Category Archives: Finland

Comparison of British Columbia & Finland

Wait!!! Before you click away, I know what you are asking. “Why in gods name are you comparing British Columbia and Finnish education system? That is a tired 1-string banjo you are playing and no one wants to hear it.“ and I completely agree with you BUT this is different… I promise.

This post was born from a Twitter conversation with one of British Columbia’s finest politicians @MaryForBC. The gist of which was, I complained about the @bcliberals and their education funding policies and @MaryForBC countered with pleasant 140 character “Golly gee Keith, things aren’t that bad!” (I paraphrase)

During the discussion someone threw Finland into the mix as a foil to highlight all #BCED shortcomings. Then, @MaryForBC countered with a predictable insult, suggesting the main reason the Finnish system is so good is that they choose their teachers from the top third of students whereas BC Teachers are chosen from the bottom third… and so it went.

@MaryForBC did however; open the door for a broader conversation about the differences between Finland and BC. Tweeting that: “I think it is all worth looking at” So just for fun I collected some data.Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.56.17 AM

Please understand that I do not intend this to be the final word on the subject, just a conversation starter. I realize I am trying to compare a Nation to a Province but even so, I feel the comparison is still compelling. In compiling the information shared in the table, I had to look here there and everywhere so it is a bit of a hodgepodge but I am confident that all the data is accurate. I will update should I find better information.

In the comparison, I do not look at just school related items. I take a look at the bigger picture, specifically the economies of each. The similarities between Finland and British Columbia are really quite surprising. Population, exports, income levels are all relatively similar. When you are looking at the side-by-side comparison in the table that follows, try to consider how the similarities and the differences play out in the respective school systems.

What I found most surprising in all these numbers was the unemployment rates of these two jurisdictions. Finland has a higher rate of unemployment than British Columbia yet it’s rate of childhood poverty is just slightly over half of what BC’s is. When it comes to children in classrooms poverty is an extraordinarily important measure. There is no amount of teaching skill that can overcome the immediate effects of poverty and Finland seems to realize this.

Another difference I found interesting was actually in a similarity. The difference came in how teachers’ unions are viewed in each jurisdiction. In British Columbia the teachers’ union is viewed as the spawn of Satan, whereas in Finland the teachers’ union is seen as a partner in education with which government has a cooperative relationship.

Beyond the aforementioned, what this comparison illustrates to me is that Finland seems to see value in supporting all their citizens and their education system is only a small part of a social and economic system that works toward this end. To simply credit the success of Finland’s education system on the way they train their teachers, as @MaryForBC did, is astoundingly myopic.

I would hope that this comparison instead, illustrates that the current state of BC’s education system is not a simple matter of teachers not doing their job or being greedy but instead is the result of choices our government(s) has made. Choices that do not put all citizens on an equal footing. Choices that do not even come close to showing the kind of egalitarianism that Finland shows toward its citizens.

British Columbia
Education Comparison
Teaching CredentialsBachelorsMasters
University Tuition5 - 6K per yearNO COST
Professional DevelopmentTeacher directed & out of pocketTeacher directed - State funded
Professional AutonomyUnder AttackVery High
Teacher OrganizationUnionizedUnionized
Teacher EvaluationContract drivenContract driven
School Governance60 School DistrictsManaged by Municipalities
# of Public school Students549,836600,000
# Private Schools347 (2012)NO for profit private schools
Req Classroom Hours850 – 950592
Instructional Days186180
Class Size AveragesGrade dependentNo greater than 20
School Start5 - 6 Years6 - 7 Years
General Comparison
Population4.4 Million5.5 Million
Dependant Population50% (Approximate)53%
GDP220 Billion247 Billion
GDP per capita $43,473 (CAD)$38,658 (USD)
Income gap Top:Bottom10.8 Times5.6 Times
Population Below Poverty Line15.511.9 (2012 - Updated)
Child poverty rates18.6%9.4% (Updated - 2012)
Unemployment rate6%8%
Youth Unemployment13.2%20.5%
Number of Billionaires 51
Personal tax rate 70K/yr29.7%40%
Corporate Tax Rate11.5%20.0%
Exports$74 Billion (2012) $78.23 billion (2012)