PISA Conference visits Finland to learn secrets of scholastic success
Finnish pupil satisfaction needs more work
Finland’s schoolchildren have repeatedly scored high marks in the OECD’s Programme for international Student Assessment (PISA). In the latest study released last year, 15-year-olds in Finland were ranked highest in academic skills.
To explain to educators from different countries some of the secrets of Finland’s consistently high scholastic success, the Finnish National Board of Education and the University of Helsinki organised an international three-day conference in Helsinki entitled "Finland in PISA-studies - Reasons behind the Results".
"It is not enough for a country to have a few good schools. The goal is to implement educational policy whose success is largely predictable", said Andreas Schleicher, the head coordinator of the OECD’s PISA research, on Monday, the first day of the conference.
The more than 300 participants from over 30 different countries had plenty of questions, going into the minute details of the results: Why are the differences between individual schools so small? Why are the pupils not tested regularly? How can you get such good results with so few teaching hours in a week? Why is the teaching profession so popular? How do people get chosen for teacher training?
The guests were even interested in a lecture on the history of the Finnish educational system, and the complicated twists and turns of Finnish curricula.
"Teachers, teachers, and teachers", said Arvo Jäppinen, the top civil servant at the Ministry of Education, listing the main reasons for Finland’s good results.
The challenges include how to increase the number of those with top skills, and how to maintain the attractiveness of the teaching profession.
Another question is whether or not politicians have the will to provide the needed financing for education; the PISA results indicate that although money is not the deciding factor, it still has an impact.
Jäppinen also sees poor satisfaction among pupils as a challenge. "How well might our pupils do if they were actually happy at school?"
A study by the World Health Organisation published last summer showed that about 60% of 11-year-olds in Austria enjoyed school very much, while the figure in Finland was less than ten percent.
Members of the 20-strong Austrian delegation at the conference were at a loss to explain the alleged high level of contentment. Lotte Kreissler, a teacher, and representative of the Austrian Green Party, disputed the findings.
"In our country pupils are divided into different schools already at the age of ten. They are no longer happy at the age of 11."
Kreissler believes that the Greens will have to be in power before Austria introduces a comprehensive school system. In Finland she would like to learn about how the system is organised, and how to give support to individuals.
Similar reactions of disbelief came from representatives of Germany and Portugal, whose countries also ranked high in the school satisfaction results.
"We are optimistic people", explained Gloria Ramalho of the Portuguese Ministry of Education. "When we are asked, we say that we are happy and interested. Besides, it is a different thing to like school and to like studying."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish youngsters´ high score in mathematics surprises experts (7.12.2004)
Finnish teens place number one in comparison of math skills (25.11.2004)
OECD study: Finnish teenagers are best readers (5.12.2001)
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)