Three members of the National School Boards Association’s board of directors saw the well-regarded education system in Finland on a recent academic trip. And while the two countries have major differences, there are some important lessons school boards can take away from the Scandanavian schools, said NSBA President C. Ed Massey.
Massey joined a group of researchers and educators from Northern Kentucky University for a guided tour of Finnish schools, where they saw classrooms from early education to postsecondary and career training. He invited fellow NSBA board members David A. Pickler, NSBA’s President-Elect and a school board member from the Shelby County School Board in Memphis, and Kevin E. Ciak, a school board member from the Saylorsville School District in New Jersey, to join the tour.
Massey noted that the country emphasizes the importance of education by giving all children access to high-quality schools from age one through college—and the government pays for it all.
“The biggest thing that struck me was that they only hire the best teachers,” said Massey, a member of the Boone County, Ky., school district’s board of education. “A teacher cannot be hired unless they have a master’s degree, and then they are treated as consummate professionals, on the same rank as a doctor or lawyer.”
Students in Finland also learn three languages through immersion by the time they leave elementary school. One thing that schools do not have is sports teams—popular pastimes such as hockey take place in clubs after school. And the schools provide a free lunch for all students, regardless of their families’ income level.
Each school is run by a “counsel” made up of administrators, teachers, and parents, Massey said. A school district is governed by a municipal education board, where members are appointed by the country’s Ministry of Education.
There are some important differences between Finland and the United States that make any comparisons unfair, Massey noted. For one, the country only has about 5.5 million people and 540,000 students—much smaller than even Kentucky, which has more than 670,000 students. The population is largely homogeneous with very little immigration, Massey said, noting that there are 59 different languages spoken within Boone County’s student population.
And—perhaps the most significant difference–Finland pays for all its educational services by taxing its residents at much higher rates than U.S. governments, he added.