The OECD recently published the results of the PISA tests, which measure the achievements of 15-year-old students in 57 countries, ranked in accordance with the average grade of students in the sciences. The tests were comprehensive and also considered scientific literacy.
In the first place, with an average grade of 563, we have proud Finnish students. In the 39th spot, with an average grade of 454, we have embarrassed Israeli students.
About two months ago, the OECD issued a thick publication that reviews the major characteristics of education systems in member states, as well as countries associated with the organization, such as Israel. By examining the two publications, we can try to answer the question that bothers every parents, student, and teacher in Israel: What does the Finnish education system have that is lacking in Israel? Below are the findings:
Does Finland invest more in education? No. The education expenditure per student at Finnish high schools is indeed 22 percent higher than in Israel, but per capita product in Finland is also about 22 percent higher than in Israel. Relative to the per capita product, which is the correct method of comparison, Finland does not invest more. When it comes to elementary schools it invests even less in its students than Israel. This is not the explanation for the success of students in Helsinki and failure of those in Jerusalem.
Moreover, the OECD’s review looked into the statistical connection between the expenditure per student in the various countries and the achievements of students in the PISA tests. The correlation that was found is very weak: Only 15 percent of the difference in student achievements is explained by different level of education expenditures per student. Therefore, if the investment per high school student in Israel will grow by 50 percent (!), the grade we can expect high school students to score on the PISA test would only improve our international ranking slightly: From 39th spot to 33rd spot.
But do Finnish students study more? No, they study much less. In the ages 12-14, an Israeli student enjoys 1,000 hours of study, while a Finnish student enjoys 800 instruction hours. By the end of high school, an Israeli student will enjoy 42 percent more hours of instruction than a Finnish student.
Are classrooms in Finland smaller? No. Finnish elementary schools employ one teacher per 16 students, while in Israel the figure is one teacher per 17 students. In high school there is almost no gap. Although classrooms in Israel are larger than in Finland, the number of teachers per class is higher (classrooms in Israel are among the most crowded in the world: 32-33 students per class in an Israeli high school, compared to 28 in Finland.)
Finland discovered the secretBut perhaps the Finnish curriculums earmark more teaching resources to math and sciences, which explains why students there excel? No. In Israel, math and science classes make up 26 percent of the curriculum, compared to 27 percent in Finland. It’s an insignificant difference.
But what about teacher salaries? Are differences between Finland and Israel blatant? The answer is positive. Israeli teachers earn much less than their Finnish counterparts, both in terms of purchasing power and relative to per capita income, yet they work longer hours than Finnish teachers (54 percent more in elementary school and 25 percent more in high school.)
A veteran Israeli teacher at an elementary school makes 18 dollars per hour in practice. A Finnish counterpart makes 48 dollars per hour of instruction. In high school, the gap grows: 79 dollars per hour for a Finnish teacher, compared to 27 dollars per hour in Israel. If we take into account the difference in per capita product, the gap is a little smaller, but still huge.
The instruction burden and teacher salaries are therefore the only two factors that can explain the relative ranking of Finnish and Israeli students when it comes to the PISA tests. As it turns out, Finland discovered the secret of educational success: The teaching profession is prestigious, appreciated, profitable, and therefore draws the best people. The Finns realize that when their teachers excel and are satisfied, so are their students.