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Minister of Education demands that the Finnish comprehensive school be updated as Finland plunges in PISA rankings.

GROANS and calls for updates were among the first reactions to Finland's drop from the top spots in an international assessment of the competencies of 15-year-old students. After emerging as the wonderland of education over the past ten years, the country's score in mathematics declined by 25 points, more than any other country topping the ranking in 2003.

There are now more students who struggle in mathematics and less students who excel in it. Similarly, the reading skills of 15-year-old Finns have deteriorated and now also show a wide gender gap.

Overall, Finland ranked 12th in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Comments in the vein of “not a surprise” and “what did I tell you” were in abundance on Tuesday, but thus far no one has been able to offer an plausible explanation.

The publication of the very first PISA results in 2001 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development stirred a similar reaction. The results indicated that Finland was the only country to rank in the top five in reading, mathematics and science.

The results came as a surprise, and no one was quite sure how it had happened. For the comprehensive school system, begot in the 1960s, had been berated for favouring uniformity and, overall, deemed wretched.

But as the streak of Finnish students in the competency comparison continued, Finns gradually began believing in the excellence of teacher education in Finland and, first and foremost, the potency of the nine-year comprehensive school.

Both Asian and European countries have since come to Finland to study the education system first hand.

In recent years, competitive countries and regions in Asia have picked up the pace. Similarly, the scores of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia have improved. Despite its regression, Finland remains the outstanding Nordic country, with especially Sweden's PISA results nosediving.

Nor is Finland alone: among others, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium and Canada backtracked in the 2012 ranking.

One feasible explanation is that for young people in affluent Western countries, school is no longer a priority – at least not a school with outdated teaching methods and technologies.

Krista Kiuru (SDP), the Minister of Education, consequently believes the Finnish comprehensive school should be updated to today's standards. At least equality and students' motivation should be enhanced.

Kiuru speaks of new learning, but exactly what it entails, in addition to increasing the use of information technology, remains unclear. The minister is not willing to re-consider the distribution of lesson hours, thus suggesting new subjects and changes in the curriculum are not on the table.

In accordance with the distribution of lesson hours approved some 18 months ago, new curricula are currently under preparation and are to be introduced in the autumn of 2016.

“We must roll up our sleeves,” says Kiuru, inviting everyone, including the opposition, to mull over how to preserve also the interest of boys in Eastern Finland in learning.

For while the overall results indicate that regional differences in the skills of Finnish students are narrower than ever, boys in Eastern and Northern Finland seem to have found other interests besides school.

Marjukka Liiten – Helsingin Sanomat
Aleksi Teivainen – Helsinki Times
© Helsingin Sanomat
SARI GUSTAFSSON / LEHTIKUVA

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