The Atlantic magazine says Estonia is the new Finland, meaning that it is doing a bang-up job with quality education for all. Educating the poor turns out to be a salient strength of the system.
Sarah Butrymowicz writes, “In 2012, Estonia’s 15-year-olds ranked 11th in math and reading and sixth in science out of the 65 countries that participated in an international test that compares educational systems from around the world (called the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA).
“In addition to beating out western nations such as France and Germany and essentially tying Finland in math and science, Estonia also had the smallest number of weak performers in all of Europe, about 10 percent in math and reading and 5 percent in science.”
In comparison, the United States hovers in the middle of the pack.
“While there is less income inequality in Estonia than in the United States—and, with 1.3 million people, the country is significantly smaller—the Baltic nation also has its share of cultural diversity.
“When it achieved independence from the Soviet Union 25 years ago, Estonian became the official language and the language of school instruction. Yet about a fifth of its students come from families that still speak Russian at home, and they have historically lagged behind their native speaking counterparts on tests such as PISA. …
“Marc Tucker, president of National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C., visited Estonia last year to find out what they’re doing right. He said that after the fall of the Iron Curtain other former Soviet satellites, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, transitioned to a system preferentially suited to the needs of its elites. Estonia, however, kept giving equal opportunities to students of all backgrounds. …
“There are many factors that may contribute to Estonia’s success on PISA beyond their focus on equality. Education continues to be highly valued. Teacher autonomy is relatively high, which has been shown to be related to better test scores. Teachers stay with the same students in grades one to three – or sometimes even up to sixth grade – allowing deep relationships to develop.”
Maybe we could learn something from this small Baltic state. Read more here about why Estonian students are so successful on tests and whether they are happy with the system and why the country is trying to encourage more individuality and creativity without losing rigor.
Photo: Ints Kalnins / Reuters
First graders take a computer class in Tallinn, Estonia.