Finland is a northern European country with approximately five million people. Apart from its vast number of lakes, aurora, difficult Finnish language, Santa Claus village and reindeer, this country is famous for its educational system. The Finnish educational system is widely considered to be one of the best in the world. Finland ranks at the top of the PISA rankings. Maybe you have wondered what the reasons behind this success are.
So let’s have a closer look at the Finnish educational system. In Finland, children start their schooling at the age of six, but it is in the form of pre-primary education, which is compulsory in Finland. The aim of pre-primary education is for children to acquire basic skills and knowledge to enable them to continue to the following stage of education, which is basic education. The pre-primary stage tends to be based on playing as a way of learning.
Finnish children start their basic education at the age of seven, and it lasts for nine years. The school curriculum follows the national core curriculum, but local specifications may be taken into account. The national core curriculum is updated every ten years. One notable fact about Finnish basic education is that there are no national tests of any kind for the pupils. On the contrary, the responsibility for pupil assessments lies with the teacher. These assessments tend to be continuous so that pupils are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and progress in continuous learning. There are no standardized tests: teachers create their own, meaning that they enjoy a high degree of creativity and independence in their profession. As a result of this, teachers focus more on pupils’ overall education than maximizing their performance in tests, which seems to be the idea of school anyway.
The upper-secondary level of education is where most children continue after basic school. At this stage, Finnish students are tested at a national level for the first time. This is known as the national matriculation examination, and students take it in four subjects, one of which must be the mother tongue, while the other three can be selected by the students themselves. Students are selected for higher education, provided either by a university or a university of applied sciences, on the basis of their results in the matriculation examination. Finnish students usually end their education with a Master’s degree.
But what is the most important factor in our consideration of the success of Finnish schools? That’s right, the teacher! In fact, teaching is a popular profession among young Finns. In Finland, only the best students from a vast number of applicants are chosen to study at the Faculty of Education at a university. So it is relatively hard to get a place at university. To be precise, only 10% of all those who apply get a university place in the end. Being a teacher is considered a respectable profession in Finland. Teachers are highly trained and trusted. They are given a lot of responsibility and independence in their work. For example, they can choose their own style of teaching, teaching materials and textbooks. There has been no system of school inspection in Finland since the 1990s. Finland really believes in the professionalism of its highly trained teaching staff. Teachers in Finland must hold a Master’s degree, and continuous teacher training is required. Teachers are a crucial factor in the quality of education in Finland.
Another peculiarity of Finnish schooling is that children get very little homework. This is definitely an approach Czech pupils would support! The basic idea in Finland is that most assignments should be covered in the classroom. Teachers design their lessons so that pupils learn everything essential at school. Children are then allowed to spend more of their time at home with their families, resting and playing. Even though Finnish pupils don’t do much homework, they do really well at school.
Another important thing is that Finland is not afraid to try new things. Finnish teachers, predominantly thanks to their independence, are able to try things out in their lessons. Finnish schools are simply given more freedom, which seems to be a good idea. At least, it definitely works for Finland!
The Finnish educational system undoubtedly serves as a good example of how an educational system can work in a different way. The Finnish system is admired and well known around the world, and it unquestionably deserves its fame. The success of Finnish students speaks for itself.
We should ask ourselves whether so much standardized testing and homework really works for students. But then again, would our society be willing to accept innovative, radical and often risky changes to the educational system?
- Ministry of Education and Culture, National Board of Education, and CIMO, 2012. Finnish education in a nutshell. Espoo: Kopijyvä. Available at:
- WELLER, Chris, 2017. Finland is famous for its education system. What makes it different? Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/why-finlands-education-system-puts-others-to-shame