Ever since students in Finland emerged as top performers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), many teachers and policymakers in Japan have turned to this Scandinavian country of 5.2 million for insights on how to educate children.

Symposiums and seminars on Finnish education abound. Experts say that Finland's schools are flooded with requests for tours from abroad. At the Marunouchi head store of Tokyo-based bookseller chain Maruzen, books touting "Finland education methods" have been selling well since the end of 2005, when the first in a series of practical guides to Finnish education was published, says store employee Yoshitaka Kudo.

Started in 2000 and held every three years since, the PISA survey measures 15-year-olds' abilities in reading, math and science, and is unique in that it tests how students apply the skills and knowledge they learn in school to real-life situations, rather than testing their skills or knowledge per se.