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Part II. Comparison of Finnish and American Education

Editor’s Note: For Part I, turn to  CEI’s April 29, 2014 blog.  Both the interview on April 29 and the one today provide the perspective of Finnish citizens and parents, and may not necessarily represent the opinions of educators.

By Emilios Campos, CEI Intern. My interview today was with Ms. Haishaken, who was raised in Finland, has a child in a Virginia school, and currently  manages a travel agency in Virginia. Ms. Haishaken began with praise for what is often considered an under-funded subject in the American school system–the arts. She  mentioned that she really appreciated the focus that American schools have on art and music education:  ‘In Finland we are very artistic, we have a lot of music festivals, but I think it comes as a hobby, whereas in America it is part of the curriculum.’  She also reinforced Ms. Heinonen’s (see April 29 blog) observation that Finnish schools are geared towards giving their students more comprehensive knowledge of the world and different cultures. This included memorizing the capital cities of the United States and all of the African nations, and study of the various religions of the world as cultural phenomena.

The most illuminating part of our conversation related to the role that parents play in their children’s education.  ‘In Finland we have Parents’ Nights where you meet your children’s teacher maybe once or twice a year, but that’s it.  For the most part children interact exclusively with their teachers.’  As surprised as I was by this, what was more intriguing was Ms. Haiskanen’s preference for the less-involved Finnish model. She presented several reasons for less parental involvement in schools as we entered into an extended discussion of the consequences of parental involvement, whether or not its necessity is made explicit.

One of the most obvious consequences of building relationships among students and teachers, with less parental involvement, is that this may work better for some students than others. In the U.S., students who struggle academically often benefit from parental assistance with homework; however, in Finland, most teachers have an extensive background in making accommodations for individual students.   The Finnish approach also levels out some of the disparities that can occur when some parents have more wealth and resources than others.  ‘This is your children’s time to build their independence.’  As Ms. Haiskanen states, school provides an excellent opportunity for children to develop their own “sense of self,” and excessive parental involvement can sometimes have the unintended effect of thwarting the child’s preferences due to parental wishes. Greater parental involvement can also lead to advantages for students whose parents can afford to spend more time participating in their children’s education.

I had expected Ms. Haiskanen to prefer the amount of participation expected of American parents — particularly because educators in America stress the importance of home-school relations, but she quickly shot down this assumption in favor of the Finnish system in which the teachers have an expanded role to play in education.  She pointed out that children from higher income households will have parents with more free time to devote to participating in their education, whether it be meeting with teachers or helping them with schoolwork.  Further, these parents will have the option of paying for private tutors in order to supplement their children’s academic development.  According to Ms. Haiskanen, the use of private tutors was not prevalent in Finland, as students who were in need of extra attention were the responsibility of the teachers themselves.

I suspect that the different levels of responsibility between teachers in America and Finland is related to the requirements to become a teacher and the esteem garnered by being an educator.  In Finland, the top students enter the teaching profession and the expectation is that these professionals know their craft and can make the best decisions without extensive oversight.


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