There's a new sighting of the well-worn "There's no word for accountability in X" snowclone, which we first noticed back in 2006 ("Solving the World's Problems with Linguistics"), and picked up again just about a year ago ("Annals of 'No word for X'"). The usual function of this rhetorical trope, as documented in those posts, is to explain why bankers/business-executives/bureaucrats from a wide range of non-Anglophone counties, from Angola to Iceland, are so feckless — they simply can't understand the concept of accountability, poor things, since their language lacks the word. The cultural assumptions are probably no more true than the linguistic ones, of course — my impression is that in actual fact, Anglophone bankers etc. can give the rest of the world a substantial fecklessness handicap and still win going away. I mean, did Silvio Berlusconi ever misplace 1.2 billion dollars of someone else's money, as a certain American ex-Senator recently did? But I digress.
Anyhow, the latest example turns the trope on its head, and uses it to explain why Finnish schools are so well managed.
Anu Partanen, "What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success", The Atlantic 12/29/2011:
For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.
Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg* shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.
*Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility.
Reader S.B., who sent in the link, is puzzled:
I'm mostly confused by this because a quick trip to sanakirja.org reveals that vastuullisuus, vastuu, and vastuuvelvollisuus all can mean "accountability" in one form or another. Even more confusing is the person (Pasi Sahlberg) who uttered the quote attended a Finnish school as a youngster, and the journalist who wrote the article (Anu Partanen) is clearly Finnish. It seems like it's just a case of "Language X has no word for Y", but since two people responsible for spreading this (mis)information are probably fluent Finnish speakers, I'm wildly confused.
I'm not competent to comment on Finnish lexicograpy, but I imagine that as usual, a short phrase would do the trick if no single word will do. Perhaps some Finnish readers can explain.