Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg, an international leader in education reform, has won a $100,000 education prize from the University of Louisville for his worldwide best-selling book that explains how Finnish schools were reformed to become among the best in the world.
Sahlberg, who directs Finaldn’s Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, won the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education for the book “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” The award is given annually to the person who has the most outstanding idea in education.
How did Finland do it?
In this post for The Answer Sheet, titled “What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform,” Sahlberg wrote:
Funding of schools: Finnish schools are funded based on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources to each school regardless of location or wealth of its community.
Well-being of children: All children in Finland have, by law, access to childcare, comprehensive health care, and pre-school in their own communities. Every school must have a welfare team to advance child happiness in school.
Education as a human right: All education from preschool to university is free of charge for anybody living in Finland. This makes higher education affordable and accessible for all.
As long as these conditions don’t exist, the Finnish equality-based model bears little relevance in the United States.
Second, school autonomy and teacher professionalism are often mentioned as the dominant factors explaining strong educational performance in Finland. The school is the main author of curricula. And the teacher is the sole authority monitoring the progress of students.
In Finland, there is a strong sense of trust in schools and teachers to carry out these responsibilities. There is no external inspection of schools or standardized testing of all pupils in Finland. For our national analysis of educational performance, we rely on testing only a small sample of students. The United States really cannot leave curriculum design and student assessment in the hands of schools and teachers unless there is similar public confidence in schools and teachers. To get there, a more coherent national system of teacher education is one major step.
Finland is home to such a coherent national system of teacher education. And unlike in the United States, teaching is one of the top career choices among young Finns. Teachers in Finland are highly regarded professionals — akin to medical doctors and lawyers. There are eight universities educating teachers in Finland, and all their programs have the same high academic standards. Furthermore, a research-based master’s degree is the minimum requirement to teach in Finland.
Teaching in Finland is, in fact, such a desired profession that the University of Helsinki, where I teach part-time, received 2,300 applicants this spring for 120 spots in its primary school teacher education program. In this teacher education program and the seven others, teachers are prepared to design their own curricula, assess their own pupils’ progress, and continuously improve their own teaching and their school. Until the United States has improved its teacher education, its teachers cannot enjoy similar prestige, public confidence and autonomy.
Third, many education visitors to Finland expect to find schools filled with Finnish pedagogical innovation and state-of-the-art technology. Instead, they see teachers teaching and pupils learning as they would in any typical good school in the United States. Some observers call this “pedagogical conservatism” or “informal and relaxed” because there does not appear to be much going on in classrooms.
Sahlberg has worked with more than 40 governments on school reform, as well as with the European Commission in Italy and the World Bank in Washington D.C. He was a teacher and trainer of teachers.
The first printing of “Finnish Lesson” sold out within weeks of its publication in 2011 and it has gone through repeated printings because of its unlikely popularity around the world.