Since the 2000 PISA and TIMSS test results catapulted Finland’s education system to international acclaim, scholars around the globe have been debating the sources of that success. This film, produced by Robert Compton (of Two Million Minutes fame) and starring Tony Wagner (author of The Global Achievement Gap), weighs in on this saturated debate. Through classroom visits, interviews with students and teachers, and statistics that roll across the screen, it showcases Finland’s myriad educational idiosyncrasies. It explains that the country has no high-stakes testing (save at the end of secondary school) or teacher-evaluation system, and students do little homework. This system creates a “culture of trust,” which Wagner heralds as the magic bean of Finland’s success. What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. These programs accept a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren’t up to snuff. Candidates observe veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from peers, mentors, and even students. The film provides a first-hand view of Finland’s classrooms, and is worth viewing in that regard. Pay particular attention to the segments on teacher training, and please don’t be hypnotized by Wagner’s fluffy thoughts on the “culture of trust.”
Robert Compton, The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, (Washington, D.C.: Broken Pencil Productions, Inc., March 2011).