High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honour societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7…Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. .. About the only classroom rules are no cell-phones, no iPods and no hats. .. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.”
Ellen Gamerman, Feb. 29, 2008
We don’t have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have,”
Hannele Frantsi, School Principal
I personally believe (based on my shallow understanding) the Finnish education system has managed to infuse discipline, hard work, and competitiveness, but at the same time also infuse the right balance to nurture critical skills required for the 21 century, which include communication, collaboration, creativity (innovativeness), critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, flexibility, adaptability, global care/awareness, and emotional intelligence”.
Zaid Ali Alsagoff, Sept. 2009
Video Introduction to Finland Education System
Forty years ago, Finland was a poor country with tough environment and limited natural resources. Finland had an under-performing education system and a poor agrarian economy based on one product — trees, and they were chopping them down at a rapid rate that wasn’t going to get them very far. They figured out the importance and urgency of completely revamping their education system in order to create a true knowledge-based economy (David Sirota). “It’s leaders envisioned a brighter future with technology, the nation decided that the way to get there was with a better educated workforce, and it took a generation to do it. Finland’s blueprint included a tough national curriculum, masters degrees for all teachers, with up to three teachers per class – two focus on instructions and the third works on students who are struggling. The result, there is no such thing as a failing school in Finland” (NBC). Finland has free (including instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, special needs education and remedial teaching) and universal high-level education from comprehensive school to university. The average student speaks four languages including English.
The right to education forms part of the Finish national constitution and is re-affirmed by the national education objectives of the country’s education policy. According to the Finish National Board of Education:
The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education, regardless of age, domicile, financial situation, sex or mother tongue. Education is considered to be one of the fundamental rights of all citizens. Firstly, provisions concerning fundamental educational rights guarantee everyone (not just Finnish citizens) the right to free basic education; the provisions also specify compulsory education. Secondly, the public authorities are also obligated to guarantee everyone an equal opportunity to obtain other education besides basic education according to their abilities and special needs, and to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.”
The country spends heavily on education, training and research – investment which pays dividends by delivering one of the best-qualified workforces in the world (BBC). Today Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. It has a population of 5.3 million and its main exports are Machinery and electronics, paper and paper products, and chemicals.
The Finnish Education System
For over 30 years, there has been a bipartisan consensus about the importance of education and the importance of high-quality teaching as the real solution to Finland’s economic development. It’s been a partnership between businesses, policy makers and educators (David Sirota). The education success of Finland has lured foreign education gurus, government ministers and institutions from countries across the globe in recent years. The conclusion often drawn from all such visits is simple: well-trained teachers and responsible children (Gamerman). The philosophy guiding the Finish education system is that every child has something to contribute and struggling students should be supported. For this reason, every lesson has provision for additional teacher to support struggling students and all students remain in the same classroom regardless of ability. Teachers get better overall student performance by focusing their efforts on weaker students in place of pushing gifted students. They share the view that bright or gifted students can offer help to struggling students without compromising their own progress.
“Children on entering school are quickly reminded that school is a place of learning, and relaxation. All children first take their shoes off when entering the school” (Greg Barr, January 31, 2011). To create and sustain stability for the school kids, both primary and secondary schools are located on the same site. Another interesting aspect of the Finish education system is that most young kids study under the same teacher for their entire education up to the age of 16.
Finish parents play crucial part in the success finish education system. “There is a culture of reading with the kids at home and families have regular contact with their children’s teachers” (Barr). Pupils study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere and no political prescriptions. “They have no school uniforms, no honour societies, no valedictorians, and no tardy bells” (Gamerman). In the student contract are three main duties that they must fulfil, (i) attend classes, (ii) obey discipline, and (iii) complete their courses and programs.
Teachers must hold master’s degrees, and the profession is highly competitive. Teachers are highly valued by the people and governments of Finland and come from the top 10% of finish graduates. They are trained in dealing with low-achieving students, as well as students with disabilities and learning difficulties and have a lifelong learning program mapped out for them. In the following video featuring a seminar on Finish education system, Randi Weingarten, President American Federation of Teachers reveals very important components of the Finish education system success (Video 2).
- They have steady progress all the time through sustaining and replicating good practice.
- They create a system of support and operationalized collaboration.
- They out invest most nations in terms of commitment to student success and rap around services that children need in addition to instructions e.g. free meals for all and other support services.
- They out-respect most advanced nations in terms of how teachers are viewed, treated, trusted and made part of decision making.
Video 2 (Seminar on Finnish Education System)
“The Finnish education system is rather decentralized and schools are given a degree of freedom (independence) to develop their own curriculum.. Finland emphasizes big time on research and development (around 4% of GDP), and have interlinked companies with the Universities to collaborate on new innovations. Whatever they do, their approach is very scientific, which of course includes how they are continuously improving their education systems” (Alsagoff). In a nutshell, Finland has been successful at defining what is excellent teaching, not just reasonable teaching, and has a standard for that. It has defined what is most important to learn – not a memorization-based curriculum, but a thinking-based curriculum (David Sirota).