Finnish Educational Success and Public Libraries
I’m sure that you’ve already heard that Finland has an incredible education system, but if you haven’t, Finland consistently ranks near the top for test scores in the sciences, math and reading. Much of the success of the Finnish educational success is attributed to the culture of the people of Finland, and to the school systems. Many American educators hold up the Finnish model as an exemplary model.
Finland certainly is doing something right. For example, they have no standardized testing until age 16. Students also don’t get homework until much later. But Finland is achieving all this success while spending 30% less than American schools.
So the really question is how does a school model have better results, cheaper and without homework? I would say that the answer to that question is found in the public library. Finland has a strong public library system. The average Finnish resident checks out 17 books per year compared to 8.3 for the United States. Perhaps when schools are not giving homework to students, the students have time to engage in self-directed reading and learning. And we know from research that self-directed learning is more meaningful and retained longer than mandated learning.
The library is often overlooked when it comes to the educational, lifelong learning, and success of a democracy. I would say that the Finnish experience provides real and concrete, while anecdotal, evidence of how a strong library system, a culture of self-directed learning through libraries, and a healthy appetite for reading improve test scores and the education of a citizen.
We, as a profession, need to continue to advocate for the role of the library in the education of a nation. We need to further legitimize ourselves, not as an educational partner, but as an educational institution in our own right. This is not to take away from the valuable work our colleagues do through the school system, but to say that we play a vital role in the teaching and learning of Americans of all ages too.