Why Finland’s Education System Works

Not too long ago, Finland’s education system was comparable to that in the U.S. How they changed their system is interesting, because by having “less” school they are achieving greater results. In the U.S., the system of “doing what you hate longer and harder” seems to be the prevailing logic driving the “scientific test-results” orientation to achievement. Both systems are multi-cultural and multi-lingual and have special populations served in the general education setting.

U.S. Approach To Reform

Children must enroll in school (kindergarten or first grade) at age 5. Many children have had preschool experiences because parents work or they are qualified for Head Start, Early Start, Even Start and other programs. Preschool standards involve readiness skills (standards directed), but not all children receive such instruction. Direct reading (decoding) instruction begins in kindergarten and ends in second grade. State (and federal) standards direct what instruction children receive from kindergarten through high school and in higher education settings (technical/vocational schools and colleges/universities). Children must remain in school until they reach the age of dropping out (varies by state but usually between 16 and 18 years of age) or they graduate by meeting all their state’s requirements. Standards, formal testing and statistics drive decision making by central administrators not in contact with students.

Finnish Approach To Reform

Children enroll in school at age 7, but they are given several years of preschool experiences which focus on language and physical development. The schools tend to be small because population centers are few; usually the schools have 300-400 students. Local teachers control their schools and curricula; they spend some of their work day developing and/or preparing materials to be used. Their school day is shorter than in the U.S. and they spend a lot of time outdoors, either in play or in applied “work” in the outdoor setting. Students attend elementary schools for 5-7 years, at which point they attend either a vocational schools or a higher education schools. Student skills and interests drive local decision making by teachers working with students.

What Are The Critical Differences?

The critical differences are:

· Preschool experiences are different: the U.S. focus on readiness (cognitive) skills development for reading and math, the Finnish focus on developmental skills in language and physical development. This translates into developmental readiness for instruction (Finland) or struggle to achieve (U.S.).

· School sizes differ: The U.S. consolidates and usually has 500+/school, the Finnish have few students so everyone receives attention. This translates into emotional security (Finland) or insecurity (U.S.).

· Children start reading instruction at different ages: the U.S. at age 5, the Finnish at age 7. This translates into being neurologically ready for instruction (Finland) or compensating with taxed memory skills (U.S.).

· Vocational schools are options for education in early adolescence. This translates into motivation (Finland) or non-motivational (U.S.).

· Decisions are based on testing/statistics (U.S.) or motivation and interests (Finland).


Focusing on behaviors and achievements for guiding change eliminates the humanness of education: interest, motivation, purpose. No matter how anyone looks at it, the U.S. system is a failure. Perhaps those making the decisions should relinquish the controls and let teachers who work with students and know what they need and want to learn make the decisions. Instead of rushing children to early achievement, maybe those who know about what happens to children developmentally will start driving the reforms.

What We Need To Do To Save The American Educational System Part Three

To bring success to the American Educational System requires a rigorous non-political and non-union in- depth study lasting two to three years. Such a study needs to be done globally, state by state, town by town, city by city, and school system by school system. There are no overnight fixes, getting rid of teachers, pouring more money into the system doesn’t solve the problems. Certainly, creating school systems within schools systems with relative little supervision compounds the issues. Standardized testing does nothing other than cost the local school systems millions and millions of dollars. Going electronic does not insure success. What then, is the real challenge?

The challenge is to identify, honestly, the specific areas of failure. To do this America must be open, to envision how it can assure a higher level of student success in its schools, and hopefully, assure their chances of becoming productive citizens. Can we, as a nation, do this? We can and we must.

We need to make sure that we do not continue to spend time on unproven experimentation, change in school organization patterns, inadequate teacher preparation, and poorly constructed teacher-evaluation tools. The avoid the pitfall of repetition, the following process is recommended.

• Prioritize that which is most important in the continuation of our culture. (What are schools supposed to do?)
• Analyze the failure of those aspects of the education system that have denied the achievement of the prioritized list. (Why don’t students learn to read and to read with comprehension?)
• Recommend solutions that are long-range with built-in cyclic re-evaluation.
• Prioritize again with emphasis on those areas within the educational community that are most important to work on.

An excellent example of the use of failure analysis comes to us from NTSB. Whenever an airplane crashes every aspect of the involved plane, pilots, ground crews, service, fuel, weather, and mechanics receive painstaking analysis. Piece by piece the parts are examined. It is this type of scrutiny the American Educational System must undergo if achievable solutions are the goal.

What is the fundamental road block to this approach? It’s our social system. As a society, we discourage this kind of painstaking examination. No one likes to be put under the microscope. No one likes to admit failure. We, as a nation, have a definite mind-set to put mistakes behind us, to move on. Move on? To what? More failures?

Norman W Wilson, PhD

The Growth of the Education System in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Education and teaching till the late 19th century was restricted to writing, reading and the recitation of the Qur’an in all areas of what is now known as Saudi Arabia. The concept of Higher education in Islamic studies merely existed in the main cities only. The actual beginning of what is usually called nowadays “modern education” took place at the end of the 19th century. The modern education began in the Ottoman provinces of Al-Ahsa and Hijaz. Later on, in the early 1920s a few of the private sector schools started an initiative of offering non-religious courses and subjects in a few of the larger towns but officially the modern education was promoted by the state itself in 1930s. A vast network of schools was setup in the start of 1951. In the mid of year 1954 the ministry of education came into existence and its first minister was none other than Prince Fahd Bin Abd Al-Aziz. The education for girls on a public level began in 1964, though it was strongly opposed by the conservative circles but still the government pursued its project. The development plans introduced by the state in the 1970s and the 1980s played a pivotal part in establishing a strong and sound education system.

The literacy rate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was about 15% for men and about 2% for women but in 1990s this percentage saw a massive increase, for men it became 73% and for women it became 48% and later on in 2002 the percentage increased even more, 90.9% and 70.2%, respectively.

Whatever the facts may be, the thing worth mentioning here is that the Saudi government has made an exceptional effort in setting the standards of education quite high and that is clearly visible nowadays.

Some more Highlights of Saudi Education:

In Saudi Arabia, it is not compulsory to get education but still it is free for all and inclusive of health services and study course material. It means the stretch of education in is mainly dependent on the number of schools available in the various regions rather than the other factors. As of now, it seems that the state is working rigorously towards improving and increasing the rate of enrollment. According to some data:

In Year 1960 number of Students enrolled:

Boys: 22% and Girls: 2%

In Year 1981 number of Students enrolled:

Boys: 81% and Girls: 43%

In Year 1989 number of Students enrolled:

Boys: 1.4 million and Girls: 1.2 million

Nowadays, it is considered that the percentage of female students enrolled has exceeded the percentage of male students enrolled and this figure is for both schools and the universities. In the year 2001 and 2002 there were about 28000 public schools and colleges in Saudi Arabia, of which 16,600 schools and 73 colleges were for girls only. Whereas other educational and training institutions reached to a number of 214.

The current facts and figures reveal that about 1.19 million male and 1.64 female students are enrolled in schools in Saudi Arabia and another 1.5 million (both boys and girls) are registered in the private sector schools.