Finland is the only country in the world where more girls perform better at science than boys. Here, we ask experts what other countries can learn from Finland
If you care about increasing the number of women who pursue scientific careers, you need to read up on an important news item from last week.
The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test, which the OECD administers to 15-year-olds globally every three years, shows that Finland is the only country in the world where girls not only score higher in science than boys, but also has more girls than boys who are top performers. Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Jordan, Qatar, Georgia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates also have girls who perform 15 points higher than boys on average in the PISA test, but they have fewer girls than boys in the highest ranks.
We asked several hi-tech professionals from Finland who run Girls in Tech-Helsinki what they think the country is doing right and what lessons other countries can apply to increase their numbers of female students performing well in science.
As a society, Finland has a long history of encouraging gender equality. Elena Zozulya, Mead Lead for Girls in Tech-Helsinki, told Geektime that Finland was the first country to “implement truly universal full suffrage that gave women both the right to vote and to run for office.” The World Bank shows that Finland has the highest proportion of women in national government of any OECD country, with women holding 42% of Finnish parliamentary seats.
Jaana Pylvänen, Girls in Tech-Helsinki’s Partnerships & Co-Director and longtime hi-tech and entrepreneurship professional, tells Geektime that the fact that, “Most mothers have higher education and work full-time in Finland” provides a strong “role models for girls.” With 68.2% of Finnish women in the labor market, Finland scores considerably better than other EU countries. Finland also ranks higher than any other country in the world, according to a report from Save the Children, for being mother- and child-friendly. This is due in large part to generous maternity and paternity leave policies, including free public childcare for children up to 7, as well as its excellent education system. These policies, in turn, help keep women in the workforce.
Beyond a political climate that better supports women than most other countries, both Jaana and Elena cite specific examples of how the Finnish educational system is catering to girls in science. Elena mentions that, “The Finnish educational system has long been focusing on promoting gender equality in education and reducing segregation between girls and boys in matters such as subject choices and student evaluation. For example, last year The Finnish National Board of Education published a guide to help educators foster gender equality in schools.”
Jaana notes an interesting Finnish sociological trend, which is that, “Girls use technology for better results at school,” while, “Boys are using technology for entertainment.” She also says that, “Current teaching concepts support girls’ way of learning and girls are very motivated to succeed in getting good grades to access [the] best schools.”
The hard truth about how we can all increase girls’ performance in science
While it is useufl to see how Finland has created an educational environment where girls excel in science, it seems like the more important factor at play is that girls, like all children, largely look to the adults in their lives as role models for how their future could be. If they see more women in government, and more women portraying scientific and hi-tech characters in movies and TV, and more women in technological careers, and more women actively participating in the workforce, these influencers have a trickle down effect. In short, Finland does an excellent job at helping women break the glass ceiling, in part by having policies that encourage women to stay working full-time, and this motivates girls to get better grades in science, among other fields.
So if we want the US and other countries to pick up the pace, we need to create societies that advance real gender equality first — and then, we can talk about increasing the numbers of high performing girls in science.