Learning Lessons from Abroad

Mike Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education, has been on a fact-finding mission to view the Swedish model of education, following Don Ledingham’s superb attempts at bringing more localised powers to the schools of East Lothian.

However, Mr. Russell was even better employed by looking at Finland’s education system which, unlike Sweden’s, has been ranked top of the OECD’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings for the last decade.

So what might Scotland learn from Finland? Well, children do not begin formal education until the age of 7 and they stay in one school for a period of nine years which culminates in all students at aged 15 being awarded a completion certificate. At this point those students who are more academic can continue in their studies and others can take vocational qualifications. Once a student has embarked on either of these two routes they can still opt for the alternative route at a later point.

Remarkably, there is no Inspection system and, indeed, very little accountability anywhere in the system. Schools operate on the basis of trust. There is no national curriculum, each school creates its own and in addition there is no external awards system until you follow the senior academic phase at age 17.

Finland also teaches children for fewer hours than any other OECD country. In fact their pupils end up with the equivalent of three and a half years less tuition than their Italian counterparts.

One significant factor in Finland is that teacher education programmes are one of the most difficult degree courses to be accepted into. Only 900 students per year join the programme out of 6000 applicants and 24% of Finland’s students place teaching at the top of their ‘most wanted’ professions.

So here we have a country whose assessment results place it at the top of the world’s education league, where teachers are trusted and highly qualified, and where a massive 57% of the adult population are participating in some form of educational course.

Why would any country not want to look very closely at Finland and try to see which factors are making the difference? Scotland’s education system, once the envy of the world, continues to complacently rest on its laurels. It is now time to stop scoffing at other nations and to be willing to learn from and to listen to others who are doing better.