There has been a lot of press recently about how the education system in Finland is one of the best in the world and how they are using radical (compared with the UK and the US) ideas to help achieve their status as one of the best.
Anywhere you look the proof doesn’t seem to lie, yet how exactly is the Finnish Education system achieving such greatness? Their students outperform students in the US and the UK in most, if not all areas and their teachers enjoy a much better work life balance. Let’s take a dive into some of the things the Finnish are doing.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a survey taken every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) routinely releases data which shows that Americans and British students are seriously lagging behind in many educational performance assessments.
The Finnish Education System
#1 Finnish children enter education at a later age than in many countries. They start school at age 7 and believe that “starting children in school before they’re naturally developmentally ready has no scientifically proven long-term advantage”.
#2 Prior to age 7, Finnish school children can attend day care/nursery school but they do not have formal education whilst there, Instead, they focus on creative play. “They need time to play and be physically active. It’s a time for creativity”. says Tiina Marjoniemi, head of Franzenia daycare center in Helsinki. The Guardian
#3 For every 45 minutes of learning, students enjoy 15 minutes of play.
#4 School is only compulsory for 11 years, meaning students can leave education at age 18. Everything after that is optional. This idea is thought to prepare Finnish students for the real world.
#5 Finish students are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
#6 Students in Finland only have to sit for a centralized exam (National Matriculation Exam) at the age of 18-19 years old (after 12 years of school).
Finland School Hours
#7 Finnish students do the least number of class hours per week in the developed world, yet get the best results in the long term. The school day starts between 8-9am and is finished by 2pm.
Finland Education Ranking
#8 The schools in Finland are not ranked in any way, there are no comparisons made between schools, regions, teachers or even students. They believe that cooperation is the key to success, not competition.
#9 Finnish Teachers are some of the most qualified in the world. The requirements for becoming a teacher in Finland are set very high, only around the top 10% of applicants are successful and all of those have a masters degree (which incidentally is fully subsidised!).
#10 Finnish teachers have the same status as doctors and lawyers. (I wish that was the case in the UK!)
#11 Finnish Teachers are not graded. This is probably a direct result of their rigorous selection process and because of this, in Finland, they don’t feel the need to constantly assess and grade their teachers. If a teacher isn’t performing satisfactorily, it is up to the schools principal/head to deal with it. Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education and writer of Finnish Lessons, said this about teachers’ accountability:
“There’s no word for accountability in Finnish… Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
#12 Schools are not inspected. School inspections were actually abolished in Finland in the early 1990s. They have the ideology that they can help direct and assist through support and funding. Again, they trust the professionalism of teachers and school leaders. Schools are encouraged to self-evaluate along.
#13 There are no selective schools or private schools. One of the reasons why there is no competition between Finnish schools is that all schools are funded through public funds. No competition = level playing field.
#14 All Finnish school children receive free school meals, all of them, all the way through school!. There has been a healthy hot lunch served to all students been since 1943 for the whole 9 years at school. (Huffingtonpost.com)
#15 Finnish students all have access to support that is individually based on their specific needs from the start of their school career. They believe that every child has some special needs and therefore special education is for everyone.
#16 The Basics are the priority. Rather than focus on increasing test scores and dominating in math, science and English, the Finnish education system focus on creating a healthy and harmonious environment for students and learning. The ideology of the Finnish education system is that education should be an “instrument to balance out social inequality“.
#17 Finnish students have the same teacher for up to 6 years of their school career. This is one of the pillars of their harmonious education environment ideology. It allows student/teacher relationships to grow year on year, allowing a much deeper level of trust and respect than only having one year.
Finland Education Curriculum
#18 Finnish Students have less homework than any other student on the planet. Even with fewer school hours, they are still getting everything they need to be done whilst at school. This, in turn, builds on a Finnish child’s ability to grow and learn into a happy and responsible adult.
#19 All classes are mixed ability. This is unpopular in a lot of education systems in the UK and the US (I know, my own school recently adopted this policy (Personally, I love it) and there can be a lot of teachers that don’t like it. However, some of the most successful education systems have mixed ability classes, so it does work!
#20 Finnish Students learn more languages. They learn Finnish from their first day at school. At age 9 they start learning their second language (which is usually English). By age 11 they start learning Swedish, which is Finland’s second language. Many students even start learning a fourth language when they are 13. They are only tested on their first two languages in the final exam at the end of high school.
#21 Teachers only generally spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and have 2 hours every week for professional development, thus reducing teacher stress.
#22 The Finnish national curriculum is a broadly based guideline, allowing teachers to use their own style and ideas in the classroom. This builds on the trust that the Finnish education system has in its teachers.
Finland Education Statistics
#23 93% of students graduate from high school. More than in the US.
#24 66% of high school students go on to further education (college or vocational courses).
#25 Finland spends about 30% less per student than the US, the UK, Japan and Germany. (OECD Indicators)
#26 Just under 100% of 9th-grade students in Finland go on to high school. This figure includes most of the severely disabled children (smithsonian.com)
#27 43% of those students in further education (16+) attend vocational school.
So there we have it, Finnish students and teachers are part of a great system. Having worked with several Finnish teachers, I can tell you that their ideology and these strategies work, very well!