“The Finnish Way” of educational change is unique in many ways. Some observers in the United States confess that their current education reform policies are not only different from the Finnish ones but they are orthogonal to them. During the last decade, American schools have been steered by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and more recently by the Race to the Top (RTTT) program that both adopt similar logic of educational change. These include externally mandated teaching standards with intensified testing of students, stronger accountability for schools (in NCLB) and for teachers (in RTTT), increasing choice for parents and thereby tightening competition between schools. In these ‘reforms’ technology is often seen as an optimal (and most efficient) instructional solution to educational improvement. These drivers of whole-system improvement in the United States and in other parts of the world present a piecemeal reform strategy that is steered from the top to the bottom and therefore often remains foreign to the practitioners in schools.
Many educators and leaders in the United States are looking at the Finnish Way of education reform because it has proved to work over the years with fundamentally different policies to what educational reformers believe to be the key to better schools. It is interesting that many of the high-performing education systems in the world today rely on similar drivers of change to those employed in Finland. Singapore, Korea, Shanghai, China and Canada’s province of Alberta all assume that only by better engaging teachers in educational reforms, investing in social capital development within the teaching profession, enhancing equity and equality of educational opportunity, and improving school leadership will student learning improve. All these jurisdictions place creativity and innovation at the heart of what they call ‘improvement’.
The Finnish education system has progressed steadily since the 1980s because we prepare teachers to improve their students’ learning as well as their own work in collaboration with their colleagues. We see teachers as knowledge workers, not technicians who implement instructions or standards mandated by someone else. The Finnish Way is unique also because it has been able to accomplish educational excellence and equity simultaneously. Indeed, it is interesting that none of the best education systems today has designed their education policies according to the drivers that dominate the United States education reform movement today.