As America’s students begin a new school year this week, they do so in an education system ranked #36 in the developed world. According to the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Achievement) rankings of students in math, reading, and science, the US ranks between the Slovak Republic (#35) and Lithuania (#37). However, these rankings are likely skewed because PISA doesn’t take social class composition into consideration when calculating student achievement — so the US rank is likely even lower. But Finland’s top-of-the-line education has proven itself to be the gold standard, and public schools in the US should aspire to emulate them.
1. Finland has the 3rd-highest graduation rate (US ranks #21)
In Finland, students graduated 95 percent of the time. In the US, only 76 percent of students graduate. This is partially attributed to a low-stress environment in Finnish classrooms, where students go on frequent breaks, and spend just 5 hours a day in school (compared to an average 6.6 hours in the US).
2. Finland’s classes are some of the smallest in the world.
Finland’s average class size is much lower than the OECD average, with less than 20 students in a given classroom. The US average is at least 25 per classroom. With fewer students to teach at any given time, teachers can spend more time making sure each student understands and comprehends the subject.
3. Every classroom in Finland has 3 teachers.
Finland’s strategy of having multiple teachers in each classroom — two specializing in instruction, one specializing in one-on-one tutoring with students during each lesson — ensures that literally no children get left behind. Combine that with a small class size, and it’s a virtual guarantee that each student will get a high-quality education.
4. Finnish teachers make more money and are less stressed.
Finland’s teachers are only required to work 570 hours to the average US teacher’s 1100 hours. And they’re paid, on average, $45 to $50 an hour for primary school, and $75 to $80 an hour for secondary school. With normal work hours and fair pay, teaching is a much lower-stress profession, meaning educators can put more time and energy into helping students learn.
5. Finnish parents get free childcare until age 7.
Finland prides itself on providing free childcare for all children under 7. Only after their early childhood education years do Finns actually enter public schools. In the US, childcare is a privilege, and often a more significant expense than rent or mortgage payments, costing the average parent almost $10,000 a year. The Head Start program, in which low-income Americans can qualify for subsidized childcare, is based on horribly outdated poverty estimates, meaning many middle class parents don’t qualify. Combining this with the federal budget sequester cutting 57,000 kids from Head Start, and even many low-income families have to get on a waiting list just to have access to childcare.
6. Finland has zero private schools.
While much of the US education system is based on low-funded public schools vs. elite private schools that charge hefty tuition, Finland’s education is based on equality. In addition to a 100% public school environment, Finland doesn’t stratify students with gifted & talented programs or advanced placement courses. All students receive the same high-quality education regardless of their wealth or ZIP code.
7. All of Finland’s students get free lunch.
In the US, another stratification students face is at the lunch line — students able to pay for their lunches do so, but the free and reduced lunches programs that haven’t yet been cut from budgets are yet one more way students of lower social classes get a different experience than those from higher. But school lunches in Finland are all free. And as this Tumblr blog showed, Finland’s lunches are much healthier.
8. Smartphones are banned from Finnish schools.
While the U.S. is loading down classrooms with an estimated $4 billion in new technology, Finland succeeds with a minimalist approach. Not only are smartphones banned, but teachers use chalkboards and students do math on ordinary plastic calculators. Students in Finland tend to learn more when they’re free from distractions like texts and tweets.
9. There’s no standardized testing in Finland.
Because Finland’s educational system is based on equality, it has no official state test used to measure student performance. Students don’t even get tested at all until fifth grade. In the meantime, high-stakes testing has become the standard used to evaluate both teacher and student performance, and for determining how much funding a school district gets in a given year. While Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act tied funding to standardized test scores, Obama’s Race to the Top program further entrenched high-stakes testing to school funding. And students in the US are now tested an average of 6 weeks out of the year.
10. Finnish students have the least homework in the world.
In Finland, students spend between 30 minutes to an hour of time per day on homework. in the US, the average high school student is assigned 17.5 hours of homework per week — more than three hours per day. When combining the low stress of little homework with the low stress of no standardized testing, it’s no wonder that Finland’s students consistently perform at a higher level.
11. Students are allowed to choose their own path.
In the US, students are all graded on common subjects, and take the same classload as their friends. But in Finland, students are allowed to choose an academic or vocational field of study beginning in the 9th grade, making them personally invested in choosing an education that’s right for them. This may explain why Finland has some of the lowest dropout rates in the world.
12. Finland’s students learn at least three languages.
While most American students get the option of choosing a foreign language to learn — I took Spanish — only 1 in 4 Americans can hold a conversation in a foreign language, according to Gallup. But Finnish students will be able to speak English, Swedish and Finnish by the time they graduate, and learn more languages if they wish.