American lessons: when social inequality is educational inequality

Last Monday, Finland’s Harvard Club celebrated its 15th birthday in the University of Helsinki. Education experts came together to discuss educational challenges in Finland and the USA.

American lessons: when social inequality is educational inequality

Since the release of his book "Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?", many American educationists and politicians have sought advice from the former adviser in Finland’s Ministry of Education Pasi Sahlberg. However, 70 years ago Sahlberg’s own grandfather had set out to New York in search of a better education in America.

Those days are long gone, at least when it comes to the many American families that are unable to send their children to a renowned private school. On Monday, June 4, Dean Kathleen McCartney of the US Harvard School of Education shared with Sahlberg and other Finnish education experts her challenging experiences with the American school system.

According to McCartney, American public schools have been suffering from low test scores, high dropout rates and problems related to prejudice. Studies have shown that it hits the poorest the hardest. The biggest challenge for schools: inconsistent curricula and permanently changing, inexperienced staff. McCartney is fighting for a bigger investment in early childhood education and has pushed a cutting-edge degree in educational leadership combining school practise, educational theory and management.

Whereas in America social inequality has led to educational inequality, Sahlberg continued by saying that equity has been the driving factor for Finland’s educational success. Nearly every Finnish school is a public school, receives the same funding and shares the same curriculum with all other schools.

However, Sahlberg has serious doubts regarding the future of Finnish education.

– The problem with PISA is, we Finns have gotten stuck.

He advocates a state campaign in order to define future goals of the Finnish society. As a matter of fact, Finnish schools are at risk because communes are struggling to keep up urban infrastructures. Metropolization, expanding immigration and less money for children with special needs are growing challenges to Finland’s educational future.

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Ari Aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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