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A spot of trouble in paradise

Famous for its outstanding results in international league tables, Finland is often regarded as a paradise for teachers. Not so, says a book by a Finnish primary teacher that has become a media sensation.

Talented children are left to stagnate, parents do not care about their children's education and many send them to school starving, according to Maarit Kor-honen's What's Wrong with School? A teacher for 30 years, she wrote the book because "in the media everything bad that happens is the school's fault. I wanted to tell the reality of life in a Finnish primary school".

With no private schools, Finnish classrooms reflect the extremes of the country's socio-economic hierarchy. "There are some children who are very rich and others who have had no food over the weekend," Ms Korhonen explains.

The book highlights cases of eight-year-olds "going to the shop, getting food and preparing it for themselves". It also refers to a child with rich parents who told Ms Korhonen that she went to New York and "mum drank in the aeroplane, drank in the hotel and drank by the pool". Parental alcoholism is an even more acute problem if the parents are poor, the author adds.

Only about 10 per cent of the wealthier parents ever come to parents' evenings: "They claim that they're too busy, but I find that about 100 per cent of the poorer parents turn up."

Finnish schools also reflect extremes of ability. "The system makes everyone strong, but it means that the talented kids just have to sit there bored."

Dr Pasi Sahlberg, of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (part of the education ministry), is critical of Ms Korhonen's conclusions, arguing that the Pisa results, which are compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, show that Finland is highly successful.

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