So why do hundreds of educators from around the globe come to Finland each year looking for information on how to make their own schools better?
Pasi Sahlberg, who directs the country’s Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, has earned the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education for answering that question in his 2011 book, “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?”
A decision by elected officials, social experts and policy makers in the 1970s to team up on education reform was a critical factor in Finland’s rise to academic superstar, said Sahlberg, whose agency is part of the country’s Ministry of Education and Culture.
Ensuring the same opportunities for all students and showing a high regard for the teaching profession also transformed Finland’s school system from mediocre into one of the world’s finest, he said.
“In my country, many young people want to be a teacher,” he said. “It’s a prestigious position that is earned through rigorous training, and parents don’t spend time looking over the teacher’s shoulder.”
Diane Kyle, a UofL education professor who is faculty director for the award, said there’s a lot to learn from Sahlberg’s work and experience.
“Finland’s approach to education reform contradicts just about everything the world is doing right now to improve student performance,” Kyle said. “It shows we must address student inequality before we can expect student excellence.”
Sahlberg, himself a former teacher, has provided strategic guidance for education in more than 40 nations and has spoken about education reform to politicians, educators, business leaders and parents worldwide.
In his current job, he promotes internationalization, creativity and global learning through education, culture, youth and sport. He is also adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki and University of Oulu and has previously worked for the Finnish Board of Education, World Bank and European Commission.
UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. The 2013 awards are $100,000 each. Friday, UofL will announce the recipient of the religion award. Already the university has announced award winners for music, world order and psychology.