7 Ways Finland Gets Education Right


Ever since the results from the 2000 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) revealed Finland’s educational superiority, Americans have developed something of an obsession with pointing out the differences between our pre-college education systems—how Finland is doing it all right and America is falling behind. But what exactly are the main differences that contribute to Finland’s success? 

1.Public schools get the money they need.

Unlike in the U.S., public schools in Finland aren’t competing for money. There aren’t monetary incentives for teaching directly to standardized tests, they aren’t outsourcing funding to non-profit organizations, and money is distributed fairly equally among all schools, regardless of location.

2.  It’s not easy to become a teacher.

Fresh faced college graduates aren’t being sent out to shape the minds of Finland’s children. All teachers—except kindergarteners—must complete a highly competitive Master’s program. The teacher education program is fully subsidized and more selective than both law and medical schools.

3. But being a teacher is worth it.

On average, teachers spend four hours a day in the classroom, giving them more time to plan lessons, provide students with extra help, and participate in the weekly teacher development requirements. Teachers are paid well, and even though it’s still a predominantly female profession, it’s not looked down upon or undervalued. They even get paid maternity leave.

4. No yearly standardized testing.

Students are required to take just one national standardized test and that comes at the end of general upper secondary education. Until then, teachers are in charge of incorporating assessments into lessons and fostering students’ ability to self-assess.

5. Classes are smaller.

Instead of expecting teachers to control classes of 30 or more students, classes in Finland are limited to no more than 20 students. With fewer students to monitor, teachers can ensure that students are performing at the appropriate levels before they graduate on to the next grade. If they’re not, then teachers also have the time and resources to provide them with extra guidance—including special teachers whose job it is to work with struggling students.

6. Education professionals are responsible for designing the curriculum.

The National Finnish Board of Education designs the core curriculum, but teachers and districts are able to work within the framework provided to create their own unique plan of study. Teachers are trusted to implement the necessary criteria and are not subjected to national assessments.

7. Kids get to be kids.

Younger students get more time for recess—75 minutes, not 25—and get a 15-minute break between each class. They also take classes in art and music and participate in interactive, hands-on learning. Students don’t start pre-primary education until they’re 6 years old and begin their primary education at 7.

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Ciao, Roma! Alitalia Is Offering Free Stopovers in 2018

If you’ve been eyeing a trip to Rome, now’s your chance. The airline Alitalia is now offering passengers free stopovers in the Italian capital, allowing them to stay for up to three days before continuing on in their itinerary, as Condé Nast Traveler reports.

There are a few catches: You’ll need to book both your departure and return flights through Alitalia, somewhat limiting your choice of airports. The airline’s website is currently showing the stopover promotion only for flights out of India, South Africa, and Kenya, even though it technically applies to all Alitalia flights, according to Frommer’s—meaning you’ll have to pick up the phone and call to book if you’re located elsewhere. And if you’re American, you’ll have to take your Roman holiday on your outbound flight, since the stopovers don’t apply on flights headed back to North America.

On the bright side, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport will hold your luggage during your extra-long layover, so if you’re headed on a monthlong trip to India, you won’t need to lug all of your suitcases around the city. You will also qualify for discounts on some Roman hotels.

Several other airlines have used free stopover options as a way to encourage tourism in their home country, including the Portuguese national airline TAP and Icelandair, whose uber-successful stopover program has contributed to a tourism boom so big that the Icelandic government has started considering new taxes to handle it.

The Alitalia promotion lasts through the end of 2018.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]


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