Existe un gran interés en los países occidentales, y en especial en EEUU, por las razones del éxito del modelo educativo finlandés, especialmente después de los buenos resultados de sus estudiantes en la prueba PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) de la OCDE que evalua las competencias en lectura, matemáticas y ciencia de jóvenes de 15 años de todo el mundo (los resultados de 2009, como los de años anteriores, colocan a Finlandia en las primeras posiciones mientras EEUU o España aparecen en puestos intermedios). Este interés está convirtiendo a Finlandia, sus escuelas y sus instituciones en lugares de peregrinación para todos aquellos interesados en la transformación de los sistemas educativos.
El problema con que se encuentran los que buscan en Finlandia soluciones es que su sistema se basa en elementos estratégicos totalmente contrarios a los que se han utilizado en las políticas de reforma educativa de la mayor parte de países occidentales, lo que suele provocar perplejidad y cierta incapacidad para aprender de esta experiencia. Así, en Finlandia la competencia (entre estudiantes y entre centros), la evaluación y la búsqueda de la excelencia (o la calidad) han sido, de algún modo, desterradas de su sistema educativo. Por otra parte no se concentran en las competencias consideradas básicas y "fuertes" (como matemáticas y lengua) y dedican mucho tiempo a actividades de aprendizaje activo individual y en equipo basadas en "hacer".
Por otra parte, en Finlandia se cuida especialmente la educación no universitaria, y en particular los primeros años de vida escolar. Los profesores cuentan con una elevada reputación social, excelentes condiciones laborales y una gran responsabilidad (lo que provoca un elevado grado de involucración y un alto esfuerzo en su propia formación). Por último el sistema es público en su práctica totalidad, de modo que dicho de otro modo no se ha externalizado la gestión de un ámbito que se considera clave en el desarrollo socio-económico.
Pasi Sahlberg, director del Center for International Mobility del Ministerio de Educación finlandés ha publicado en 2011 (Teachers College Press) el libro Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, donde documenta y analiza en profundidad estos aspectos de la educación de su país. Tanto este autor como otros aclaran que el caso finlandés no puede entenderse como una receta cerrada a seguir y cada país debe diseñar sus políticas a partir de sus propias condiciones (por ejemplo, la educación pública finlandesa es consencuencia de su historia política).
A continuación recojo algunos extractos de tres artículos recientes publicados en EEUU sobre el sistema educativo finlandés; los dos primeros se centran en una reciente visita de Sahlberg a EEUU para discutir las posibilidades de transformación del sistema norteamericano a partir de la experiencia finlandesa.
1. What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success – The Atlantic
… Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.
… Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.
… Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?
The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.
For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.
Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.
Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.
In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.
2. From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model – The New York Times
“The first six years of education are not about academic success,” he said. “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”
… It was not meant to claim that Finland’s way was the best way, he said, and he was quick to caution against countries’ trying to import ideas à la carte and then expecting results.
“Don’t try to apply anything,” he told the Dwight teachers. “It won’t work because education is a very complex system.”
Besides high-quality teachers, Dr. Sahlberg pointed to Finland’s Lutheran leanings, almost religious belief in equality of opportunity, and a decision in 1957 to require subtitles on foreign television as key ingredients to the success story.
He emphasized that Finland’s success is one of basic education, from age 7 until 16, at which point 95 percent of the country goes on to vocational or academic high schools. “The primary aim of education is to serve as an equalizing instrument for society,” he said.
Dr. Sahlberg said another reason the system had succeeded was that “only dead fish follow the stream” — a Finnish expression.
Finland is going against the tide of the “global education reform movement,” which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control.
“Education policies here are always written to be ‘the best’ or ‘the top this or that,’ ” he said. “We’re not like that. We want to be better than the Swedes. That’s enough for us.”
3. The Children Must Play – The New Republic
… In comparison to the United States and many other industrialized nations, the Finns have implemented a radically different model of educational reform—based on a balanced curriculum and professionalization, not testing. Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts—75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.—but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions …
The Finnish approach to pedagogy is also distinct. In grades seven through nine, for instance, classes in science—the subject in which Finnish students have done especially well on PISA—are capped at 16 so students may do labs each lesson. And students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles. These classes provide natural venues for learning math and science, nurture critical cooperative skills, and implicitly cultivate respect for people who make their living working with their hands.
… But perhaps most striking on the list of what makes Finland’s school system unique is that the country has deliberately rejected the prevailing standardization movement. While nations around the world introduced heavy standardized testing regimes in the 1990s, the Finnish National Board of Education concluded that such tests would consume too much instructional time, cost too much to construct, proctor, and grade, and generate undue stress. The Finnish answer to standardized tests has been to give exams to small but statistically significant samples of students and to trust teachers—so much so that the National Board of Education closed its inspectorate in 1991. Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.