Finland made official the results of the International Student Assessment Program 2015, known as PISA, on December 6th 2016. PISA is a three-year international survey aimed at assessing basic education systems throughout the world. In 2015, 73 countries were evaluated. The first PISA was published in the year 2000, so this is the sixth edition.
Finland has always held a prominent position on PISA, which evaluates the general knowledge of 15-year-olds in science, mathematics and reading literacy. Every three years the emphasis of the tests are in one of these subjects so to be fair when comparing results, you should always do it with the year when the emphasis was the same.
Since the first PISA, Finland has remained at the top being among the very first until 2009. In 2012, we felt the first major fall in mathematic literacy (from 1st to 6th among the OECD members and from 1st to 12th in the general ranking) – in the other subjects there was no significant drop in that year.
In 2015, however, despite the 3rd place in mathematic literacy and the 2nd in reading literacy among the OECD members, and respectively, the 5th and the 4th in these same subjects in the general ranking, the drop in science literacy compared to 2006, when this subject was in focus, was considerable: from 1st to 7th among the OECD countries and from 1st to 13th in the general ranking. In this link you can check the general results of Finland in each year of PISA.
It is important to mention that the questionnaires answered by the students do not only contain questions related to school subjects but they also analyze socioeconomic data, gender equality, how stimulated students are, regional equity in education, learning equity among native and foreign students or native with foreign background, besides other things. Therefore, PISA results show much more than data concerning the quality of education, they provide tools for analyzing whether the problems which educational systems present have their roots in the quality of education, or if the results are affected more by socioeconomic reality and psychological factors. You can get more accurate information about PISA and even access the test models in this link.
For the results of 2015, 168 Finnish schools from north to south of the country participated in the test with 6,431 students being evaluated.
But what has PISA been showing to Finland? Has the quality of teaching declined in the last 15 years?
I do not believe this hypothesis. I raise the flag that Finnish teachers maintain their excellency and that the education system is still one of the best in the world, however, I believe the recent results show how much the economic crisis and the changes Finnish society has been through have been affecting young people’s efficiency and encouragement. Something really to think about.
WHAT DOES THE DROP ON PISA SHOW US:
Socioeconomic problems – Those who follow the Finnish news know that we have been facing an economic crisis with very complex challenges (I wrote about it here). The PISA 2015 found that parents cultural background and family income, for the first time, significantly affected the overall student´s achievements; an important warning which shows clearly that Finland´s quality of life has declined. This makes enough sense as one of the explanations for the drop in the results, especially if we realize that 2009 is not only the year when the actual crisis began to get stronger but also the year when results began to drop.
Considerable gap between boys´ and girls´results – Girls’ scores were much higher than boys in science literacy (girls 2nd/69 and boys 10th/69), and reading literacy (girls 1st/69 and boys 7th/69). Considering that gender equality is taken extremely seriously here and highly stimulated since day care, this discrepancy in the results shows that something went wrong and boys seem to be much less stimulated than girls. It is the first time that such a thing happens in the test for Finland and, curiously, this is the country which has presented the biggest gap in results between boys and girls.
Inequality in the quality of education between regions – Equity in education has always been Finland’s greatest pride, reaching almost 100% . In this last edition of PISA, however, it has changed. There was a considerable discrepancy in the results comparing students from the metropolitan area of the capital compared to those from eastern and western areas of the country. Considering that the metropolitan area is where we have the largest population flow and the municipalities with the best income, once again socioeconomic factors show how this imbalance affects the whole system.
Considerable differences in the results between immigrant students, Finnish students with immigrant parents, and Finnish students with Finnish families – Another matter which drew attention to the results was this divergence, which, once again, directs us to the socioeconomic issue. Results are affected by family history, income, and the cultural background of their parents as well. Let’s consider the fact that the Finnish population is somewhere around 5.4 million people. Among them, 5.6% are people born in another country (see: foreign-born population 2013), and among this part of the population, 16.8% were unemployed in 2014 (see: foreign-born unemployment 2014). It is a fact that a considerable part of the Finnish immigrant population has lower income and life quality than the native population. This is connected to the fact that the parents of these children often do not speak Finnish and many of them have a low level of school education, making it impossible for them to participate more actively in their children school life.
Of course there is much more to discuss, there are other factors to be perceived and a great critical exercise to be done. In my opinion, however, these are the ones that draw the most attention in a general context.
The position of the current government on issues related to education has also been causing controversy and difference of opinion; a series of budget cuts for all segments of education were made in 2016, prompting protests that have not yet ceased.
But I must say one thing based on what I know about Finland and the Finns when they are proud of something: I am sure they will work hard and untiringly to solve these problems.
Although the Ministry of Education and Culture has already announced that the changes implemented in the national curriculum for education in August 2016, coupled with the expected four-year period for schools to adapt to them, might bring an even bigger drop in the next PISA results, if the government cooperates and realizes that it can be much more positive to stay in line with the Ministry of Education and Culture and listen to its teachers, I think the odds are great that exactly the opposite occurs.