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Yet another study: Finland has world’s most cost-efficient education system

A new study has ranked Finnish schools the most efficient education system among 30 OECD countries in terms of their return on expenses. The study says Finland won the top spot because of its large class sizes and reasonable teacher wages.

Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Governments around the world spend trillions of dollars each year on educating 1.3 billion children. But how efficiently do governments use their available budgets? A new Efficiency Index report published by the London-based education consultancy GEMS Education Solutions has highlighted which countries are investing most effectively to produce the best educational outcomes for their young people. Finland, Korea and the Czech Republic come out on top of the 30-country list.

The study claims that over the last 15 years, Finland has achieved the best educational results for each dollar invested, if the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results are used as an indicator.

National Board of Education Counsellor Petra Packalen is not surprised by Finland’s placement.  

“Finland is world renowned for its quality, equality and efficiency. The lesson Finland has extended to the international community is that these three attributes are not mutually exclusive,” says Packalen.

The study is a straightforward comparison of PISA results with teacher-related expenses. The rationale behind Finland’s top ranking is the relatively large average class sizes and mid-level teacher wages. The news that Finland is considered to have large class sizes comes as a surprise to Packalen, who says Finnish classes are quite small when compared to the other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The chair of the teachers’ union OAJ Olli Luukkainen is also sceptical about the study’s premise that a change in teacher salaries or class size would have a statistically significant impact on PISA scores.

“It sounds as if this is straight-out research mathematics, in a negative sense. You could even draw the conclusion that efficiency could be increased by expanding class sizes, and this is not how progress should happen. This logic does not take into account Finland’s practice of integrating special needs students into groups. And then there is the problem of adding teacher salaries to the mix. Two indicators are devised that are linked together in an abstract way to come up with a pretty lopsided conclusion.”

How to determine educational efficiency?

The study points out that some countries emphasize practices that don’t focus on efficiency or PISA results and yet still do well. Luukkainen warns that people shouldn’t get the impression that the Finland education system is developed in line with certain PISA goals.

“All of us who work to develop Finnish schools can say with a clean conscious that Finland does not develop its studies to achieve top PISA results,” he says.  

The GEMS study also indicates that Finland’s top placement does not mean that it still couldn’t make its system even more efficient. OAJ’s Luukkainen is reluctant to go down that path.

“I strongly urge everyone to be wary of that. Talk like that hints at adding to class size in the faith that the teacher will manage and kept up the good academic returns with relation to expense.  It most definitely doesn’t work that way. I hope Finnish decision makers will understand that numerical analysis and counting euros is not the correct gauge by which we should be measuring educational outcome.”

Packalen says efficiency can be an effective measure, as long as we know what is being assessed.

“Efficiency is a meaningful measure of success, but one must also remain aware of who is defining this efficiency and how. For example, this study was entirely lacking in information on the time spent teaching and learning. Finnish school days are very short and little time is spent on homework, but for some reason, these kinds of indicators were not included in this study.”

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