Finland schools: raising the overall educational scores by helping the students with the most troubles

There is much angst in the United States regarding the education system and how its students compare to those of other countries. Time presents a different kind of model in Finland (which they oppose to “tiger mothering“) where there is less concern for stardom and more interest in helping the lower kids succeed:

In the ’80s, Finland stopped “streaming” pupils to different math and language tracks based on ability. “People in Finland cannot be divided by how smart they are,” says Laukkanen. “It has been very beneficial.”…

“Finland is a society based on equity,” says Laukkanen. “Japan and Korea are highly competitive societies — if you’re not better than your neighbor, your parents pay to send you to night school. In Finland, outperforming your neighbor isn’t very important. Everybody is average, but you want that average to be very high.” (See 20 back-to-school gadgets.)

This principle has gone far toward making Finland an educational overachiever. In the 2006 PISA science results, Finland’s worst students did 80% better than the OECD average for the worst group; its brightest did only 50% better than the average for bright students. “Raising the average for the bottom rungs has had a profound effect on the overall result,” says MacIsaac.

This is an interesting statistical point as there are two ways a country could go about raising the mean. Instead of trying to raise the average score by putting resources into the gifted or smartest students, the strategy in Finland is to instead raise the bottom group to a higher point.

From reading this article, it sounds like this is possible because of a particular set of cultural values that prizes community or equity over competition. Of course, some might argue that this might not be great for society: where are the next innovators or geniuses going to come from if they aren’t pushed harder? But one could argue on the other side that more help and success for the lower students (who used to be shunted off into lower track classes) helps limit later societal problems and instead promotes a more well-rounded and less bifurcated work force and citizenry.