Commentary

In teachers they trust

TODAY Special Report: Finland's Education System
In Finland, there are no national exams until the age of 18. Private tuition is also unheard of. Yet, Finnish students frequently excel in international tests. TODAY Senior Reporter Ng Jing Yng spoke to Finnish educators about the success of their education system.
Every Finnish school is a good school, because every teacher is highly-trained and qualified. In a two-part special report, we look at the secrets of Finland’s education model.
Published: 3:59 AM, March 4, 2013
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Asked how he assesses his teachers, Mr Matti Koivusalo shrugs matter-of-factly that he has “no means” to do so. “There is no evaluation whatsoever for teachers. Everything is based on trust,” says the Principal of Haaga Comprehensive School in Helsinki.

Indeed, the “open” school culture means any feedback quickly reaches his ears, says Mr Koivusalo, who looks after 50 teachers and 600 pupils in grades one through nine (the equivalent of Primary 1 to Secondary 3 in Singapore).

It is easy to see how: Along the school’s hallway, pupils look up from their mobile phones and greet him as he walks past; some engage him in friendly banter. At the school cafeteria where free lunches are served daily — an established practice at all Finnish schools — teachers join him for lunch and chat about how their day has gone.

Said Mr Koivusalo: “If something bad happens, I’ll hear about it in five minutes … The atmosphere is such that (students and teachers) can come and talk about it freely without being afraid.”

Even so, sackings are rare in Finnish schools, say educators. Mr Vesa Valkila, one of the principals at Turku University teacher training school, tried to explain: “Finnish teachers have a lot of freedom and are trusted … that really motivates a lot of them to do their best.”

LEFT TO TEACH

In Finland, a small country of 5.4 million people, its education system operates on this singular principle of trust.

The country’s model shot to global attention after Finnish pupils repeatedly excelled in international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment — despite having practically no mandated standardised exams, rankings or competition.

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