In recent years, the Finland education system has been gaining a lot of attention. This is because international surveys, such as those conducted by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have consistently shown Finnish students to be among the best in the world, leaving countries like neighboring Sweden and the United States far behind. What’s more, this trend isn’t limited to a gifted or privileged few: it can be observed across the board, with there being little difference amongst students of different financial and ethnic backgrounds.
The secret to Finland’s success lies in a school system that seems to defy all the norms of Western education. This system that cuts down on class hours and eschews homework, grades, essay writing and tests is definitely worth a closer look.
Equality for All
Since the 1970s, the driving principle behind the education system in Finland has been to provide equal educational opportunities for all citizens, and it has taken drastic measures to achieve this. To start with, there is no tuition to be paid: schooling is state-subsidized from basic education to university degrees, thereby preventing the students’ financial standing from getting in the way of learning. School materials, books, meals, and transportation are also provided free of cost.
The pursuit of equality extends to the students’ learning abilities as well. There is no such thing as segregation into separate classes for the gifted and those who need to catch up, and even children with learning disabilities are taught in the same classes as their peers. Furthermore, Finland’s growing population of immigrants is not neglected. In a practice known as positive discrimination, children who weren’t born in Finland are given special classes to help them acclimatize to the system of learning in their new country.
Teachers Who Can Be Trusted
A large part of Finland’s success can be attributed to the attention the country has paid to its educators. Only the top 10% of college graduates are eligible to receive the state-funded master’s degree that all teachers are required to complete, and it is from this pool of highly qualified individuals that Finland’s educators are drawn. It is worth noting that teaching in Finland is not the minimum wage job that it is in the US; a Finnish teacher is every bit as respected as a doctor or lawyer, and they are just as well compensated for their work.
For this reason, Finland has teachers who can be trusted to know what is best for their students, and, for the most part, the National Education Board leaves things in their hands. This allows for a decentralized system where the national curriculum consists of guidelines rather than rigid prescriptions that must be followed at all costs. Teachers are thus free to try different methods, sometimes combining classes of different levels to promote better behavior or conducting outdoor activities for math lessons, in order to find what works for their particular batch of students.
More Focus on the Students, Less Emphasis on Statistics
All of Finland’s revolutionary measures basically boil down to a school system that puts more focus on the students instead of emphasizing statistics. Indeed, Finnish students are only required to take one standardized test in all the time that they are in school, and that is the matriculation examination given at the end of high school. It is a popular maxim that educators are preparing students for life, not teaching them how to take tests.
This can be seen in the fact that children do not start schooling until the age of 7, instead of being rushed into compulsory education at an earlier age when they may be less ready to learn and more prone to be adversely affected by stress. It also helps that grading isn’t done for the first 6 years of their education so that they are free to learn at their own pace in an environment that recognizes the importance of playtime and other vocational activities as aids to learning.
The low student-to-teacher ratio is another factor that contributes to their success, as this allows teachers to get to know each child personally and thus tailor their methods to suit their needs. Teachers will often stick with a single group of children for several Finland school terms, so they become as familiar with their students as an aunt or uncle, or even a second parent, who can be approached for anything from trouble with a science problem to finding a way to work with a difficult home environment.