld, explains thatteachers also spend less time in the classroom and more time collaborating with eachother. We need tochange our approach to teaching from setting teaching hour requirements to doing whatever it takes forevery child to learn the material.Playing Games in the Classroom is Serious BusinessIt’s ironic that Finnish culture eschews competition as a driving impetus behind achievement in theclassroom, yet Finnish teachers are encouraged to integrate games and game-playing into their regularcurricula. In an interview conducted by Smithsonianmag’s, LyNell Hancock, Finnish teacher, Maija Rintolaexplains the importance of play and it’s value in children’s learning development.Student Welfare is a National PriorityWhile schools in the U.S. face serious budget cutbacks in basic services like school lunches and counseling,Finnish educators have stressed the importance of good student health as a foundation for optimal learning.This translates into free universal healthcare, one-on-one guidance, nutritious school meals, and accessiblepsychological counseling for every student in Finland.