The best schools in the world

While you are sitting in school and thinking about how difficult your classes are, students in other parts of the world would think your courses are the easiest thing they have ever done.

Studies say that where you go to school matters — a lot. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Finnish school system is one of the best in the world.

Being from Finland, I have enjoyed one of the “best educational programs in the world” for more than 10 years, but I never quite understood why our system was such a success. Finnish high school students don’t necessarily do homework because most of the teachers don’t care whether you have done it. They don’t need a pass to go to the bathroom or permission to go home if they’re feeling bored in the middle of a school day. While students here go to school 35 hours a week without exception, Finnish students go to school for 25-35 hours per week, with 15-minute breaks after classes. How is it possible that Finnish students learn more?

After a couple of weeks of sitting in an Algebra 2 classroom at Northwest, I began to wonder how we would ever get everything done when we were moving through the material so slowly. The teacher explained everything from the easiest to the hardest exercise, which felt surreal. In Finland, students work together to figure out how to solve problems. Here I just have to sit alone and copy everything the teacher is writing on the board (concepts and problems I studied years ago).

I also had to get used to the fact that I actually have to do my homework so I can maintain my grades, not just wait for the final, which in many classes is 100 percent of the grade in Finland.

Slowly I started to realize all the good things about the Finnish school system. Schedule changes five times a year mean we go through more material in less time. You never get bored with your schedule either, because as soon as you get used to it, it’s time to change. Finnish high school students can also plan their schedule by themselves, so we can arrange some free hours in the middle of the day or take classes that start later so we can go school at 10 a.m. or even later.

We have so much more freedom there that sometimes I feel like I am in prison here. In Finland, nobody is watching over your shoulder to see if you get bad grades or telling you what to do. You are responsible for your own success, and if you fail, well, you have to take the course again or, if you fail too many courses, you can’t graduate.

This is not a problem in Finland, because we don’t have to go to high school. After ninth grade, you can go in many different directions, and a lot of young students choose schools where they learn to be a police officer, a chef or a fireman. That means that high school is your own choice; no one is forcing you to go there and study. Teachers expect that you want to be there and you want to learn, and this kind of attitude makes me, and, I guess, other students, feel more responsible for their success.

The biggest difference I’ve found is the trust between students and teachers. In Finland, we can go home without telling anyone; we can be late to class and teachers believe our excuses without any proof. There is no such thing as detention or Saturday school. If you need to go to the bathroom, you go to the bathroom. If you want to eat in the classroom, you eat in the classroom. If the teacher asks you if did you do your homework, you can say, “No, because I was too tired,” and they will say, “Try to do it next time.” If the teacher gets done with the class before the bell rings, they let us go to the hall or go home, because they trust that we will be quiet. I have no clue how we have earned that trust, but it seems to work: When we are responsible for ourselves and we know that teachers trust us, we actually do our work and get good grades. I haven’t never been in a situation in my Finnish high school where the teacher would have to punish one of the students.

I can’t say that there aren’t any negatives in the Finnish education system. Working together with other students in the classroom makes them really noisy and wild, and if the teacher can’t keep it together, it is a disaster. Many times, students run the classroom, not the teacher.

Even though I see now why the Finnish school system is so good, I still think there is something our schools in Finland could learn from high schools in United States. I can’t describe how much I love all the different classes I can choose from here at Northwest. It’s forcing me to make tough decisions when I have to choose which of the classes I’m going to take because I want to take them all. The best thing is the school spirit: T-shirts and other clothes, sports teams and games, school colors and a mascot — I’m talking about the fact that people are actually proud of their school. In Finland, school is the place where you go to classes and then you just go home. Life is outside of the school. It’s a shame that researchers of the best school systems don’t test school spirit: I bet the United States would be the winner.