Does Low-Tech Finland Have Secrets to US Success?

In 2001, Finnish students were the highest-achieving in the world, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment test administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Interestingly, Finish educators say that they do not need high-end technology to stay at the top in international educational rankings. According to Caitlin Emma, writer for Politico Pro, Finnish educators use innovation, solid teacher training, union-government cooperation, and good old-fashioned pencil and paper note-taking to create a quality education for its students.

Unlike the US, Finland is not investing billions in expanding Internet accessibility to its schools. The Finnish culture is based on bettering one's self, not "besting other nations", so they do not understand making education a competition. And, ironically, Finnish educational success, say its educators, is derived from classroom innovation and school improvement research done in the US.

A few Finnish education facts:

  • There are no standardized tests until upper secondary school when they administered to determine which students go on to university.
  • Finnish students have repeatedly outperformed American students.
  • There are no Finnish private schools or charter schools.
  • At grade eight, only 27% of students use computers at least once a week.

Finland's population is just 5.4 million, considerably smaller than that of the US' largest city (New York City, 8.5 million). The country is extremely homogenized with only 4.6% of Finns having been born outside the country.

Reporter for the BBC News Sean Coughlan writes that the UK is ranked second among European countries and sixth globally as to the quality of its education system, according to the Pearson/Economist Intelligence Unit.

The top four rankings were dominated by Asian countries, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The UK was ranked just behind Finland (fifth),but above the rankings of Germany, France, and the US.

The rankings are based on several international tests and education data, such as graduation rates.

The report stated that Asian countries have high regard for educators and teachers, students, and parents share in the responsibility for education. It also pointed out that skills such as creativity and problem-solving acuity are difficult to measure or include in these rankings.

Globally, over $5 trillion is spent on education annually, but John Fallon, chief executive of Pearson, a publishing and assessment service serving schools and corporations, sees a strong connection between improving education and economic growth. He continues by saying:

"There is a huge amount of innovation in schools and colleges around the world. And the biggest challenge isn't finding brilliant teachers or high-performing schools – it's how to share that, and how you replicate that at scale."

In a new executive education ranking, compiled by Financial Times, the US is slipping in the rankings while Switzerland's IMD, a business school, was the top ranked in the open-programming sector. Duke Corporate Education, a non-profit support corporation for Duke University, was top ranked for the customized ranking niche for the 12th consecutive year with HEC Paris coming in second, writes Seb Murray for U.K.'s Business Because.

During the financial crisis, many business schools hobbled through, but executive MBA courses are on the increase now. Globally, executive education is on the rise. Rankings for overall quality were:

  1. Duke Corporate Education
  2. HEC Paris
  3. Spain's lese Business School
  4. The Center for Creative Leadership
  5. Switzerland's IMD
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