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10 Fun Facts about Finland

October 11th, 2019

finland_1011

Not only has Finland been in the news recently, with its President visiting the US but the 2019 meeting of EAIE (European Association of International Educators) was also held last month in Helsinki, the country’s capital. We’ve decided to put the spotlight on Finland in this week’s blog post and share some fun facts about this Nordic country. We’ve also invited ACEI’s President and CEO, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, who was in Helsinki for the EAIE conference to share her perspective.

1. Happiest Country in the World

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Image: REUTERS/Petr Josek

The latest World Economic Forum report ranks Finland as the happiest country in the world. Finland has climbed from number 5 to number 1.
Jasmin: “I can vouch for this ranking. During my recent visit to Helsinki where I was attending the EAIE conference, not once did I experience an unpleasant encounter with a Finnish person. Every person I met, whether at the hotel, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, shop keepers, and even locals, greeted me with smiles and genuine hospitality. I always felt welcomed. On my first evening in Helsinki, my hotel recommended my husband and I who was also traveling with me, to check out a restaurant known for its authentic Finnish cuisine. It was clearly a popular venue as there were quite a few people lined up ahead of us waiting for a table. As we inched our way closer to the host, a young man approached us and invited us to join him and his party rather than stand in line. We gladly accepted his invitation and joined his party which included a number of Finns and Italians. They were in Helsinki to attend the “No Labels, No Walls” event that weekend. We spoke at length with our new Finnish friends about life in Finland and they had nothing but positive things to say. They all agreed that in order to coexist as they did, some compromises had to be made, but overall they followed the Finnish ethos where taking care of one another is embraced as an important aspect of their social construct.”

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The top 20 happiest countries 2019 Image: World Happiness Report 2019

2. Minimum Wage and Average Salary

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The minimum wages in most professions in Finland is among the highest in the Eurozone. The average salary in Helsinki is around net € 2,500 euros per month. Although Helsinki has the highest salaries in Finland it also has the highest cost of living when it comes to property and rent prices. But, compared to its Nordic neighbors such as Sweden and Norway, its cost of living is considerably lower.

Jasmin: “When I asked my taxi driver if Uber (the ride sharing service) is popular in Helsinki, he said “no.” When I asked him why, he said that people in Finland make a good living thanks to the living wage and don’t need to have a second job.”

3. The Sami (Lapp) People

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Image: stock photo Google images

The first inhabitants of Finland were the Sami (Lapp) people who were there when the first Finnish speakers migrated in during the first millennium B.C. The Lapps moved north into the section that is today known as Lapland.

Jasmin: “I took a taxi from my hotel in the City Center of Helsinki to the convention center or locally known as Messukeskus. When I asked the driver if she was from Helsinki, she told me she was from Lapland. How great is that?! It’s not every day one meets someone claiming to be from this enchanting place where, as children, we were told Santa Claus lived!”

Spanning 30% of Finland’s land area, Lapland is home to just 3% of its population. Lapland’s far north is known as Sápmi, home of the Sámi, whose main communities are around Inari, Utsjoki and Hetta. Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle, is the most popular gateway to the north.

Jasmin continues: “In the 15-minute drive to the convention center, my driver took me on a virtual journey of her idyllic birthplace. She spoke of the midnight sun, the Sámi peoples, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and roaming reindeer, the magical snowy winters, the sense of space, big skies and pure clean air.”

4. Saunas: “The poor man’s pharmacy”

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Image: stock photo Google images

Finns are fanatic about their saunas. With a population of 5.4 million, Finland has over 3 million saunas. It is said that there are more saunas than cars in Finland. Dubbed the “poor man’s pharmacy,” the sauna is not a luxury but a substantial part of Finnish culture and national identity. The only Finnish word to make it to the English language is ‘sauna.’
Jasmin: “Yes, I did enjoy a few minutes of heat and serenity at the hotel’s sauna. We heard that even a Burger King in Helsinki has a sauna which gives a burger, fries with a side of sauna, a whole new meaning!”

5. Free Education

Finland offers free education at the elementary, secondary and even university levels. This free access is also offered to students from the EU/EES. It is no wonder that Finland is ranked number one as the happiest country in the world.
And one more thing, non-EU students can also benefit from free education if they take classes that are taught in Finnish or Swedish or complete doctoral studies in any language. Oh, by the way, in Finland, when someone earns this PhD, they receive a top hat and a sword!

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Image: stock photo Google images

6. First European Country to Give Women the Right to Vote

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Thirteen of the 19 women elected to Parliament in 1907. Photo: Helsiniki City Museum

In 1906, Finland became the first country in Europe that gave women from all levels of society the right to vote and stand for parliament. Finland had its first female prime minister (Anneli Jäätteenmäki) in April 2003 which made it the only country in Europe with both a female president (Tarja Halonen) and prime minister.

7. Prohibition and Consumption of Alcohol

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Image credit: Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

Just like the U.S., Finland had its own temperance movement that led to the prohibition of alcohol from 1919-1932. Of course, this didn’t stop the Finns from making their own brew and households were known to have perfected moonshining. Smuggling of alcohol into the country was also par for the course. Today, you can only purchase beer and cider in supermarkets throughout Finland. Wine and other spirits can be purchased at state-sanctioned stores. In restaurants, if you order anything but beer by the glass you need to specify the size in terms of liters. There are several speakeasies in Helsinki.

Jasmin: “On a boat ride around the islands near Helsinki, the Captain told us the story of one famous smuggler who during WWII had turned to smuggling about 150 Jewish people from Nazi Germany to safety.”

8. Finnish Language is Unique

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Source: Pixabay

The Finnish language is part of the Finno-Ugric language group and is said to be similar to Estonian than the Scandinavian languages such as Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. It is not even an Indo-European language but belongs to the Uralic language family. Finnish uses gender-neutral words in their language.

Jasmin: “I made it a point to learn the 3 basic words of saying hello, goodbye and thank you in Finnish. The word for hello is hei or moi, and goodbye is hei hei or moi moi, and thank you is kiitos, though everyone we met in Helsinki was fluent in English and would respond with a pleasant smile when I’d say any of these words in Finnish.”

The Finns love their language so much that they celebrate it each year on the 9th of April. To learn more about this special day, click here

9. The Land of the Midnight Sun and Aurora Borealis

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Image: Stock photo Google images

A quarter of the country is in the Arctic Circle which puts Finland’s Lapland and other northern sections in what is known as the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. The sun in this area doesn’t set for 73 consecutive summer days annually while it doesn’t rise at all for 51 days during the winter (known as polar night). Except for the summer, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are seen regularly in every season in Lapland and other parts of Finland

Jasmin: “My taxi driver who was from Lapland said that she loved the long nights and long days. She said that to her these were what made her region so special and unique.”

10. General Country Facts

  • Total Population: 5.4 million
  • Capital: Helsinki
  • Land area: 338,424 km2
  • Government: Republic, parliamentary democracy
  • President: Sauli Niinistö
  • Primary minister: Juha Sipilä
  • Currency: Euro
  • Official language: Official languages are Finnish (spoken by 88.9%) and Swedish
  • (5.3%). Sami is also recognized as a regional language.
  • Official Website: Finland.fi
  • Member of EU: Yes.
  • Member of NATO: No

Source: https://www.swedishnomad.com/facts-about-finland/

Bonus Fun fact:

11. Least Corrupt and Most Transparent

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When it comes to the reporting of the news, Finland is by far the most honest and transparent. This is mostly due to its commitment to equal rights and emphasis on transparency. Finland’s press has been rated the freest one in the world. Transparency International, based in Berlin, has rated Finland since 1998 as the world’s least corrupt country as is its reporting of domestic and international news. If you’re looking at alternative fact-based non-partisan reporting of international news, best you turn to the Finnish press, such as Helsinki Times.


jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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5 Countries to Invade (or Emulate) for Ideas

February 18th, 2016

I recently saw the new Michael Moore film “Where to Invade Next,” http://wheretoinvadenext.com and I can only say that here in the U.S. we have a lot to learn from our friends in Europe and even in North Africa. Moore takes us on a journey to Italy, Finland, France, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Iceland, and Tunisia and highlights one aspect of their civil society and its myriad of benefits. His mission in the film is to “invade” these countries not for their natural resources or to overthrow governments to spread democracy but to bring home to the U.S. one positive attribute. In all his encounters, those he interviewed, regardless of country, reminded him that they used the U.S. (e.g. our Constitution, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) as their model to emulate and perfect.

Since this is an education blog, I’m going to focus on those countries Moore visited to highlight the great strides they’ve made in cultivating their education system from curriculum, teaching methodology, assessments, to school meals.

Finland
finland

Moore visited Finland where the country decided to overhaul its entire pre-K through high school public education after rating low on world education rankings in the mid 1990’s. Since then they have done away with testing, or standardized testing as we are so familiar with here in the U.S., scrapped homework and reduced classroom hours. Children get more time to socialize and play at home and with friends. Public schools throughout Finland receive equal funding and enjoy the same resources so children of different neighborhoods benefit from the same quality education and socialize and integrate with each other despite their socioeconomic backgrounds. It was also interesting to see that when Finns get their paychecks they receive a detailed breakdown of exactly where their taxes are going. Would we react differently if we saw that 56% of our taxes are directed toward military and defense instead of education and other social services?

Moore’s takeaway from Finland: Do away with the standardized tests and reduce homework and make teaching fun and engaging. And, include a detailed breakdown of exactly what percentage of taxes support which government programs!

France
France

The next country on Moore’s itinerary was France where he visited school lunchrooms to witness at firsthand what French children eat.  What he found was astounding. School chefs meeting with Ministry of Education-approved nutritionists to plan the monthly menus, refrigerators stocked with fresh produce, including varieties of cheeses and sit down lunches where children were served four course meals. You may be thinking that he had visited a private school. No, these were public schools, some in poorer neighborhoods and some in more affluent, but the one thing they had in common was healthy food, prepared with great attention to the ingredients to ensure the children received a balanced nutritious meal. Lunch was served on china, where children sat at dining tables covered with table cloth and were served by a member of the kitchen staff. They were not lining up cafeteria style with trays in hand and having mystery meat plopped on plastic plates. Children even helped serve each other and ate their meals using proper silverware: knives and forks. The point was not only healthy eating, but learning table etiquette and the ability to sit alongside fellow classmates and sharing a meal. In fact, these children were sharing their desserts and having conversations! And the beverage served? Water! Yes, water. No sugary sodas or artificially sweetened drinks. Plain, delicious, water. By the way, he also demonstrated how the cost to have healthy freshly prepared meals on site for the children at schools in fact cost far less than the mass produced nutritious deprived lunches at our school cafeterias. Moore also sat in a sex education class and when he asked the teacher and the students if there were also taught abstinence as is the case in U.S. schools, they looked at him in bewilderment. The teacher said studies show that including sex ed. classes in schools reduce teen pregnancies.

Moore’s takeaway from France: Incorporate a menu of healthy nutritious meals at our public schools using the French system as a model, though minus the scallops and coq au vin. And, worth returning sex ed. classes in our school curriculum that provide students honest and uncensored information.

Slovenia
Slovenia

Next was Slovenia where Moore interviewed students attending the University of Ljubljana where both domestic and international students benefit from free education. He spoke with two American students who had chosen to study there since they couldn’t afford the high cost of U.S. higher education. One student even said that she felt Slovenia’s higher education was by far more superior compared to U.S. undergraduate studies which she thought was more on a par to the country’s high schools. When Slovenia’s government had considered charging tuition, Slovenian students protested against it and they were so effective that they succeeded in having the political party in charge step down. When tuition goes up in the U.S. we seldom see students protesting and demanding any change.

Moore’s takeaway from Slovenia: Free higher education means access to a larger population of students and a graduating class unburdened by student loans and debt.

Germany
Germany

In Germany, besides meeting with worker’s unions where it is a law that workers have representation on the Boards of companies and any worker suffering from stress with a doctor’s note receives a two-week company-paid stay at a spa to rest and recuperate, Moore also visited a public school.  He sat in on a class where the students were taught about the atrocities committed by Germany during WWII under Hitler’s leadership. The students weren’t taught a simplistic view of what happened. There were no revisionist interpretations of history, no excuses or admonitions that since they weren’t alive then they are not required to assume responsibility. He also showed how Germany is acknowledging its past by commemorating those who were taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps with gold plaques bearing their names and signs throughout streets in towns and cities in the country.  It was a stunning look at how Germany is not trying to forget or ignore its past actions.

Moore’s takeaway from Germany: One lesson Moore wishes the U.S. to adopt is a full recognition of its treatment of the indigenous Native Americans and its use of African slaves in building its infrastructure. If our children are taught the facts without any censorship or sanitizing, then there most likely will be a deeper understanding of our country’s history and a greater sense of accountability. Another takeaway is protecting our unions and giving the workers a seat on the Boards of U.S. companies. A 2-week paid spa retreat isn’t a bad idea either!

Tunisia
Tunisia

Although Moore’s focus on visiting Tunisia was not related to its education system, I still think it’s worth sharing since it has much to do with the topic of women’s equal rights in a country that in 2011 experienced a revolution in what we’ve got to know as the start of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has been able to bring about sweeping changes that have elevated the role of women in society by including in its constitution a bill of rights for women. In Tunisia women have full rights concerning their reproductive systems, can run for political office can serve in parliament, and share the same rights and privileges as men. A Tunisian female journalist had a few poignant words of advice for Moore and I’m paraphrasing: America is very lucky to be a strong country but it is very ignorant of others in the world, while other people of the world know about America, its politics, its music, literature, art, film, fashion, and even speak its language, Americans don’t know and don’t seem to want or care about the rest of the world. Tunisia, she said, is small, but it too has a rich history. She reminded us that it was the U.S. that invented the best technology ever: the Internet.  She asked that we use this valuable resource, research, read, and learn about the rest of the world and stop watching mindless shows like the Kardashians.

Moore’s takeaway from Tunisia: Be curious and look outside and beyond our four walls.

The sign of an evolving and advanced society is not pulling down the shutters and closing our eyes, minds and hearts to the outside world. It’s also not looking at everyone that talks or dresses funny, practices a different religion, or eats food that look strange to us, as a threat and with fear but to be curious, ask questions, research, engage, have conversations, learn another language, experiment with food and listen to music and news from other parts of the world, watch their films and TV shows and see for our self that we are not all that different.

My takeaway from this film besides all those shared by Moore, was that everyone he met, from young children in schools in Finland, to the women in Tunisia, spoke English. Many spoke three or four languages fluently. Language, my friends, and knowledge of more than our own, is how we can connect and stay connected with our neighbors, community, and the world. We need to make the learning of a foreign language a core component of our school curriculum, consider incorporating study abroad as a required component in our undergraduate programs, and encourage students to travel and/or join the Peace Corps on graduation. These are just a few examples of how we can inspire our young to become exemplary citizens of the U.S. and the ambassadors to the world.

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Frustrated Evaluator

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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20 lessons to learn from Finland

January 10, 2013

Finland

Finland’s education reforms which were implemented 40 years ago have helped place its school system at the top in all the global rankings for education systems. Despite the differences between Finland and the U.S., it continues to surpass other countries with similar size and demography.

Here is a list of 20 facts about Finland’s education system gleaned from a piece posted in December 2011 by the Business International which we’ve summarized below:

The Students:
1. Children in Finland start school at age 7.

2. Exams and homework don’t occur and if so, rarely, until they are in their teens.

3. The first six years of education is void of any evaluation/measurement assessments.

4. At age 16, children take a mandatory standardized test

5. All children, despite their learning abilities, are taught together in the same classroom. That is, children are not separated by their aptitude. In fact, once the students have completed their schooling, it’s been shown that the difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world.

6. Finland spends approximately 30% less per student than the U.S.

7. 93% of Finns graduate from high school which is about 17.5% more than the U.S.

8. 66% of Finnish students go to college which is the highest rate in Europe.

9. 43% of Finnish high school students attend vocational schools.

10. The size of science classes are kept at the maximum of 16 students so that everyone has the opportunity to participate in practical laboratory experiments.

11. Elementary school students in Finland enjoy 75 minutes of recess each school day while their American counterparts receive an average of 27 minutes.

The Teachers
12. Teachers in the Finnish school system spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and are required to take 2 hours a week for “professional development.”
13. Finland has the same amount of teachers as NYC but fewer students, somewhere in the range of 600,000 students compared to 1.1 million in NYC.

14. In Finland the school system is 100% funded by the government.

15. In order to teach in Finland, teachers must have a master’s degree which is fully subsidized.

16. Teachers are selected from the top 10% of university graduates.

17. In 2008, the average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 compared with $36,000 in the U.S. But high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102% of what other university graduates earn compared to the
U.S. where this figure is 62%.

18. Finland does not have merit pay for its teachers.

19. Teachers in Finland are recognized as having the same status as lawyers and doctors.

20. The national curriculum is only broad guidelines and allows the teachers flexibility to design teaching plans.

What lessons can we learn from Finland?

Related article: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html?c=y&page=2

Alan
Alan A. Saidi
Sr. VP & COO, ACEI, Inc.
www.acei1.com

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