Finland’s educational system is often rated the best in the world, which has made it the envy of U.S. reformers on both the right and left.
America’s right loves the Finns’ “whatever it takes” attitude, believing it justifies approaches like for-profit charters and online schooling. The left loves that there are no — none — private schools in the Nordic country, and Finnish educators focus most of their energy on helping the most challenged students.
“Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” said Kari Louhivuori, principal of Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in West Helsinki. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”
The Finns’ recent approach to their federal budget, however, is only likely to be praised on the right.
It is the only country in the European Union (EU) that has retained its AAA credit rating from every major ratings agency, and it did so with minimal austerity compared to some of Europe. It is also the only country in the EU that demanded “collateral payments” from Greece in exchange for its contributions to the Mediterranean country’s bailout. Those payments were negotiated when Finland’s ruling coalition faced two no-confidence votes over its role in the Euro rescue.
The Finns share a belief in a social democracy with their Scandinavian neighbors. Workers enjoy what Americans would consider extraordinary benefits, protections and maternity leave, along with nationalized health care.
But it’s their belief in their own work ethic that has made the thought of rescuing their fellow European Union members in the south feel a bit unsettling.
“Europe is very important to us. We know there are problems, but if everybody does their bit, we can get through,” Kari, a Finnish student, told The Financial Times in May of 2012. “But those Greeks — have they really worked hard? Should we have to pay for them too? I don’t know.”
The country of about five million has been shaken not just by the financial crisis that rocked the globe, but also the sudden, nightmarish decline of Nokia, which had been Finland’s best-known global brand throughout the 20th century.
The firm that became the Nokia Corporation first began employing Finns in 1865 as a paper manufacturer. That one factory grew to become the country’s biggest industrial conglomerate. Nokia went on to dabble in dozens of different businesses, finding its greatest success in the electronics and networking industries, and eventually becoming the world’s largest smartphone provider.