Study questions buzz over Finnish education system

Study questions buzz over Finnish education system

The Finnish education system is often heralded as the international benchmark of standards, but new research suggests the high regard in which it is held is based on cultural components of their system – not actual results.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have analysed the cross-national attraction within the media discourse around the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results and found the focus on Finland’s system continues unabated, despite the nation’s decline in real scores.

The study’s co-author Dr Rachel Wilson from the Sydney School of Education and Social Work suggests that this might be partly attributable to the appeal of the Finnish system on other levels.

The research examined the ways in which the largest circulation English language newspapers in Australia, Finland, Japan, and South Korea wrote about other nation’s results between 2001 and 2015.

While Finnish reporting focused mainly internally, the other three nations demonstrated a cross-national attraction towards the Finnish system.

“The research showed that positive references to Finland’s results were very widespread in the other countries,” Dr Wilson said.

“Countries such as Japan and Korea are showing strong results in PISA, but reporting on these systems also points to the amount of stress these systems put on students to achieve high results.”

By contrast, says Dr Wilson, reporting on Finnish results often talks about that system’s focus on teacher professional development, education research, and sustainable education.

“The media writes about PISA results as though they are convinced about the legitimacy and importance of this assessment,” Dr Wilson said.

“But the fact that Finland’s results, although strong, are declining, and yet they remain the focus of reporting on what excellence in education looks like, offers a strange dichotomy.”

Dr Wilson said the initial focus on the Finnish system began because the country was performing particularly well on these forms of assessment.

“The continuing focus may be because their system is culturally attractive,” she said.