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Finland is changing everything that sucks about parent-teacher conferences with the world’s largest one

A photo showing Sisu, 7, (L), on first grade and Ahti, 9, (R), on third grade, doing their home work at a kitchen table in Vantaa, Finland
EPA/Markku Ojala
Getting parents on board with Finland's pint-sized trailblazers.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

On the night of Jan. 18, Finland will host a country-wide parent-teacher conference. The objective: to get parents to stop complaining about school, and get them excited about innovations sweeping through classrooms around the world, not least at home in Finland.

“When you talk about change in schools, one of the big obstacles is parents,” says Saku Tuominen, creative director of HundreED, a non-profit project to identify and package 100 Finnish education innovations and 100 global innovations that can be shared online with educators. (It is a gift from the Finnish government to the world.)

Tuominen said parents often complain about what is, or isn’t, happening in school—and that educators had to do better explaining the challenges they face and what is happening in their classrooms. “[Parents’] perception of schools is based on when they were there,” he said.

It might seem strange that Finland is struggling to convince parents that its schools are on the right track. Finland is to education what Beyoncé is to music, widely revered and imitated (rarely well). In Finland, kids start school at the age of seven; they have little homework and virtually no standardized testing. And yet, since 2000 the country has ranked at or near the top of the OECD’s global PISA test, administered to half a million 15-year-olds in developed countries around the world.

Based on these results, educators have flocked to the Nordic nation—there are 3,500 schools in the whole country, compared with 1,800 in New York City—to learn the secret of its success (pdf). A key feature: highly selective teachers who are well trained and enjoy maximum autonomy.

And Finland is not resting on its laurels, continuing to alter its education system in response to new findings and trends. For example, a recent national curriculum review established that how kids learn is more important than what they learn, and that individual subjects are less important than broad competencies. Now, the country is changing its curriculum to better prepare kids with the kind of skills they will need for jobs in 2020 or 2030.

The parent-teacher night will highlight some of the innovations underway as part of HundrED, which is running experiments all over Finland. A goal is to explain to parents the magnitude of the challenges facing educators, and the cool things teachers and students are doing to address those challenges. “We want to make parents excited about education, not horrified,” Tuominen said. Here is a sampling of trials now underway:

  • A project to create the country’s most successful gaming room, where kids have access to technology, space, and time to build educational gaming tools
  • Uber for parents, a digital tool to enable parents to share their expertise in classrooms across Finland
  • Crowdsourced sex ed, with input from students
  • Building self-esteem and self-awareness through works of one author
  • Triplet, a news service in partnership with Yle, Finland’s state-owned broadcaster, to turn daily news into education material overnight, delivered to teachers’ mobile phones the next morning 
  • A plan to have every member of parliament spend a day in a K-12 school, to spark dialog about what is happening in the country’s schools

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