Equity makes for better PISA results (press release 11 November 2013)

Finland has been one of the top-performing countries in four PISA surveys conducted in 2000–2009. In order to maintain its position, Finland must continue to improve its results at the same pace with the other leading countries. National policies that apply equally to all students across the board are not enough; what is needed are targeted measures to improve performance in the poorest areas and groups.

This is the conclusion reached by Dr. Satya Brink, a distinguished Canadian expert on educational policy research. Together with researchers at the University of Jyväskylä Institute for Educational Research, she has studied the factors underlying the poorer PISA results of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland, with a view to considering how their performance might be improved. Analyses in her research also allow conclusions to be drawn that apply to all Finnish students and educational policy.

“Educational policies of the past decade have not led to significant improvements in performance, and they also maintain inequality,” says Brink.

Targeted support for the Swedish speaking minority?

The reading score of Finnish speaking students in PISA 2009 fell by 11 points from 2006 and their ranking from second to third. The top score of 556 points achieved by Shanghai was equal to a gap of half a school year to Finns (536 points). The average score of Swedish speaking Finnish students was 511 points, which amounts to more than one school year’s difference compared with Shanghai. The share of low performers in Finnish language schools was 24 percent (14,000 students), and 36 percent (1,400) in Swedish language schools. Most of the low performers were boys: 35 percent in Finnish language and 49 percent in Swedish language schools. To improve school performance in Finland, the number of students with unsatisfactory reading skills should be reduced.

“Is it possible to provide an extra incentive for Swedish speaking students that would enable schools to close the gap with the national level? The additional funding would be targeted at areas where poor test results are concentrated. Instead of using methods handed down from above, municipalities should be encouraged to set goals themselves and to search for individualised solutions,” Brink explains.

Poorer results among Swedish speaking students are also associated with using lower-order learning strategies. Swedish language schools also suffer from a lack of competent teachers. This may be due to an insufficient number of teachers on the labour market, or teachers not seeking work in areas where they are needed most.

More attention to boys’ studies

The key factor that could be used to improve the reading performance of both Finnish and Swedish speaking students is to enhance the joy of reading among boys. The results of PISA 2009 showed that reading skills among Finnish speaking boys lagged about one and a half school years behind that of girls, a difference that was greater than in any other OECD country. According to the OECD, 64 percent of this gap could be bridged if boys would read as much as girls. Reading fiction in particular plays a big part in the development of reading skill and comprehension. The joy of reading is something that can be enhanced both at home and in school.

“Encouraging students to read in schools is overshadowed by the subject-specific syllabus, both in Finnish and Swedish language schools. Boys could be encouraged to read by, for example, offering them books they find interesting and also electronic texts,” Brink explains.

More information:

  • Satya Brink, 1 819 827 0456, satya.brink@gmail.com (Canada; please note any difference in time zones)
  • Kari Nissinen, +358 (0)40 805 4268, kari.nissinen@jyu.fi
  • Jouni Vettenranta, +358 (0)40 805 4285, jouni.vettenranta@jyu.fi

The report is published in English and Swedish:

Satya Brink, Kari Nissinen, Jouni Vettenranta:
Equity and excellence.
Evidence for policy formulation to reduce the difference in PISA performance between Swedish speaking and Finnish speaking students in Finland.
Finnish Institute for Educational Research 2013. Available online at https://ktl.jyu.fi/en/publications/g047

Satya Brink, Kari Nissinen, Jouni Vettenranta:
Forskningsresultat som kan användas för att minska skillnaderna i PISA-prestationer mellan svenskspråkiga och finskspråkiga elever.
Finnish Institute for Educational Research 2013. The report contains a summary in Finnish.
Available online at https://ktl.jyu.fi/julkaisut/julkaisuluettelo/julkaisut/2013/g048