A friend of mine shared this link concerning the differences between the American and Nordic education systems on their Facebook wall: http://iwastesomuchtime.com/on/?i=70585 . The girl in question is an American exchange student currently studying in Helsinki, and it’s a given that sharing this on her Facebook wall will induce some discussion and some counter arguments from her American friends. I was trying to write an answer, but figured I was unable to make it as short as I wanted, and on top one of our common friends wrapped up what I had to say really well.
I’d stil like to share a few of the points I have to make, since the comments defending the American education system had some rather big misconceptions about the free-of-charge education systems of the Nordic countries. I feel a tad uncomfortable putting these thoughts out seeing what only posting the link already woke up in some people on Facebook, and not being a girl of words and realizing I’m not an expert on the education system of either Finland or the U.S., but I can’t help it. Especially one sentence on Facebook made me frown:
”Only those that had higher grades in the early years get channeled for the university.”
Actually, the usual practice to get into a university in Finland is to pass an entrance exam. Thus, although obviously not recommended, you can screw up your early years all you want. If you have second thoughts later on, “all” you need to do is to study hard for the entry exam, and if you do well enough on it, you get accepted along with everyone else.
Often (if not always) there are entry quotas, though, which means that you have to do better than the majority in the entry exams. Also, sometimes there are schools that accept people on two different quotas: one for people with high enough grades to give them some advantage of it, and then one for people with lower to “normal” grades – however, everyone takes the entry exam.
There are always exceptions – that’s a given. Some schools give “free scholarships” to people who pass the matriculation exam with the highest grades in specific subjects. For example, if you get the highest grade possible in chemistry in your matriculation exam, you’re automatically accepted to study chemistry at the University of Helsinki, and do not have to take the entrance exam.
The problem with letting anyone study basically only if they have the money to pay for it is, that that is how money is going to end up ruling the whole system in the end anyway. Usually, the people who end up on influential positions are people of higher education, which, in a system where people pay for their education, are people with money.
Honestly, I see no point in the U.S. system. I think it’s irrefutably unfair to have money decide who’s good enough to get higher education. Higher education should be a possibility for anyone willing to put the time and effort in studying for the entrance exam, not a priviledge for the wealthy or those willing to put themselves into debt.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I’ve understood, in the U.S., if you screw up your early years in school and don’t come from a wealthy background, your chances to get into a University are much smaller than in Finland, and you would still have to go into debt.
I realize I myself might be misinformed regarding the U.S. education system. All I know is, that in Finland, I’ve had the possibility to get a really good start on my career – admittedly, I did have grades good enough to get into one of the best highs schools in the country and worked for my grades enough to belong to the previously mentioned quota of people who got some advantage of their grades when applying to the University. However, I don’t know where I’d be had I been brought up in the U.S. Good grades, yes, but enough to get a free scholarship? Would I have had to go into debt at the age of 18? Would my parents have put me through uni with their money? I do not know.
Someone usually brings up the matter of differences in population size. I’m not an expert on political economics or social sciences – far from – and these are just my thoughts on this particular matter, comparing the system. I have no clue whatsoever how the U.S. system could be converted into a free-of-charge education system with the Nordic countries as a model, of if it could even be done, or if there would even be interest to do so. All I’m saying is that I personally would probably not be where I am today, were I born in the U.S. I’d probably be all happy with the situation nonetheless, but right now I feel I’m really privileged to have the chance to plow my way through my studies without having to worry about debts at this age.
To quote the previously mentioned common friend of ours, Joel:
”Free and publicly subsidized education guarantees that everyone can afford to not only attend but also focus on their studies without being saddled with huge amounts of debt. It means that education and freedom from debt aren’t just benefits of the wealthy. It’s as simple as that. ”