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Friday, October 21, 2016

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.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • The economic and social successes in Finland, and the other Scandinavian countries, is based on fiscal responsibility – they pay for the services they receive – and the effectiveness of their social programs. The latter include public education, government-run healthcare, extraordinary programs for senior citizens and the handicapped, subsidized transportation, etc. In addition to overcoming the effects of the global recession, they enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.
    Those determined on Angela Merkel solutions should consider the Scandinavian successes as an alternative to destructive austerity.

    • Velska

      Scandinavian/Nordics are fairly Keynesian. They usually try to aid growth by investing in infrastructure when you get lower prices, too.

      But, Scaninavians do pay for their services–through taxes. There’s a specific 2% that goes to health insurance, for everyone, and basically everyone should get the full service, no matter the cost; there’s also a specific payment for pension fund, so everyone has plan, even if you end up being unemployed or sick or whatever for longer periods. It’s called sharing the responsibility.

      Anyhow, until Thatcherism and Reaganomics, there’s been little grumbling in Scandinavian countries, but lately they’ve voted right-wing parties into power, and somehow with that has come argumentation like, “we pay so much more, we should get more”. Or, “everyone should pay their own way” and “taxes are stealing”, which is NOT tenable at all in an organised society. It’s like the teabaggers have influenced Scandinavian politics, too.

  • dtgraham

    Remarkable coincidence. I read this story in the Memo earlier. I didn’t really know what to make of it in lieu of more information. It sort of intrigued me though and I was thinking at the time that it was typical of the stupid Harper government in Canada to not imagine something like this. I turned on the tube to the CBC at 6:00 this evening and, lo and behold, there was a huge report on a new program to start soon in Canada that appeared to be almost identical to the Finnish public/private stimulus, with minor differences (possible 20% private investor share instead of 6%). It’s being referred to as Social Impact Bonds and the Feds have apparently been working on this secretly for two years.

    It’ll be debated but they have a parliamentary majority and can push it through if they want to. It was a lengthy, detailed, panel discussion (political talk shows up here are a lot more boring…believe me) and now that I know more about it I have serious concerns. While it does have potential, it also could turn out to be bad public policy. I’m not all that keen on this private middleman and it sounds like something you might try as a possible creative solution to lack of public funding. If it’s not a rousing success, it’ll be scrapped in two years with the change of government (there will be a change) and public funding will be increased via certain tax cuts being rescinded. I’m still a little on the fence though and I can’t write it off just yet. We’ll have to see how this “Scandinanada” works out.

    I agree with Jason. With the current atmosphere regarding levels of taxation and public finance in the U.S., this is something that warrants serious consideration, no question. With today’s GOP being mindless libertarian, supply side, automatons I don’t have much hope for it. Outside of the Pentagon they don’t believe in government doing much of anything, no matter how it’s financed. It’s still something that the administration probably should be pursuing though.

    • Velska

      Well, if the teabaggers are so damned hot on trashing government, shouldn’t guys like Ted Cruz just leave, come home? Or is it too big of a lure to get a fancy government salary, travel free, get free health care, thanks to the U.S. taxpayer.

      And they certainly believe in BIG government, when they want to control what you do in your bedroom.

  • They don’t mind sharing a country and a shared destiny. That includes money. Something we don’t get.

  • Velska

    It’s not exactly fair to say there are no private schools in Scandinavia. It’s just that they are certainly not for profit, they are financed mostly by the state. These schools are ones that are based on some specific educational methods, such as Maria Montessori, Rudolph Steiner, Celestine Freinet, and some other famous bright lights of education.

    They have the same basic syllabuses as other schools, and the students have to eventually pass a national graduation test. So it’s just how you see the education. The Steiner et.c schools are usually based on a sort of a co-op principle of a group of parents, who start by finding the facilities and teachers, then they petition to be accepted as official schools, and if that is successful, they get a certain amount of money per student, and they usually collect a little from the parents, because they need a bit extra.

    But like in Freinet-schools, they don’t need as many books or any other things, because their idea is, that you can do whatever you like, as long as you can show you’re learning. And kids LOVE to learn, so when you create the environment where they like to be in, a big step home. But the discipline is absolutely vital: no violence tolerated, neither bullying, and since the teachers follow the groups quite closely, they see it. Our son refused to do any math until the spring of his first year. Then he started writing stuff like 2+2=4, which he naturally knew when starting school, but he just didn’t wanna… had he been in a regular school, he would have been labelled something nasty.

    They would be doing fine, btw, if everyone around them weren’t so hell-bent on Austerity! And their premier is still under the Rogoff-Reitman paper’s thrall, so he’s all worried about the debt, which is around 60% now, and naturally growing, so he’s worried. But then he’s a right-winger!