Education about Finnish Policies

I hosted my former foreign exchange student this past week for a couple of days.  He lived with me for a year ten years ago and he’s now 28 years old and has grown into a fine, successful young man.Education in Finland

We always talk about the differences between Finland and the USA when he’s here and this visit was no different.  What he told me about Finnish business investment by the central government there astounded me.

  • Did you know that the Finnish government will invest with entrepreneurs in start-ups? 
  • Did you know that the government will pay the salary of your first full time employee for the first year? 
  • Did you know that Finnish people work fewer hours than most of the developed world? 
  • Did you know that the unemployed in Finland receive a monthly salary with no time limit? 
  • Did you know that Finnish people have full medical coverage provided by the government?

Finnish businessSo why are the Finnish people avoiding the ills of the economic downturn in comparison to the USA at this point in time?  A couple of reasons come to mind, A) Finland is not spending much on its military in comparison the USA; B) Our banking system enables irresponsible levels of debt in ways that Finland’s banking system does not. My friend told me that my high limit credit cards would not even be possible in Finland where there is commonly a hard limit on personal cards of about 5,000 dollars.

Another interesting difference is the educational system.  My friend told me that Finnish schools rank among the best in the world.  He feels that it’s because most of the smartest people at the Universities go into teaching.  He said it’s not because the pay is so great, it’s because teachers are so highly respected.  Schools are highly independent and educational programs are largely determined by the staff at the schools.  There are no school boards and all teachers are required to earn a Master’s degree. 

Another interesting feature of the Finnish educational system is that kids are given a choice at the end of about grade 8 to either prepare for college or go into a vocational school.  I commented to him that “You probably don’t lose many kids that way.”  His response was, “We don’t lose anyone.”  While that may be a bit of patriotic overstatement on his part, I think it’s probably essentially correct, or a lot closer to being true there than it is here. We in California eschewed vocational education to our detriment decades ago to a flawed philosophy of “equal access” and “college-ready” educational smoke and mirrors.  All we have left for students that can’t or don’t choose to go to college are highly over-priced, private, vocational schools offering student loans that put their graduates what amounts to a modern form of indentured servitude.

Our popular media ignores other countries as if we have nothing to learn from them.  I think we could learn a lot by looking at how other countries do things successfully that we seem to fail at year-after-year.  New ideas might defeat some of the old tired arguments that stall our forward progress.

Photo Credits – Päivi Tiittanen (Flag); Stefan Schievelbein