Finland “only country…students leave…innovation ready” a big call. Some thoughts from my own experiences

“…it is the only country where students leave high schools “innovation ready”

I have visited schools in Finland on numerous occasions now. I have found a hardworking nation – the community, its students and teachers – with a commitment to attaining high educational outcomes. Finland is definitely a nation the ‘punches above its weight’. But, with respect to my own relatives and professional friends, I have not found an education system that is particularly innovative, as I observed the day-to-day life of school.

So when I read the opinion piece by Thomas Friedman that is currently published in the newspapers in the world’s major cities, I am puzzled. I have incredible respect for Thomas Friedman and Tony Wagner. The premise of the piece is excellent:

More school leavers are going to have to invent a job rather than find one. Schools must equip them for the challenge.

Friedman picks Wagner’s brains on what needs to happen:

The goal of education today should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” – ready to add value to whatever they do.

Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course, but they will need skills and motivation even more… Young people who are intrinsically motivated – curious, persistent and willing to take risks will learn new knowledge and skills continuously.

I couldn’t agree more. The myth of the university/college degree as a ticket to the future career is now dispelled, as many young people are highly qualified, yet under-employed. We need to do all we can to teach, equip and engage them in order to follow passions and dreams and find innovative solutions to world problems. The way we repackage learning is crucial to that end.

Then Friedman asks: Who is doing it right?

Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world and it is the only country where students leave high schools “innovation ready”.

This big statement is based on the following information:

They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have choice of many electives – with a shorter school day, little homework and almost no testing.

That is the case, as well as teacher autonomy and community respect, local school decision-making, high level of competitiveness to enter the profession and high PISA results. But do these elements actually translate into students leaving high school “innovation ready”? I have not observed repackaged learning.

Do high results in PISA testing equate to “innovation ready” students?

In my visits to ordinary, everyday school I observed little that showed me innovative methods and practices. The wifi test on my iphone found no wireless networks in the schools. Teaching was textbook and teacher-talk dependent. Technology was predominantly desktop computers and the only school I saw with ipads was an automotive vocational college, with the most innovative educators of all that I saw.

Observing secondary classes, students were taught in traditional methods by teachers, those ways that present knowledge to pass tests. At the end of the senior years students spend a huge amount of time cramming for 6 hour exams.

I also went to an educators conference, run by the OECD and universities, enduring long lectures and very dull and indiscernable powerpoints. These people were responsible for educating the future teachers.

Sometimes I wonder, what will happen when Finland is no longer top of the PISA tree. I think the national education marketers, who have done an outstanding job in promoting the qualities of the Finnish education system will need to move to Shanghai or Singapore.


3 thoughts on “Finland “only country…students leave…innovation ready” a big call. Some thoughts from my own experiences

  1. Good article again.
    Having listened to others and educational articles I too thought Finland was more innovative. I am sure they are with little homework and little testing till later. Try that in Australia and see what happens. If at the end, no wifi, text books and dull lecturers, why do you and others continue to go back to Finland?


  2. Thomas Friedman is a starry-eyed dreamer, with little (no) connection to reality. He makes grandiose statements about “innovation ready” students and “flat worlds” that are fantasies. I don’t understand why the NY Times continues to provide him a platform for his childish imaginings. But any of us who are serious thinkers should quickly learn to ignore him.


  3. I would say that the question is not about the innovativeness of the teaching methods themselves. You don’t need iPads and Wifis to teach students critical thinking, ability to find out new solutions and thinking out of the box. As a product of the Finnish educational system, the most important lesson I learned in the school was the continuous desire to learn new things – all the time. Learning to learn. The tools are just tools for the critically thinking mind.

    However, the high PISA results, I would suggest, are mostly due to the extremely equal and free for everyone school system which focuses on bringing everybody on board. Super talented are not getting special treatment – instead, the left-behind (for any reason, incl. financial, illness, parent related problems, recession) are supported to get back on the track. The education and the social security system supports the unlucky to get back on their feet again. The PISA scores in Finland, above all, tell about the performance of the average with a very low deviation.


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