Finland has long been envied for its students’ scores on the international TIMMS test which looks at mah and science skills. American educrats have admired the Finnish school model and credited it with producing those outstanding results. But the latest news to come out of Finland tarnishes that glowing model.

The article below from Kotimaa (The Homeland) [and please forgive the roughness of the computer translation – my Finnish is a little rusty] says that the math skills of the typical Finnish student have dropped appreciably.


“The stark result was revealed, as well as adult – a large part of the math skills are not enough to solve the problems of everyday life”

“The degree of knowledge of mathematics in primary schools has remained unchanged, but the boys ‘ learning results are divided on the extreme ends.”

The article says that the students struggle particularly with percentages.

“Some of the students is dominated by perusprosenttilaskut [untranslatable]. They do not know how to calculate, if it is 30% discount on a € 50 shirt, what is the new price? Is it worth it to buy? Or when you take a student loan and the payment of interest, you should know how much the final cost is, expert Sean Julin says in a report.”

The Finnish system is highly decentralized with loose common standards that guide curriculum at the planning level. At least this is how they describe their system. They say that educators are free to customize their teaching for the children’s needs. Municipalities have the  freedom to arrange schooling according to the local circumstances. However, there is a national guiding framework for what should be taught that contains some proscriptions for how to teach the content. This could explain the broad decline in student performance on math tests. It could also hint that the local districts are not so free to teach how they want, as they claim to be.
The claim also sounds very similar to the Common Core Initiative oft quoted talking point that the standards don’t tell teachers how to teach. Local school districts choose the curriculum, as if that would still allow the freedom to produce different outcomes.

In the comments under The Homeland article people said not to worry about the dropping scores. The internet and “Google” will provide all the information people need to function from here on out. Memorization or a core set of knowledge housed in the human brain is so passé.  Assuming that is true, wouldn’t the only test we need to give our kids be one that measured their ability to search the internet? Shouldn’t we have national speed and accuracy trials for searching?

Of course when the internet is down, remember who will still be able to do computations.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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