Finland Puts Bar High for Teachers, Kids' Well-Being

Judy Hartnett's picture
Monday, November 28, 2011

Over the past decade, students in Finland have soared on international measures of achievement. They've continued to post some of the best scores in the developed world in reading, math and science, according to a respected international exam.

Helsinki, Finland - English class is about to start, and Taneli Nordberg introduces the day's guests: a row of fresh-faced university students sitting in the back of the classroom. They're training to be teachers at the University of Helsinki.

Nordberg, 31, wants the eighth-graders to become teachers for a moment.

"I want you to tell the teacher trainees something you would like them to do when teaching and something you want them to avoid doing," he explains. "In English, please."

The students tumble up to the chalkboards and start writing. Some of the advice is predictable - "not too much homework" - but much of it is insightful.

The exercise, though short and light, is something of a microcosm of the Finnish educational approach - engagement and collaboration between teacher and student, a comfortable atmosphere, and the expectation of quality in how students express themselves.

Over the past decade, students in Finland have soared on international measures of achievement. They've continued to post some of the best scores in the developed world in reading, math and science, according to a respected international exam. The country has one of the narrowest gaps in achievement between its highest and lowest-performing schools, and on average spends less per pupil than the United States.

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