Finland’s success in education opens doors for new business ventures

For companies and institutions specializing in software and courses for educators, Finland's successful education system has become a selling point.

The Helsinki-based start-up 10monkeys was created in 2012. Thanks to its smiling monkeys and its user-friendly and colorful design, this smartphone and tablet application makes math fun for primary students.

"In the Middle East, for example, our clients are interested in us because we're Finnish," said Arttu Laasonen, co-founder of the company, which has sold its app to thousands of users in Britain, the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia. ""We don't even need to mention it, they know it already."

In the 2000s, Finland dominated the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Pisa ranking, which compares the performance of students from some 60 countries in standardized tests. The country became an educational model for other countries, thanks to an increased value of the teaching profession, an egalitarian approach to students and a gentle and non-elitist teaching method.

This recognition has benefited some 100 Finnish companies, like 10monkeys, as they export their products, mostly educational games and apps.

The educational system also directly helps the industry.

"Being in Finland has also helped us create our app," Laasonen explained. "We've been able to work with a renowned math teacher who shared his methods with us, and then we were able to test them at Finnish schools."

Future Learning Finland, a program that promotes the country's "educational know-how and learning solutions globally" was launched by the government in 2010. Like the University of Helsinki, which offers a training program for foreign teachers, several higher education institutions have also jumped on the bandwagon.

"Many groups come to Helsinki for one or two weeks," said Kirsi Kettula, head of Education Export at the University of Helsinki. "They attend courses on the Finnish education system and visit some schools."

South Korea, which ranked higher than Finland in the latest Pisa report, is among the countries that have taken part in the program.

"We don't even need to advertise our programs. Our clients contact us directly, because they know about Finland's reputation," Kettula added.

In the Pisa report's math scoring, Finland fell from 6th in 2009 to 12th last year. This may be due to increasing budgetary restraints. Growing social inequality is also having an impact on student performance.

"It's a little early to say if this ranking will have negative consequences for us," Kettula said. "We're still among the best and our system still attracts the attention of Asian countries, even if they rank better than us on Pisa, because we're different from them."

Others see this as an opportunity for Finnish companies to improve sales in a market that has remained rather aloof: Finland.

"Until now, high-tech companies sold their educational products abroad, but not in Finland," said Ministry of Education Adviser Esa Suominen. "If the results don't remain that high, Finland will have to look for new solutions for its schools, and these companies could then suggest methods they have already developed and see them implemented in their country of origin."

01 1, 2014
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