In the recent years, Finland’s education system has become a phenomenon that has raised interest in several parts of the world, including Mexico. This is mainly because since 2001, Finland has shown excellent results in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and other international surveys that assess the quality of education in different parts of the world.
But can Mexico really learn something from this small Northern country? After all, the two countries are very different in terms of culture, demographics and social structures.
I have often heard people say that it is so much easier to have a great educational system in Finland than in Mexico because there are so few Finns (the population of Finland is only 5,4 million people). Of course, it is easier to manage an educational system that is not as huge (and complex) as the Mexican one. But there are smaller countries than Finland that have not had such great results. So it is not all about the size.
Many people also say that sure, a rich country like Finland can invest more in education than for example Mexico. Well, two points are worth to mention here. Firstly, Finland was not always a rich country. On the contrary, even after the Second World War, the country was quite poor. As Finland was considered a developing country, it received development aid and development loans from the World Bank and the United Nations until the 1970s, as Matti Ylönen (2013) has noted in his article. The radical change from a poor developing country to one of the world’s most innovative and socially progressive countries took hard work. But it also took a conviction that if you don’t have massive natural or human resources to fuel your success, you need to concentrate on the education.
Secondly, the investment in the education in Finland is actually lower than in many other countries that don’t do as well in education. According to OECD, in 2013 for example Mexico used 13,3% of the public spending on education, while in Finland the percentage was 7,0%. This is not to say that Mexico should lower its public investment on education. But Finland’s example does show that it is not only about how much you invest but how you use the investment.
It is also true that Finland has been ethnically homogeneous country, in contrast to Mexico that is country with a great cultural and ethnic diversity. However, as one of Finland’s leading educational experts, Pasi Sahlberg (2015) points out, in the last decades this trend has been changing and the diversification of the Finnish society is the fastest in Europe since the 1990s. No doubt, this will bring challenges to the Finnish education system. But the Finnish system has for a long time believed that all children can learn, you just need to find the correct way of teaching and learning for everyone. This attitude will surely help to deal with the challenges the growing diversity in the schools.
If nothing else, this is one lesson Mexico can learn from Finland: every child can learn in a right context. This is why cultural and ethnic diversity should not be seen as a handicap for a country’s education system or success in general. The education systems should not try to homogenize all the children in to one cultural mold, but rather to celebrate the richness of the diversity. You just have to find the ways in which people of different cultural, educational, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds learn and can teach each other. Finland shows that education system can promote both good quality learning and equity for all the children.
What else can Mexico (and the world) learn from Finland? And what can Finland learn from Mexico? Stay tuned, in this blog I’ll be writing about all kinds of themes related to education in Finland and in Mexico, both about the success stories and the challenges.