Lessons for Pakistan: how equal opportunities for rich and poor helped the Nordic country become a world reference in education

Lessons for Pakistan: how equal opportunities for rich and poor helped the Nordic country become a world reference in education


In Finland, students have few evaluations.

The Finns met the asphalt in the 1920s. Until the early twentieth century, what they knew was basically poverty.

In contrast, when in 1909 Paulista Avenue became the first asphalt road in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, in Finland an agrarian economy predominated and its first 14 km of highway would not be inaugurated until 1963.

How did these countries change in the following years?

On the one hand, Finland was transformed with a set of educational and social policies that created one of the most celebrated models of excellence in public education in the world.

While in Brazil, as in most of Latin America, reducing the immense inequality of educational opportunities between children born into poor families and those of rich families, remains one of the main challenges.

The Finnish “miracle”

The well-known Finnish miracle began in the 70s and gained strength in the 90s with a series of innovative reforms.

In a span of 30 years, Finland transformed a mediocre and ineffective education system into a talent incubator that spearheaded global student performance rankings and leveraged the birth of a sophisticated and highly industrialized economy.

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Image caption The modern Finnish economy has an excellent education at its base.

It is, at first glance, an enigma: the Finns are doing exactly the opposite of what the rest of the world does in the eternal search for better school results, and that’s fine.

The Finnish cookbook includes reducing the number of class hours and minimizing homework and school tests.

International educators study the paradoxical Finnish model in search of the miraculous formula. And the answer of the Finns is this: high quality public education is not the result of educational policies alone, but also of social policies.

“The Finnish social welfare state plays a crucial role in the success of the model by guaranteeing all children equal opportunities and conditions for free and quality learning,” says educator Pasi Sahlberg, one of the creators of educational policy reforms. of Finland in the 90s, in the book Finish Lessons (“Finnish Lessons”).

Equal opportunities

The concern to ensure that all Finns have equal development opportunities is visible on the premises of the school Viikki , one of the most important middle schools in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

As in all schools in Finland, there you can see the son of a businessman studying with the son of a worker .

Finnish school
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Image caption In Finnish public schools, everything is free. Including food.

In the large dining room, healthy meals are served daily to students abundantly, while medical and dental care services free of charge care for the health of 940 students.

All school supplies are also free . Teams of pedagogues and psychologists carefully accompany each child’s development to identify problems such as dyslexia and provide immediate support. And school fees do not exist.

Sahlberg also highlights the impact of exercise on education in the model of equality and social justice gradually created by Finns after the war: health, education and housing for all, generous paternity leave to care for children and daycare subsidies widely subsidized or even free.

There is also a broad and supportive network of protection for citizens.

“Social inequality, child poverty and the absence of basic services have a strong negative impact on the performance of a country’s education system,” says Sahlberg.

The transformation

Until the end of the 1960s, only 10% of Finns had finished secondary school. Opportunities were limited and access was uneven. Many families could not afford private education institutions and public schools were insufficient.

A university diploma was considered, at that time, an exceptional trophy: only 7% of the population had higher education. And in all areas of learning, Finland was a symbol of delay.

Classroom in Espoo
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Image caption In all Finnish schools, the children of entrepreneurs and workers study together.

The history of the country, however, was always characterized by the resilience of its people, who achieved their independence until 1917, after six centuries under the rule of the kingdom of Sweden and more than a hundred years as a grand duchy of the Russian Empire and its five Tsars.

In the 70s, the nation was called to change. A stellar public education came to be perceived as the fundamental basis for the creation of a less mediocre future and to develop the human capital of the country became the primary mission of the Finnish State.

The principle of equality and social inclusion marked the development of the 70s of the new peruskoulu (Finnish compulsory education), which covers primary and secondary education.

In a landmark decision of the Finnish Parliament, all children, regardless of socio-economic context or domicile, began to have equal and free access to quality schools to complete nine years of basic education.

Class in Finland
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Image caption Teachers are highly valued in Finland.

The next fundamental step was an unprecedented assessment of the teacher.

Finland launched excellent training programs for teaching in the country’s universities. He created remarkable working conditions and ample autonomy to make decisions in schools, paying reasonably well to his teachers.

The profession of teacher became one of the favorites among young Finns, above the professions in medicine, law and architecture.

Participation of society

In the 90s, the country announced a new revolution in education.

The associations of teachers, politicians, parents, members of the academy and different sectors of society were called to participate in the creation of two new and revolutionary paradigms of education in the country.

echazaron the conventional formula applied in most of the world as a recipe for improving school performance.

School in Finland.
Image caption The skating rink of this school was built thanks to the idea suggested by the students, who helped to draw it

“The role played by several civil society organizations was particularly significant,” says Sahlberg, who was also one of the advisers to the Finnish Ministry of Education in the 1990s.

The transformation of the system was profound. And fast. As a result, at the end of the 1990s the Finnish Peruskoulu became a world leader in mathematics, science and interpretation.

The first results of the International Student Assessment Program (PISA), published in 2001, surprised the Finns themselves: in all academic areas, Finland started at the top of the world ranking.

And it remains until today among the most outstanding members of the club.

Women's hockey team from Finland
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Image caption In education, Finland has also been a winner.

Finland says it has learned a lesson: effective education policies must go hand in hand with social policies.

“People in Finland have a deep sense of shared responsibility about the importance not only of one’s own life, but of the well-being of others,” observes Sahlberg in his book Finish lessons.

“Care for the well-being of the child begins before birth and extends to adulthood.The public nurseries are a guaranteed right for all children, who also have equal access to all kinds of basic services.” Education is considered in our country it is considered a public good, and it is, therefore, protected in the constitution of the country as a basic human right, “he adds.

Finnish investment in education is also considered one of the central engines of economic development and to end poverty in the country.

Highly trained citizens have taken advantage of the growth of production and the transformation of Finland into one of the leading poles of innovation and technology in the world with the birth of companies such as the telecommunications giant Nokia.

And educational policies grew alongside social policies.

Equality from the cradle

The vast network of social benefits in Finland is the result of the construction, from the 70s, of a generous welfare state, financed by one of the highest tax burdens in the world.

The rate of taxes on individual income in the country today is 51.6%, which did not prevent Finland from appearing this year at the top of the ranking of the happiest countries in the world prepared by the UN ( World Happiness Report).

Dummy in a cardboard box
Image caption The delivery of the cardboard box with articles for newborns is one of the successful social policies of the country.

But since the late 1930s, Finland offers all pregnant women a maternity kit with about 50 basic things for the baby. The goal of the gift is to provide everyone with an equal start of life , regardless of social class.

In addition, when a child is born in Finland, the mother is entitled to 105 working days of maternity leave. The father receives another 54 days of leave. And couples can divide an additional period of more than five months of parental leave among themselves.

This means that most Finnish children can have their parents’ attention at homeduring the first year of life.

After the period of paternity leave, one of the parents has the right to stay at home with the child, if he prefers, and receive support of about 450 euros per month (US $ 525). In these cases, the father or mother may return to the same job they had before until the child turns 3 years of age.

Parents still have the option to return to work, but with reduced workload, and obtain partial support from the State.

Most of the fathers and mothers eventually return to work, and when they decide to do so, the State offers a network of specialized and highly subsidized day care centers to take care of the children.

Finnish children
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Image caption Finnish children can spend their first years of life with their parents

By law, all children from 0 to 6 years old have the right to a place in day care, either part-time or full-time. The rates vary according to the income of the parents and the area in which the family resides. The maximum value of the monthly payment is currently 290 euros (about US $ 338).

For families with lower incomes, day care centers are free.

Free until the end

At the age of 6, all Finnish children have the right to pre-school education, which is completely free. The goal of preschools is to provide each child with the learning of basic skills and knowledge, in order to prepare them for school life.

With free access to universities and technical and vocational education institutions, higher education has also been an opportunity for equal access for all. Education in Finland is free for everyone, from preschool to doctorate .

School in Finland.
Image caption The use of technology and alternative methods (such as balls instead of chairs) are encouraged in schools in Finland.

The statistics point to the success of the formula of allying educational policies with social policies, says Sahberg.

” Equal societies have citizens with the highest level of education, rare cases of school evasion, lower rates of obesity, better indicators of mental health and lower rates of teenage pregnancies, in relation to countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater “, emphasizes the Finnish educator.

Innovation, always, is important, teach the Finns. Already in the 90s, the education reform led by Finland surprised the academic world with a paradoxical theory, which would prove to be visionary.

Paradox 1: Students learn more when teachers teach less

The Finnish experience challenges conventional logic, which prescribes more class hours and more lessons at home as a formula to boost student performance.

Days are shorter in Finnish schools, with fewer class hours than in all other industrialized nations, according to statistics from the OECD, an organization that brings together the richest countries in the world.

Facade of the Kastelli school, designed by the Lahdelma & Mahlamäki architecture office in Finland
Image caption The primary school is practically a time free of evaluations

“It is important that children have time to be children, ” said Professor Erja Schunk of Viikki School , located on a campus of the University of Helsinki. “The most important thing is the quality of time in the classroom, and not the amount.”

In the United States, a teacher spends approximately twice as much time teaching in the classroom per week, compared to a Finnish teacher.

“Giving six hours of class a day is an arduous task, which leaves teachers too tired to devote themselves to other important tasks for the work of an educator, how to plan, renew and give careful attention to the student,” says Sahlberg.

In a typical Finnish school, teachers give about four classes a day.

“The central concern of the Finnish school is not to achieve records of school performance, but to help develop a child’s abilities to form individuals capable of living happy lives, on and off work,” Sahlberg adds.

Finnish children
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Image caption In Finnish schools, children have time to be children.

Finnish teachers also do not believe that increasing the burden of tasks on students necessarily leads to better learning, especially if the lessons are tedious exercises that do not challenge the student’s creative ability.

According to OECD statistics, Finnish students spend less time doing homeworkthan students from all other countries: about half an hour a day.

“Students learn what they need to know in the classroom, and many do their homework right here in their own school, so they have time to spend time with their friends and dedicate themselves to the things they like to do outside of school, which is also important, “said Professor Martti Mery at the Viikki school.

In the preschool phase, the priority is to develop the children’s self-confidence. The days in the school are fulfilled with tasks such as learning to orient oneself without company in a forest, or to tie alone their ice skates.

Paradox 2: Students learn more when they have fewer tests and assessments

Finnish students do not need to worry about evaluations: their education system does not believe in the effectiveness of a high frequency of exams , so they are applied with little regularity.

Despite this, Finland shines in the global rankings of education, next to the countries with the best school performance in the world.

School in Finland.
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Image caption Finnish students do not have to worry so much about exams either.

Miracle? The Finnish philosophy is that the main objective of teachers should be to help students learn without anxiety , to create and develop natural curiosity, and not simply to pass evaluations.

“The pressure of the traditional model of teaching brings dramatic consequences for students, such as fear, boredom and fear of taking risks,” says educator Sahlberg.

PISA reports indicate that only 7% of Finnish students feel anxious when studying mathematics . Meanwhile, Japan’s rigid education system, which boasts high levels of school performance, records suicide records among students, with an index that reaches 52%.

And in the classrooms of the Viikki school , the atmosphere is calm and relaxed. There are no school uniforms, and the students study barefoot – reflecting the climate of Scandinavian houses, where no one wears shoes.

The primary school is practically a period free of evaluations. In order to prevent children from being classified according to their performance, the Finnish system virtually abolished the evaluation by school grades in the first five years of the peruskoulu .

In the following years, the evaluation is made based on tests prepared by the teacher and on the student’s performance in the classroom, as well as a wide evaluation of each student carried out collectively by the teachers at the end of each semester.

Those who need more assistance in teaching receive particular attention: the Finnish philosophy appreciates the belief that all children have the potential to learn, if they have adequate support and opportunities.

Class in Finland
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Image caption Every year thousands of young people apply to the teaching profession.

The teaching in Finland also became a prestigious career.

Each spring, thousands of young people request a place to study in the teacher training departments of the universities of Finland.

But only the best and most prepared students can become professors: in the demanding Finnish system, only about 10% of the candidates are usually approved to take the compulsory master’s degree at the university.

The master’s degree has become the basic and compulsory requirement of a teacher to be able to teach in Finnish schools, even for pre-school education.

And the innovations continue: the school curriculum adopted in 2016 created, for example, teaching based on phenomena or projects, which updates the traditional division by subjects and gives more space for certain topics (such as the Second World War) to be jointly worked by professors of different disciplines.

Finnish children
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Image caption Finland continues to innovate in education.

All the aspects behind Finnish success seem to be, therefore, the opposite of what is done in most of the world, where competition, the high burden of tests and classes, the uniformity of teaching and privatization are general rule the dominant principles.

“Exercising rigid controls over schools and students, paying teachers on the basis of student performance, handing over the leadership of schools to management specialists or converting public schools into private ones are ideas that do not take place in the Finnish repertoire of development of education, “says educator Sahlberg.

Sahlberg summarizes Finnish thinking about quality public education:

“It is a moral obligation , because the well-being and ultimately the happiness of an individual depends on knowledge, skills and world views that are provided by a quality education.” It is also an economic imperative, since wealth of nations depends more and more on skills and knowledge. “

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