Routing the two-tier system: Part III – Education

The Finnish system is one the U.S. should emulate for education. It eliminates the two-tier system entirely and it could be a model for healthcare as well.


One of the best education systems in the world belongs to Finland.  Its constitution makes free education a right. Section 16 of the country’s constitution states unequivocally: “Everyone has the right to basic education free of charge” and this right guarantees citizens “the opportunity to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.”  I’ve written about this before, and every time I write I become more impressed at how Finland runs an effective public school system and yet allows private schools.  The schools are so good that even the wealthy parents send their children to the public schools. They don’t try to use their money to buy their children something different.

The teachers in the public schools have advanced degrees, and they teach the students effectively.  And, as I say, private schools are permitted, but with four key regulations:

  1. Private schools are funded only by the public in the same manner as public schools.  They must pay teachers and staff on the same scale as public schools.
  2. Private schools cannot add fees; they must operate on the same budget as a similar public school.
  3. Private schools must accept students in the same manner as public schools.
  4. Private schools must provide the same training and classes as public schools.

I have not read anywhere that private schools cannot offer classes that public schools don’t offer.  But since they have to offer the same curriculum as public schools, it would be difficult for them to have many other classes.

Finland has effectively eliminated the two-tier system in education.  The public schools are so good that even the very wealthy see no benefit in trying to start their own schools.  As a result, the wealthy do not fight when the schools seek better funding, even though the wealthy bear a heavier burden in paying for it.

The United States is in first position, but when GDP is taken into account, it is in 15th position.  Finland is sixth absolutely but when GDP is taken into account, it is first. And why does the Finnish system rank so well?  It eschews standardized testing (unlike the U.S.).  It prioritizes play (and free time) for students. It reveres its teachers (and pays them well).  And it offers free education through doctoral degrees to all of its citizens. The first two points do not even cost money, which means that the U.S. could study them and emulate them at no real cost.  And while the latter two cost money, I would be surprised if the U.S. could not copy the Finnish system if it chose to do so.

Finland does have tests for its students.  “Finnish Lessons author Pasi Sahlberg says of the test, “Students are regularly asked to show their ability to cope with issues related to evolution, losing a job, dieting, political issues, violence, war, ethics in sports, junk food, sex, drugs, and popular music. Such issues span across subject areas and often require multidisciplinary knowledge and skills.” 

Although the studies do not appear to examine one further element, I would be surprised to learn that the mixing of children of the wealthy with those of the poorer classes has no impact on the education system.  Sending children of the wealthy off to boarding schools deprives the poorer children of the opportunity of learning from the richer children, and it deprives the wealthier children of the experience of mingling with their poorer comrades.  Furthermore, mixing children of all classes together makes for acceptance, and that makes for a better society. 

I was fortunate enough to attend an intellectual private school on a scholarship and later to spend a year in France at a French lycee.  The latter in particular gave me the opportunity of learning a foreign language to the point of making me good at learning other languages.  Even now, at age 75, I use that experience to learn Spanish from people in the Mexican city where I live. I think that public schools in Los Angeles should be bilingual or tri-lingual, since they have many students who speak Spanish and others who speak an Asian language.  In that respect, public schools are probably better situated than private schools who lack contact with children of immigrants.

The Finnish system is one the U.S. should emulate for education.  It eliminates the two-tier system entirely and it could be a model for healthcare as well.


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