In some parts of the United States, 60% of students will drop out of high school.
In many Native American communities, that figure rises to 80%. This is by no means a US phenomenon – in the UK, there is evidence that the achievement gap in education contributes to high drop out rates in university. Studies have shown that pupils hailing from poorer backgrounds and obtaining an undergraduate degree were 8.4 percentage points more likely to drop out within the first two years, compared with those from more affluent homes.
However, there is one country in which the school dropout rate hovers around zero – Finland. The Finnish education system is routinely touted as being the best in the world, and on paper, it is easy to see why. The system produces a high graduation rate, a small achievement gap, high achievement across international standards, and most importantly, happy teachers and students. So what is at the heart of this success, and can it be replicated in our classrooms at home?
Zeroing in on Finland’s success
One way in which Finland battles drop out rates to engage students lies with teachers.
According to University Professor Jari Lavonen, Finnish teachers can decide “how they teach and what they teach,” within the parameters of the national curriculum. This freedom over teaching methods enables educators to utilize whichever style they deem best for student motivation, and allows them to engage with pupils on an individual level. Educator Sir Ken Robinson has noted that to help students learn and grow, the system must “individualise students and learning”, rather than appeal to the masses.
Teaching itself is heralded as a respected profession, with teachers being well-compensated and enjoying good working conditions. It can be said then that the high standard of school environments keeps the teacher “drop out rate” low as well, as 90% of teachers will remain in their chosen professional for their entire working life.
Another factor that contributes to this success is the prevalence of growth mindset thinking; for example, Finland uses standardized tests to gauge student growth, not to measure student performance. It is used to assess the rate of development, rather than judge the capacity or ability of a student. This aids with closing the achievement gap, as students are unafraid of poor test results.
When looking at how to individualise education, how to motivate students, how to increase pupil’s engagement, and how to retain teachers, there is lots we can learn from the Finnish educational system.