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    Finland: A miracle of education?


    One of the characteristics of the Finnish education system has been to provide equal opportunities for all. However, according to the latest PISA results, the socio-economic status of the students seems to also be playing a role in Finland. (Photo: Z. Mrdja/World Bank)

     Finland’s success in PISA ― a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old students’ aptitudes in mathematics, science, and reading ― was a surprise to Finns. In 2006, it was the best performing country. Even though the results have declined, Finland still ranks among the top countries.

     Finland is an example of a country that has not followed many of the global education reform principles. There is no standardized tests or school inspections but the education system leans on “intelligent” accountability. This means that while there are national quality standards for learning and teaching in the form of national core curriculum and laws and regulations, there are no rankings of the schools based on test results. However, self-evaluation of schools and education providers exists and are regularly applied.
    The Finnish education policy values more quality and less control and competition. Schools, teachers and local authorities are trusted and there is a political consensus about the commonly agreed goals of education.
    Positive discrimination for the students with special needs and schools with special challenges is mainstreamed and student’s well-being is at the center of attention. Most Finnish students go to their nearby public school, which is a comprehensive school and where all walks of life learn together. The Finnish comprehensive school system follows the Nordic strategy for building high quality and equality in education based on a publicly-funded school system. It does this without selecting, tracking or streaming students during their basic education, which lasts until the end of Grade 9.
    Teachers are valued in Finnish society and only about 10 percent of those who apply get in to the elementary teacher education program, which is a five-year master's degree program part of the university education system since 1970s.
    The equity of learning results has been high in Finland compared to other countries
    The differences between Finnish schools remain negligible. One of the characteristics of the Finnish education system has been to provide equal opportunities for all. However, according to the latest PISA results, the socio-economic status of the students seems to be playing a role also in Finland.
    Students from low socio-economic households have increased particularly due to unemployment. In addition, less students read for fun during their free time which correlates with the lower student performance observed in the latest PISA results.
    The growing inequity in education is a significant concern for education professionals and decision-makers in Finland. However, Finland (celebrating its’ 100 years of independence on December 6, 2017), remains one of the best performing countries in the world. According to the recent PISA 2015 results, Finland ranked fifth best in Science, fourth in Reading, and thirteenth in Mathematics.
    A key aspect of the Finnish education system: a flexible special education that ensures inclusion and equity in education
    In Finland, addressing and responding in the schools to the diverse needs of learners is usually done in such a way that other students don’t know what kind of support and at what level each student might be receiving.
    Finnish teachers differentiate their teaching to respond to the learning needs of each student. Elementary school teachers are not alone but supported by other specialists (e.g. special education teachers, psychologists, and the school leadership team) in deciding what kind of support a student might require. This is also discussed and agreed with the student’s parents.


    Finland: A miracle of education?

    Figure 1: Three level model of individual support for students with special needs in Finland. 

     Students can receive different level of support depending upon their needs. As presented in the figure 1 above, student’s support can range from part time general support to special support.



      • Level 1: part-time general support is provided by regular teacher and special education teacher in the classroom or out of the classroom.


      • Level 2: part-time intensified support is provided by regular teacher and special education teacher.


    • In level 3: special support is provided in regular or special class or group and requires an official decision which is carefully prepared by special education professionals in close collaboration with parents of the student.


     Municipalities in Finland have an important role in financing special education services, and cannot ignore the importance of it in ensuring inclusion and equity in education.
    Comprehensive schools in Finland.
     The comprehensive school is something that Finland has been proud of since it was established. However, the model is being analyzed and discussed to support the students’ well-being and preparedness for the future in our ever-changing globalized world.
    To continue supporting excellence and combatting inequity, the Finnish’s Comprehensive School Forum is proposing a new vision for the country’s comprehensive schools, which is expected to be introduced in August 2017.
    Initiatives envisioned under this vision include: promoting teachers’ professional development, introducing new activities in experimenting and innovations, providing tutor teachers in every school to support digitalization and new pedagogical approaches, promoting internationalization of education and securing that Finnish schools are ‘in the move’ encouraging students’ physical activity to ensure that each student exercises at least one hour per day.
    Coming together for quality education.
    Various actors such as members of parliament, education authorities at all levels, principals, teachers, other school based staff, parents, students and community members are all engaged and will play a role in implementing this new vision.  If successful, this will bring renovated energy to update the Finnish comprehensive school system to improve students’ learning and competences, increase equality of the overall system while decreasing the number of socially excluded students.
    Schools are now closed for a well-deserved summer holiday in Finland and everyone is ‘re-charging their batteries’. We look forward to hearing about the next steps in reenergizing the Finnish education system in the beginning of next academic year.



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    Imagine if the media covered alcohol like other drugs.


    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images.

     What if the media covered alcohol like it does other drugs? This was a question that came up in my coverage of flakka, a synthetic drug that made headlines after law enforcement blamed it for people running in the streets naked in delusional paranoia. What follows is a satirical attempt at capturing that same type of alarmist reporting, but for a substance that really causes widespread and severe problems.

     NEW ORLEANS — An ongoing drug epidemic has swept the US, killing hundreds and sickening thousands more on a daily basis.

     The widespread use of a substance called "alcohol" — also known as "booze" — has been linked to erratic and even dangerous behavior, ranging from college students running naked down public streets to brutal attacks and robberies.

     Federal officials suggest this drug has already been linked to 88,000 deaths each year across the country, including traffic accidents caused by drug-induced impairment, liver damage caused by excessive consumption, and violent behavior. Experts warn that it can also lead to nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, cognitive deficits among children and teens, and even fetal defects in pregnant women.

     Excessive consumption of alcohol "is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the US," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention principal deputy director Ileana Arias said in a statement. "We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning."


    On the ground in America's alcohol epidemic capital.


    Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

     Here in New Orleans, the horror of the drug was particularly prominent in the city's French Quarter, where hundreds of young adults could be seen roiling from the effects of the drug. Some collapsed on the ground, dazed from alcohol's effects. Others could be seen vomiting in public — a common result of drinking alcohol. Many could be seen limping and clumsily walking down the street, showcasing the type of impairment that public health officials warn can lead to accidents, especially when someone is behind the wheel of a car.

     What's worse, public use of this drug has become widely accepted in some circles. In New Orleans, several men and women in their 20s and 30s shouted that they're going to get "wasted" — a slang term for coming under the effects of alcohol. Some have even turned drinking alcohol into a game that involves ping pong balls and cups. One popular holiday, St. Patrick's Day, appears to celebrate the dangerous drug.

     In other places, there have been similar reports of individuals engaging in bizarre, inexplicable behavior while under the effects of alcohol. Some reports found intoxicated college students exposing themselves to others or running the streets naked while shouting hysterically, particularly during spring time. Others report people urinating in public streets after a few alcoholic beverages. And at least one man who consumed alcohol tried to ride a crocodile and was seriously injured when the animal fought back.

     One man who consumed alcohol tried to ride a crocodile and was seriously injured.

     "It actually starts to rewire the brain chemistry," one law enforcement official said. "They have no control over their thoughts. They can't control their actions. It's just a dangerous, dangerous drug."

     Across the US, public health officials have linked alcohol to much graver effects, including domestic abuse, sexual assault on college campuses, 40 percent of violent crimes in the US, and more than 4.6 million emergency room visits in 2010.

     According to federal data, alcohol is already the second deadliest drug in the country — topped only by another legal substance called "tobacco," which causes an astonishing 480,000 deaths each year by some estimates and 540,000 by others.

     No other drug comes close to the staggering fatalities of these two. Heroin, which has consumed widespread media attention in the past few years, was linked to fewer than 9,000 deaths in 2013, and marijuana — another drug that federal lawmakers, including President Obama, have warned is dangerous — reportedly caused zero overdose deaths in the past few thousand years.


    Public health experts demand action.

     Despite the heightened public health crisis, federal and state officials seem reluctant to do anything about the drug, which remains legal for adults 21 and older to possess and even sell in most of the US. Policymakers say that banning alcohol is out of the question, citing its importance to the economy and American culture.

     Drug policy experts have suggested levying higher taxes on the drug or bringing its sales under state control, pointing to numerous studies that have shown these measures would reduce use. But lawmakers at the state and federal levels seem reluctant to take up even these milder measures, likely under the influence and lobbying of drug producers and dealers profiting from hundreds of billions in sales of alcohol each year.

     Perhaps as a result, alcohol producers have felt free to advertise their product during major televised events such as the Super Bowl, which is viewed by millions of children each year. The marketing ploys tend to portray alcohol as cool and fun, seldom mentioning the risks and thousands of deaths linked to the drug.

     As policymakers stand idly by, alcohol consumption has reached epidemic proportions. A recent Gallup survey found nearly two-thirds of Americans admitted to using alcohol — even as another survey by Gallup found more than one in three Americans blame alcohol for family problems.

     For many public health officials, the startling numbers pose the question: What will it take to wake up the public and officials to this widening epidemic?



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