Students in several Asian nations continually outperform their U.S. counterparts on international tests for science, reading, and especially math. Finland is the only Western nation near the top of those rankings year after year.
The Finn’s don’t approach education with the drill-and-kill ferocity employed in Korea and Singapore or with the emphasis on endless testing familiar to U.S. students. In fact, Finland has become an educational star by doing the opposite of what’s happening in many U.S. schools and school districts.
Since the 1970s, Finland has changed its traditional education structure into a model of a modern, publicly financed education system with widespread equity, good quality, large participation, and all of this at reasonable cost.
More than 99 percent of Finnish students now successfully complete compulsory basic education, and about 90 percent complete upper secondary school. Two-thirds of these graduates enroll in universities or professionally oriented polytechnic schools. More than 50 percent of the Finnish adult population participates in adult education programs. Ninety-eight percent of the cost of education at all levels is covered by government rather than by private sources.
Although there was a sizable achievement gap among Finnish students in the 1970s, strongly correlated to socio-economic status, this gap has been progressively reduced. The fundamental key to Finland’s success is rarely mentioned: Finland has gone from central control to local control.
Finland has learned that the concept of central control used in Cuba, the former U.S.S.R., and in many western countries has or is failing.
The history of the United States—until very recently—has been a reliance on local control. It is a fact that the bigger the national and state governments, the less empowered is the local government.
Finland has taken the path of local empowerment, which results in a smaller role of big government and more empowerment at the local level.