What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

An interesting piece in the February 29th Wall Street Journal examines the differences between the US educational system and that of Finland, which consistently places far above the USA on an international academic test (The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA.) Finnish students earned some of the top scores by 15 year-old students who were tested in 57 countries, while American students finished among the world’s C students. In this test, the average score was 500 out of a possible 1000 points. Finland’s scores were Science, 563, Math 548, and Reading 547. Canada’s scores were 534, 527, and 527, and the USA’s were 489, 474, and 495, respectively. When officials from the US Dept. of Education visited Finland to see what they could learn about their educational system, they discovered that Finnish teachers’ salaries are comparable to those of American teachers, but they have considerably more freedom and discretion in choosing books and customizing lessons for their students than their American counterparts. Apparently in Finland, there is little standardized testing, no gifted classes, and kids don’t even start school til the age of seven. Oh, and college tuition is zero.

The article goes on to say:

“One explanation for the Finns’ success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.”


So, if we want a nation of readers, it appears that all that we need to do is test the kids less and let them read more. Comments?