In a recent posting, I discussed the vast cultural differences between Finland and the United States. But while culture is a big issue, there is more to the success of Finnish schools than their population size and homogeneous people.
While we push children to learn at younger and younger ages, Finnish children begin formal schooling at age 7. The Finnish believe that childhood is for playing and that children learn while playing. It's believed that given enough time to play and have fun (and learn while doing so) children will arrive at school ready to learn.
In Finland, children are not pulled from the classroom for remediation. Rather, students who have trouble perfecting a skill or grasping a concept are visited by the two or three teachers in the room or by one of the teaching assistants. I wonder how many teachers in this country would be grateful for just the teaching assistant.
While we believe in "no child left behind", we increasingly expect one classroom teacher to differentiate instruction, keep paperwork on all those tiered students, meet with parents, make copies of lessons, pay for additional education and consult with colleagues. And unions certainly don't help by negotiating contracts that call for a work day that consistently allows teachers to walk out the door only moments after the children do.
In so many ways, the Finnish system reveals a high level of respect for the developmental needs of their children and sets high professional expectations for teachers.
How did we get it so wrong?