What makes Finnish education so good?
Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7. They hardly have any exams or homework until they are well into their teens. There is only one standardised test, which they take when they are 16. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess per day, versus 27 minutes in the US. Finland spends 30% less on education per student than the United States.
These facts may paint a picture of a laid-back nation without too much concern about educational achievement. Why, then, does Finland consistently top global education achievement rankings?
It does so not in spite of the above points, but because of them. Plus the following:
All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, fully subsidised by the state.
Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
Teaching is popular. In 2010, there were 6,600 applicants for 660 primary school training slots.
Teachers effectively have the same status as doctors and lawyers.
Children of all ability levels are taught in the same classrooms.
The difference between weakest ad strongest students is the smallest in the world.
93 percent of Finns graduate from high school. 66% of them go to college.
43 percent of high school students go to vocational schools.
Pasi Sahlberg, a world expert on education reform and practice and author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?, identifies two important drivers of Finland’s education success:
“It is important to underline two fundamental peculiarities of the Finnish education system in order to see the real picture. First, education governance is highly decentralised, giving Finland’s 320 municipalities a significant amount of freedom to arrange schooling according to the local circumstances. Central government issues legislation, tops up local funding of schools, and provides a guiding framework for what schools should teach and how.
Second, Finland’s National Curriculum Framework is a loose common standard that steers curriculum planning at the level of the municipalities and their schools. It leaves educators freedom to find the best ways to offer good teaching and learning to all children. Therefore, practices vary from school to school and are often customized to local needs and situations.”
Finland’s primary school system was ranked #1 in the world in 2016, according to the World Economic Forum. The United States, for comparison, ranked 39th. But the Finns continue to reform their education system with further improvements.
Since the 1980s Finland has been experimenting with a system of education known as phenomenon-based learning. It promotes topic-based learning alongside subject-based learning, so that in addition to traditional maths, geography and chemistry classes, there are double periods in which a subject is explored – say climate change or space colonisation – and multiple disciplines are brought to bear upon it. A new national curriculum was announced in 2016 which implemented phenomenon-based learning, and the first school year after this reform is now under way.
When it comes to learning, all countries can learn from Finland’s example.