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Re: [xmca] Finland

Antti, a couple of questions:
(1) Do you agree with Rauno Huttenen's points about Finland's education system being the outcome of the struggle of social movements? (Note Luc Boltanski's study of the outcome of the Paris 1968 movements, where he showed that such outcomes can be perverse!) (2) Do you think that your observations about the fact that pupils learn about social action but did not get to practice it, means (1) that Finnish education suffers from "encapsulation" like schools elsewhere? (2) is not important - they're only kids after all, and is overcome in late adolesence, (3) is reflected in the nature of Finnish society in some way?

Antti Rajala wrote:

I have not read Finnish Lessons but reading the Guardian article, I can
align with Pasi Sahlberg in the points he makes in the article about the
success and equity of Finnish comprehensive school.

Yet, one weakness in Finnish comprehensive school is a strong emphasis on
epistemic aspects of learning, at the expense of ontological and
socio-emotional aspects. I and my colleagues have pointed this out, as
follows (see,

”…One indication of this lack of agentic experiences is that, despite the
successes of the Finnish education system in international assessments
(OECD, 2010), a recent survey reported that a third of Finnish secondary
school students did not know how to take part in decision-making at school
and, when they did take part, their opinions were not taken into account in
school development (School Health Promotion Study, 2011). Furthermore, in
international comparisons, Finnish students are ranked highly in societal
knowledge and competence, but they are not taking part in politics or
public affairs in general (Schulz, Ainley, Fraillon, Kerr, and Losito,

In line with this critique, a recent political debate in Finnish media
concerns the high number of drop outs that do not continue schooling after
the compulsory nine years. Recently, our minister of education proposed
that as a resolution, compulsory schooling should be extended with one year.

As Jaana pointed out, there are social and political forces that threaten
the equitability of the system. For example, in recent years media has
reported that instead of putting their children to the nearest school
(”lähikoulu” in Finnish), which has been very common, parents have
increasingly started to avoid schools with a large proportion of immigrant
Nonetheless, despite these critiques I am a strong advocate of Finnish
educational policy, in particular, with respect to educational equity.
Jaana, I am aware that parents’ educational background still designates
children’s educational future in Finland, to a large extent. But is there a
comparative study that tells us what is the situation in other countries
and what are the similarities and difference to the Finnish situation?

I also think that there is no easy way of replicating the ”best practices”
in other countries since educational outcomes are very much a consequence
of larger socio-cultural-historical influences. Reijo Miettinen has
recently published a book that discusses this topic in a thorough way:

Miettinen, Reijo (2013). Innovation, human capabilities and democracy.
Towards an enabling welfare state. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Overall, the book analyzes and discusses innovation policies and welfare in
more general terms, and proposes a new concept of enabling welfare state.
As an example, Miettinen conducts a CHAT analysis of Finnish comprehensive
school and its special education system in the light of the PISA
success. Partly overlapping with Sahlberg, Miettinen discusses several
inter-related explanations.

1) The Finnish language and population
2) The political history of Finland
3) The late economic transformation of the country and the need to
integrate of the population
4) The popularity and esteem enjoyed by the teaching profession as well as
the university-level education of teachers
5) The decentralized, trust-based governance of the comprehensive school
6) Special education systems based on the early recognition of learning
difficulties and the immediate provision of support for them

Then, Miettinen goes on to analyse the historical emergence and development
of the Finnish comprehensive school. For example, he shows how a system of
streaming students into separate tracks developed into a crisis which was
resolved by replacing the streaming system with a student care and special
education system. Initially, in the streaming system the students were
grouped into two or three levels in mathematics, the second national
language (Swedish) and foreign languages in grades 5-9.

After this Miettinen discusses how a supporting system emerged to support
special education teachers in their work of dealing with diversity of
students. He argues that the foundations of professional expertise of the
special education teachers were provided in the development of diagnostic
tools, remedial materials and pedagogical solutions. These
instrumentalities in turn crucially rely on the development of
multiorganizational field of special education and the forms of interactive
learning among various organizations supporting the work of special
education teachers.

This analysis shows the interdependency of the explanations 5) and 6)
above. Miettinen argues that the richness of distributed agency and
initiative to form new associations within the field is possible because of
the autonomy of the agents in the field. A strict national control would
have directed the efforts of the field in predetermined directions and
would not have stimulated the emergence of new associations, experiments,
sets of tools and complementary expertise within the field. Thus, the
change to the decentralized, trust-based governance of the comprehensive
school system stimulated the initiative and interaction between various


On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 7:48 PM, Andrew Babson <ababson@umich.edu> wrote:

Re teachers: on pp. 94-95 on *Finnish Lessons, *Sahlberg says that Finnish
teacher ed. does a good job of approaching the Deweyan ideal of
teacher-as-researcher. By obtaining both a content-area and educational
research master's degree, teachers are given the knowledge and
meaning-making habits they need to make autonomous decisions about
curriculum and pedagogy. They are also encouraged to cooperate with their
fellow teachers, which fosters support.  But with Jaana's post, I should
underline that I am merely describing what is written in *Finnish Lessons*.

Jaana, thank you for your comments and descriptions of Finnish
educational-political history, and reminding us of inevitable
imperfections. It's good to know that it neither came easy, nor is it
destined to continue on cruise control; it either happened overnight nor
emerged without real struggle. Rauno's background on the role of the
Agrarian Party was helpful for understanding this too, and Sahlberg does go
into a good bit of detail on this.

I guess my big question is whether Sahlberg is misrepresenting the reality
of Finnish education to such an extent that no excitement or hope is
warranted? He wouldn't be the first writer to gild the lily for the sake of
generating buzz. I think the popularity of the book comes from a need we
have here for some good news about public education. Public school is
actually under attack here in Philadelphia, as it is in Chicago, Detroit
and elsewhere. Not-so-crypto-privatization is apace through the growth of
charter schools. Any good model of public education is valuable for us if
we want to fight against these trends. I have a hard time seeing how key
improvements to the Finnish system over the past 30 or so years are not far
superior to the NCLB-inspired waves of "reform" over the past decade or so.

That said, we don't need a fairy tale. There were plenty of critiques to
make about Sahlberg's book on its own (my students offered plenty). But I
would like to use the book again alongside some published critiques.
Suggestions welcome!

Thanks again,


On Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 7:45 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

The Guardian article:
very interesting in fact! Jaana, Antti, Jaakko, and the other Finns on
this list. What do you make of the analysis given in this article?


Jaana Pirkkalainen wrote:


this is a comment on this topic. It seems a bit odd and strangely funny
to read this discussion on Finnish educational system. That's beacause I
myself have lived through the development (or non-development) of it,
as a child and then as a mother.Not that much has happend since my
years in the 1960's and -70's comparing the exeperience of my son's path
and struggling some ten years back.

Firstly one should distinguishe the political struggle for the change of
doubleschooling system during the 1960's and -70's. And then the
tangled with teachers education.

Until 1968 Finland had a doubleschooling system. Children entered school
at the age of seven (as still is the case) and went trhough for next
grades together in "kansakoulu" (meaning some what like nationschool).
there was the split to either grammar school (in Finnish oppikoulu)
were mostly private schools, with few exceptions (state schools) and to
"kansalaiskoulu" (no English translation for that, meaning citizens
which was a continuum of "kansakoulu" for next four years.

Grammar school was private school leading to higher education, and
"kansalaiskoulu" was towards vocational education. So working class
children went to "kansalaiskoulu" and then straight to work or
education to become joiners, auto mechanics, waitresses and so on. And
upper and middle class children went to grammar schools, then to high
and then to universites or second grade vocational schools and became
nurses, engineers and so on.

1968 law of Primary school was established and in 1972 started the
implementation of the law.

But it was not the good will of the teachers, or professors of education
that made it happen. It was a strong leftist struggle for equal rights
every kid to educate themselves, and also still the postwar situation of
the nation in some sense too. (Everybody of course knows Finland's
brother-in arms- relation with the Third Reich and the defeat in 1944
then peace treaty with the Soviet Union)

The opposition for the primary school act was harsh, and the teachers
education was tangled with that backlash. The business elite, some
professors of education and right wing politicians set up a foundation
called Support Foundation for Free Schooling (Vapaan koulutuksen
tukisäätiö), which had its primary reestablish private schools, testing
assesment. They did this by influencing the teachers education system.
Foundation ceased operating in 1991. By then they had been able to
the course of the development of Finnish educational system at least in
three levels. Firstly they were able to intervene the selection of the
students for teacher education in universities, secondly they had a
hold of the educational departments and thirdly they managed to take
most of the educational admiministration.

This is a very short and brief overview of post-war Finland, the main
poin being that Finnish sosciety is still or again struggling the same
issues as back then. The romanticizing "branding" of Finland or its
educational system is *not* -- for many parts -- true today.Or has ever

Socioeconomical status and residential area are linked the overall well
being of children as they are all over the world. But what is quite
incompatible with the goals and intentions for the Primary School Act in
1968 -- parents education still designate their childrens educational
vocational path.

So Finland with its educational system is not a dream land. Sorry to
disappoint you folks, the struggle goes on!

- Jaana

*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts