Quality and Evaluation in Finnish Schools
- Jaakko Kauko, Jaakko KaukoUniversity of Tampere
- Janne VarjoJanne VarjoUniversity of Helsinki
- and Hannele PitkänenHannele PitkänenUniversity of Helsinki
The quality of education has been a central matter of global debate in the new millennium. The global trend supports test-based accountability models and increasing national data collection as techniques for supporting and increasing quality in education. In contrast, a central feature of the Finnish education system runs counter to the global trend: it does not have strong top-down quality control mechanisms. Historical development of the Finnish model has a strong continuity, which has stood up against the global quality and evaluation policy flows. The evolution of the Finnish “model” dates back centuries. The foundations of the Finnish quality system can be traced to participation in international comparative learning studies developing national capacity, the inspection of folk education supporting the tradition of nationally coordinated external evaluation, and the local supervision of folk schools through school boards emphasizing local provision and the quality control of evaluation. These developments culminated during the 1990s with the radical deregulation and decentralization of education governance. The current model is partly unarticulated. However, it is clearly distinguishable: in comprehensive schools (primary and lower secondary), ensuring quality is entrusted to education providers and schools. They are expected to conduct self-evaluation regularly. There are no national standardized tests, and sample-based testing for development purposes forms the core of evaluation data. Only the main evaluation results are published, making school rankings impossible. Yet there is a large variation in how the quality of education is approached and evaluated in Finland’s more than 300 municipalities. Significantly, the central government has no direct means to control the quality of local education. Its impact is indirect through aims to foster and promote the quality evaluation culture in schools and municipalities. Furthermore, international cooperation and participation in international large-scale assessments have been unable to politicize the national education development discourse. This somewhat uncoordinated yet economical and teacher-friendly quality system raises interesting questions for further research: is this only a Finnish peculiarity developed in a specific historical context, or does it make possible critical theoretical and societal conclusions that question the dominant global test-based quality trends? The buffering of international accountability-based testing and swimming against the global quality evaluation flow is built on (a) the compartmentalization of international tests; (b) the fact that national coordination began to see a deregulated system as a necessity and virtue, and was long fragmented in different evaluation functions; and (c) the important role the local level has played historically in upholding and evaluating the quality of education.