Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How Finland treats its teachers - not what you think

First of all, Hyvää Uuttaa Vuotta (Happy New Year for all you who don't know Finnish)!

The American take on Finnish teachers

Whenever I read articles in the American popular media about Finnish education, they always point to how the teachers are treated differently with things like respect, Master's degrees, and salary.  However, being in Finland for almost five months now, I feel that the differences highlighted  are often meaningless, and those of significance are largely ignored.  So here is my take on the differences in the status of the teaching profession in Finland and the USA.

Finnish teachers need a Master's degree

I see this one all the time.  This is totally true and different from the US (only a bachelors is required), but it totally misses the differences what "Master's" and "Bachelor's" degrees actually mean in the two countries.  In the US (at least among people and schools I know), the two degrees are usually quite separate and people will attend two different schools for the two degrees, often in two different fields and often after a few-year break to work.  In Finland on the other hand, the two are often part of a single program and you just go through the full five-year program, getting your bachelors after writing a thesis.  What this means is that in Finland, most people who get a university degree get at least a Master's (84% who get a Bachelor's also get a Master's), so it is not surprising that teachers also have to get a Master's since they are trained in universities.  On the other hand, the natural breaking point in the US system means that only 38% of Americans who get a Bachelor's go on to get a Master's as well.  It is worth noting that 48% of teachers have gone on to get their own Master's as well, well above the American average.

The setup is because (according to one of my history-buff friends here) Finland had to adapt its existing university system when it joined the European Union, and the easiest way to make their 5-year university degree fit was to call it a Master's, and then add a stopping point in the middle and call it a Bachelor's.



Years
% population
% teachers
USA
Bachelor’s
4
18.4% [1]
100%*
Master’s
2
7.1% [1]
48% [3]
Finland
Bachelor’s
4
10.1% [2]
100%*
Master’s
1
8.5% [2]
100%*
* Current legislation demands a Bachelor's for teacher certification in the US and a Master's in Finland.  Teachers certified before might not have these degrees, so the real figures are likely to be lower than 100%.
[3] National Center for Education Statistics, 2012

Also interestingly, there are more than 10 times as many applicants as positions available in Finland's 8 teacher-training schools.  This means that statistically, you have as much chance of becoming a teacher in Finland as getting into MIT.  Crazy!


Me, with some education friends at the Educarium - University of Turku's education building.  Admission to teacher training programs here is as unlikely as getting into MIT for Finns (and basically impossible for foreigners).
Summary for the lazy: Finnish teachers need a Master's, but basically all university-trained Finns get one.  Finnish teacher school is literally as selective as MIT.

Prestige

One of the things I have learned here from all my foreign friends is that educators in every single country feel undervalued and underpaid.  Even Finland (though maybe less so).  When I looked up some polls on occupational prestige, I was not surprised to find that it is #1 in Finland.  I was, however, surprised to see it at #6 in the US with 51% of respondents finding it to be "very high prestige".  Perhaps even more interestingly, teaching is apparently the American profession growing fastest in prestige over the 30 years this poll has been conducted - in 1979, just 29% of respondents found it "very high prestige".  Will this trend continue until teaching is #1 like in Finland?  Who knows.

Summary for the lazy (really, one paragraph is too much?): Teaching is the #1 most prestigious job in Finland, #6 (but rising) in the US

Work life

I could not believe the numbers when I saw them: American teachers apparently are required to teach double the hours that Finnish teachers are - 1051 hours per year versus 550**.  Finnish teachers also don't have all the silly bureaucratic paperwork that so many American teachers have because basically it is trusted that they will do a good job once they are accepted into and graduate from teacher training school.  Seriously, there is basically no administration in Finland and even the principals at many schools still teach at least one or two classes (more on this another time, but imagine what this means financially as well).

**Though I trust the OECD and their data collection techniques in general, but I am a little surprised by these results.  Based on the 180-day American school year and 188-day Finnish school year, American teachers teach 5.8 hours per day and Finnish teachers teach 2.9 hours per day.  However, the teachers I have met here all teach around 4-5 hours per day.

Summary: American teachers have many more obligations than Finnish teachers, meaning potentially high levels of stress and less time for planning enriching educational activities.

Salary

Americans love to talk about economic arguments for everything.  I found a bunch of different salary data for the two countries, and tried to compare a number of different ways (economist friends - what is the actual best way to do this?).  I tried the following: 1) converting salary Finnish Euros to US $ using the OECD Purchasing Power Parity conversion (it basically equalizes based on the cost of goods; data and explanation), 2) comparing the ratio of teacher salary to average salary for the same level of education, and 3) comparing the ratio of teacher salary to per-capita GDP.  In all metrics and for all values of salary (below), US teachers earn more than Finnish teachers. 


USA
General Public
Teachers
Per-Capita GDP*
Ave. Salary Equiv. Deg.*
Domestic Data*
OECD* [9]
Starting
15 years experience
Maximum
$52,000 [5]
$53,000 [3]
$52,000 [4]
$38,000

$46,000
$53,000
Earning Potential**
0.96
0.71
0.87
1.00
Share GDP***
1.00
0.73
0.89
1.02
Finland
General Public
Teachers
Per-Capita GDP*
Ave. Salary Equiv. Deg.*
Domestic Data*
OECD* [9]
Starting
15 years experience
Maximum
$46,000 [5]
$57,000 [7]
$41,000 [8]
$31,000
$38,000
$40,000
Earning Potential**
0.73
0.54
0.67
0.71
Share GDP***
0.91
0.67
0.83
0.88

*All monetary figures for the US are reported in raw US $.  All monetary figures for the Finland are converted to US $ using the OECD PPP 2012 conversion rate of 0.907 OECD 2013c.  All monetary figures for both countries are rounded to the nearest $1,000 to avoid implying nonexistent accuracy
**Earning Potential represents how much money the career makes compared to the median for those with the same degree qualifications (Median Salary divided by Median Salary for that degree in the General Public; calculated using unrounded data)
***Share GDP represents the share of the Per-Capita GDP that Median Salary earns (Median Salary divided by Per-Cap GDP; calculated using unrounded data)
[3] US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013 ; Median annual wages
[4] US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012; Salary data is median elementary school teacher annual wage
[7] Statistics Finland 2013d; “Total earnings”
[8] Statistics Finland 2013b; Salary data is luokanopettaja mean annual wage
[9] OECD 2013b

Summary: US teachers seem to make more

Teacher retention

American teachers simply (generally) do not stick around for very long, which has been long identified as a problem.  In fact, each year 9% of American teachers leave the profession and apparently half of new teachers leave the profession within just five years of teaching (source, but it is behind a paywall).  In comparison, 85-90% of Finnish teachers do not leave the profession until retirement (I don't have primary data on this, just several reliable sources that mention the number without citation, like this OECD report and this article by Pasi Sahlberg, a leading Finnish expert on education).

Summary: Over 85% of Finnish teachers stay for most of their careers while 50% of American teachers leave within 5 years

Summary Table
(because I love tables...)
Sorry for the quality, I made the table in Word and apparently it didn't transfer well...

19 comments:

  1. I really think I should just link to your blog on mine and tell everyone to go read about the Finnish education system here since I keep not getting around to it and you've done some excellent posts. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is really interesting, Alistair. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, glad you like it! If you have any ideas for things to check out, let me know, and I would love to chat with you about this stuff when I get back!

      Delete
  3. The difference in German (and Finnish) and the Anglo-American university systems is that the German system has a very strict Fachhochschule/academic university division. Fachhochschules are mainly for training for practical jobs needed by the local industry or economy, so you graduate at around 22-23, and go to work as fast as possible. The academic universities do research and only give Master's degrees or higher, and are very proud of it. They are also very selective, and studies take relatively long: a Master is typically 25-29 years old at minimum, with at least half a year of practical training experience. A Doctor is around 28-35, having worked 4-6 years minimum in research. An American Bachelor graduates around 22-24, so they are significantly less taught, less mature and need more training on the job. So, you could say the Americans require only Fachhochschule for teachers. That would never happen in Finland today, although it was necessary in earlier times (the so-called seminaari; Martti Ahtisaari is probably the most famous graduate).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the comment! I think this is a great point, and one I have been thinking about recently (though I didn't know about the German comparison). I looked at the numbers, and the average age of starting university training, which includes the teacher training, in Finland is 21 or 22, so new Masters would on average be 25-28 like you say. I can't imagine the difference professional and life experience between a new Finnish teacher who is in that age range, versus the many new American teachers who are 22.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hello, Alistair! My name is Aygerim. I'm from Kazakhstan, Astana. I need some information about finnish teachers' salary, compensations, how it divides, on what depends, for my job. Can you, please, help me?
      this is my e-mail assanova1409@gmail.com
      Please, write to me if you can help. ASAP
      ~ Thank you ~

      Delete
  5. Do teachers in Finland have teacher unions as they do in the US?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed they do, my cousin is a teacher.

      Delete
    2. I have spent several hundred dollars this year alone. Would you require a surgeon to pay for his operating tools? Do bus drivers own their own buses? You get a tattoo and the artist charges you for the ink and the needles. Should we as teachers charge our scholars for the supplies we need because the state won't pay us enough or supply us for the education standards they are requiring us to teach to?

      Delete
  6. Do teachers in Finland buy their own supplies to the extent that American teachers do?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Do teachers in Finland buy their own supplies to the extent that American teachers do?

    ReplyDelete
  8. US teachers do make more on average, but we also work longer hours on average, twice as long, with larger class room populations and less support from our administration. It isn't always about money. I would take a pay cut to work 550 hours a year. 11000 less for half the work and smaller class sizes? Yes please! It is interesting how people crunch numbers they find on the internet and don't bother to actually talk to someone in the business of teaching.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not trying to reduce anything to an economic only conversation but I am assuming that the pay in both countries is gross pay. I am curious what the net pay would be since Europeans often talk net pay.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Can I teach in Finland if I have a degree from ABCTE, a govt approved program in US. http://abcte.org/teach/international/
    Given that I don't have a master's degree.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It all boils down to getting a masters degree and then competing to get to be a teacher. It's focus and calling. The reason the administration does not interfere is because they know that the teachers there know that's their calling and not there just to get a job but to fulfill what they're called to be.

    ReplyDelete
  12. It all boils down to getting a masters degree and then competing to get to be a teacher. It's focus and calling. The reason the administration does not interfere is because they know that the teachers there know that's their calling and not there just to get a job but to fulfill what they're called to be.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks for sharing fabulous information on search jobs related to career. It's my pleasure to read it.I have also bookmarked you for checking out new posts.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good morning, thanks for the updates. I am a Nigerian, a teacher by profession with a degree in Economics Education. I ve taught in the primary school for ten years. What are my chances of getting a job in Finland. Thanks

    ReplyDelete