Not all is perfect in this educational landscape. There are things we can share with our Finnish colleagues.
- Several American situations seemed enviable to the Finns. The Physical Education teacher at the Comprehensive school was wistful about the athletic programs included in American schools. He had visited the states because a friend plays soccer in Florida. He complained that the community teams in Finland are a hassle. Parents must ferry their children to practices after they get off work at 5:30 and 6. Most of the coaches are volunteers and not paid professionals. He wished it were part of the school and the kids would just stay on campus for their sport. I had the sense that he felt personally gypped in his own athletic career.
- Sanna thought our American high schools had a better sense of community because of the many extra curricular activities that keep them connected to the school.
- The kids are not perfect. I saw familiar archetypes in the classrooms. The girls who lead our second tour in grades 1 - 7 could have been the book-reading girls you see anywhere. In the "drop-out" class the group looked familiar--weirdly dyed hair, nose rings, and black hoodies pulled up to show their disdain for school. When one student volunteered an answer in English it was clear the rest of the group was mocking him in Finnish. That's familiar.
- Sanna complained that she did have slackers--her word. These were students who showed up and did the minimum, hoping to pass the matriculation test by cramming with some purchased computer program at the last minute. This was not usually a successful strategy. She commented that tying teacher pay to student performance was "ridiculous." Amen.
- The teachers pre-score the national test before it is sent to the Matriculation Board. This is a huge task for the teachers. I think they might match scores with the board for final scoring (much like the College board does in their table scoring--two scorers who score separately but must come close for a valid score. If they aren't within a point, it goes to a third, highly experienced scorer.)
- The matriculation test is not required. You can still go to university or the Polytechnic school without it.
- Grades are deemphasized. There are not A, B, C grades. Students get a score from 4-10. A 4 is failing but the teachers emphasized the scores were given primarily as feedback. They are just beginning to include self-evaluation in some of the Phenomenon Based learning. (I think they can learn from us on some of this.)
- Teachers are not paid as much as advertised. They do make a good living wage but it is relative to their economy (mean income nationwide is $43,000). They are certainly able to live off the salary. Still, the profession is highly competitive--with many more teachers than openings.