Editorial: Finnish students finish first

Can you name a famous person in Finland? What about a historical event? Imposing landmark? It is not that Finland does not have its share of Olympic athletes, technology celebrities or brilliant architects, but “Nokia” is all most people can mutter when asked about this small Nordic country.

Unless you are a teacher, the word “Finland” fills you with awe. Everyone employed in the field of education knows that Finland is the international all-star of schooling, like the Mecca of education.

The Finnish school system might sound like a daydream for a struggling student, especially in the United States: school hours cut in half, little or no homework, minimal testing, a 50-minute recess and free lunch. The unconventional approach to education has vaulted them to the upper echelon of countries in overall academic performance, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Having one of the best education systems worldwide, Finland has a lot to offer to not only its students, but also to communities and countries around the world. The United States can learn from the creative classes and educational freedom that the Finnish education system has to offer.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which takes place every three years, conducted a survey of more than half a million 15-year-olds’ academic skills from 57 nations. Finland placed first in science by a massive 5% difference, second in math (edged out by one point by Taiwan) and third in reading (topped by South Korea).

“We came from behind from everybody else,” Pasi Sahlberg, a leading expert on educational reform in Finland, said during an interview with Stanford News. “At some point in the last 40 years we’ve been able to pass the others.”

Such comparisons, which involve so many variables, are rather difficult. Just a glance at PISA’s scores year after year prompts the question: How does Finland churn out so many keen pupils?

Although their academic standards are higher than we may expect, Finnish kids attend school fewer days than 85% of other developed nations, and those school days are considered short by international standards, according to Stanford News.

As mentioned earlier, Finnish students are not weighed down with standardized testings, whereas in American society, tests and assessments have become a big part of everyday life, even outside of school through the SAT and ACT. Preparations for most of these tests are often very costly. According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five millennials lives in poverty, which means that 20% of all millennials are less likely to be able to afford their preparatory classes for these mandatory tests.

For instance, private SAT tutoring can easily cost $125 a session in major cities like New York— often even more according to foxbusiness.com. Prep courses by Kaplan Academy, which runs nationwide, cost about $3,499 for 20 hours of one-on-one tutoring, which is approximately $175 an hour. In addition to tutoring costs, parents must pay fees prep books and test registration. Overall, a parent can drop over $4,000 to raise their teenager’s test scores.

“Parents feel that students are taking a test, getting ready for the next one. I think that that’s valid; I don’t think that we need to have all these assessments, but then as we swing that way, we are going to have people who ask how do we determine if our schools are good and are doing a good job,” assistant principal Scott Sodorff said. “There’s a middle ground, but it’s difficult to find and stay on; you are always going to have people pushing from both sides. This is reality.”

It seems as if the Finnish approach to schools could not get any better, but the country surprises us even more. Students in Finland attend school free of charge, starting in preschool going on until college.

Finland has a total of 20 colleges, each specializing in a different field of study, according to the American-Scandinavian foundation. The best part about this is that no tuition fees are ever charged in Finland, regardless of the level of studies and the nationality of the student. This provides financial relaxation for both parents and their children. Universities are not too widely stratified either; the difference between the “best” and the “worst” is very small.

Unlike the Finnish students and parents, Americans are constantly worried about the increase of university tuition nationwide. According to dailycal.org, tuition and systemwide fees for education increase up to five percent each year for all students at UC Berkeley.

“I wish that tuition [in America] was more affordable. I find it difficult that students work so hard, and they finally make it to graduation only to look forward to thousands of dollars of student debt,” senior Jackie Murray said.

Giving students enough academic freedom, making education more affordable, and hopefully one day free of charge, will end the stressful and unpleasant educational experience and may even get students more willing to explore what they are most passionate about in a way that does not risk their education.