I do not necessarily believe that the best students make the best teachers. But there are some qualities about being an outstanding student that also qualifies one for the amiable profession of teaching, and these include discipline and commitment. The capacity to focus on one thing and stay the course with excellence in view is of great value to the ability to impart knowledge and facilitate the learning process. But really, it seems that the labor of the mind under the midnight oil is mostly motivated by the potential to earn big, and earn pretty big after college. Much of what is on the mind of the average student is how to escape the hold of poverty. So coming out and ending up a teacher is not exactly a satisfying thought. This is a growing problem in many developed countries, with widening income differences and increasing poverty levels. But how severe this is in least developed and developing countries. The students in these poor countries are told and taught that education is a means through which they escape poverty. Now it is getting rather difficult to convince students in a country like Nigeria to take up a teaching profession after getting a degree. So we end up having the perceived “organizational rejects” as teachers, lacking any iota of motivation to stay in the classroom. But somehow, Finland has managed to retain the very smart ones as teachers, and I am really going to focus on how they have achieved that. I am sure there is more to consider outside making juicy remunerative packages for teachers. The McKinsey survey below sort of brings to fore some other contextual issues surrounding why students opt for high paying jobs than to teach. McKinsey’s survey of nearly 1,500 U.S. college students in thetop third of their classes shows that a major effort would be needed to attract the best grads to teaching. Among top-third students not planning to enter the profession, for example, only33% believe they could support a family as teachers. The stakes are high: Recent McKinsey research found that an achievement gap between U.S. students and those in academically top-performing countries imposes the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. But according to a BBC report, “Teaching is a prestigious career in Finland. Teachers are highly valued and teaching standards are high.” What’s even more interesting is the clear contradictions that exist in the Finnish education system, that questions some of the apparent solutions others have suggested. According to a The Economistanalysis of a McKinsey report in 2008, the following are a few of these contradictions:
- It’s not high pay for teachers, since Finnish teachers are not paid particularly well, and the countries that do pay their teachers the most (Spain, Switzerland, and Germany) do not perform as well.
- It’s not more years of schooling, since compulsory school education starts at grade 1 (age 7) and ends in grade 9 (age 16), after which virtually all (95 percent) of Finland’s students voluntarily attend either upper secondary academic school (headed for university) or upper secondary vocational school (headed for the workplace or to further higher education in polytechnic institutes).
- It’s not small class sizes, since Finnish classes are often 30 students with only one teacher (and few specialists, and the teachers are expected to teach all skills and subjects).
So what does the McKinsey report conclude on the success of the Finnish education system? According to Patrick Bassetts, three things are done by the Finnish. (1) Get the best teachers (2) Get the best out of these teachers (3) Step in aggressively when students start lagging behind. I just had a Facebook message exchange with my Finnish friend Katja Virolainen, were I asked the question on how they attract the best teachers. Her reply was a similar to what the report says and that is “In Finland it’s always been that teachers must have a master’s degree, that is about 5 years in a university. All the people who have a master’s degree are very much respected and considered very hard-working and intelligent. The education in Finnish universities is high quality that makes good teachers. You can see the quality of teaching in a classroom in a primary school anywhere in Finland.” You see, apart from the fact that all teachers must have a master’s degree, the education ministry deliberately limits those who are offered teaching positions to the top 10% of a graduating class. The move practically increases the attraction to the profession since it is for an anointed few, and this makes teaching very prestigious even though they aren’t paid as much when compared to several developed countries. It is very clear that it is the quality of teachers that determine the quality of education. There is no circumventing that. But the challenge is that with economics trumping passion, this is a very difficult argument to make, especially in developing countries where we still hold in high esteem the time old model of “work hard ->do well ->go to college ->get a job -> escape poverty.” So there is a path that lies ahead on what to do, the challenge is if we can get willing leadership to articulate a careful plan on attracting the best minds into the classroom. In the past two years, over a 100 countries have sent delegations to Finland to study how their model works. So many are learning and we must also. But beyond the obvious also lies the other implicit factors that push these successes to global recognition. These factors are not learnt, but internally generated. I will leave you to guess what these are. By the way, I may still come back and update this particular blog if I find something more exciting.