Taksin Nuoret writes:
Ever since December 2001, when the results of the first PISA survey were made public, the Finnish educational system has received a lot of international attention. Foreign delegations are flocking to Finland, in the hope of discovering Finland's secrets.
The explanation widely accepted is that the Finnish educational system is better. For example, the following aspects have been pointed out:
- Schools routinely provide tutoring for weak students.
- Each school has a social worker ("koulukuraattori").
- Substitute teachers are often provided when the teacher is ill.
Damn, why didn't anybody in the U.S. ever think of having substitute teachers?
Anyway, Nuoret goes on to make the argument that perhaps Finnish is an easier language for kids to learn in than many other languages. He notes that Estonians, the other Finno-Ugric-speaking country, also do better than expected on PISA, and that Swedish-speakers in Finland do a little worse than Finnish-speakers on the PISA, even though Swedish-speakers have larger stock portfolios.
Arguments that one language is better than another for thinking about something have been around a long time. For example, maybe the poor reading performance in Latin American countries has something to do with the how it normally takes more letters and syllables to say something in Spanish than in English, as you can see by noting bilingual signs and the like. Puerto Ricans make up for the extra syllables in spoken Spanish by talking faster, but perhaps it's hard to read faster. I don't know.
We don't seem to have made much progress over the many years I've been listening to language theories like these at figuring out how to evaluate them. I like Nuoret's argument because he at least comes up with two pieces of evidence from the PISA results. That's only two pieces of data, however. Yet that's still about twice the average amount of data presented in these types of discussions of whether one language is more efficient for thinking than another language.