Finnish universities may not sit atop conventional university rankings, but they produce graduates with better literacy skills than universities in many other countries, suggest test results published in Education at a Glance 2016, an annual report about the state of education around the world by the OECD.
The conventional rankings, typically based on factors such as reputation and research output, are domineered by universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, but the test results of graduates tell a rather different story of the quality of education and, in fact, the entire education system of a country.
For it is not the usual suspects that rise to the top, but Japan, Finland and the Netherlands – countries that fare well also in another series of tests conducted by the OECD, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Finnish learners do so despite having fewer hours of instruction than peers anywhere else in the OECD, to the bafflement of decision-makers and vexation of learners worldwide.
Finland could owe its status as a technology superpower to its education system
“How do Finnish youngsters spend less time in school, get less homework and still come out with some of the best results in the world?” Sean Coughlan, an education correspondent for the BBC, asked in a recent article.
The OECD believes the key to be the trust and professional autonomy enjoyed by teachers in Finland.
“The national core curriculum is really a framework rather than a roadmap, leaving teachers an enormous amount of discretion to interpret that framework, select their own textbooks and other curriculum materials, and then design their own lessons,” it points out.
Another key is the country's commitment, which has continued despite changes of government, to a political consensus achieved half-a-decade ago – “that children should be educated together in a common school system.”
It may not be the only recipe for success, as evidenced by the less laid-back approaches adopted in Singapore and South Korea, but it is a recipe that has helped create one of the most technologically talented workforces in the world.
The OECD defines literacy as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential.”