In late 2018, the World Economic Forum published an article articulating the ten reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world. According to the report, Finland is leading the way because of common-sense practices and a holistic teaching environment that strives for equity over excellence.
Finland has no standardized tests. Their only exception is something called the National Matriculation Exam, which is a voluntary test for students at the end of an upper-secondary school (equivalent to an American high school.) All children throughout Finland are graded on an individualised basis and grading system set by their teacher. Tracking overall progress is done by the Ministry of Education, which samples groups across different ranges of schools.
All teachers are required to have a master’s degree before entering the profession. Teaching programs are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the entire country. If a teacher isn’t performing well, it’s the individual principal’s responsibility to do something about it.
Finland’s educational system doesn’t worry about artificial or arbitrary merit-based systems. There are no lists of top performing schools or teachers. It’s not an environment of competition – instead, cooperation is the norm.
Many years ago, Finland put together a program focused on returning back to the basics. It wasn’t about dominating with excellent marks or upping the ante. Instead, they looked to make the school environment a more equitable place.
Since the 1980s, Finnish educators have focused on making these basics a priority:
- Education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality.
- All students receive free school meals.
- Ease of access to health care.
- Psychological counseling
- Individualised guidance
Beginning with the individual in a collective environment of equality is Finland’s way.
Students start school when they are seven years old. They’re given free reign in the developing childhood years to not be chained to compulsory education. It’s simply just a way to let a kid be a kid.
There are only 9 years of compulsory school that Finnish children are required to attend. Everything past the ninth grade or at the age of 16 is optional.
The Finland education system has the Upper Secondary School which is a three-year program that prepares students for the Matriculation Test that determines their acceptance into a University. This is usually based off of specialities they’ve acquired during their time in “high-school”
Next, there is vocational education, which is a three-year program that trains students for various careers. They have the option to take the Matriculation test if they want to then apply to University.
Students in Finland usually start school anywhere from 9:00 – 9:45 AM. Research has shown that early start times are detrimental to students’ well-being, health, and maturation. Finnish schools start the day later and usually end by 2:00 – 2:45 AM. They have longer class periods and much longer breaks in between. The overall system isn’t there to ram and cram information to their students, but to create an environment of holistic learning.
There are fewer teachers and students in Finnish schools. You can’t expect to teach an auditorium of invisible faces and breakthrough to them on an individual level. Students in Finland often have the same teacher for up to six years of their education. During this time, the teacher can take on the role of a mentor or even a family member. During those years, mutual trust and bonding are built so that both parties know and respect each other.
There is a general trend in what Finland is doing with its schools. Less stress, less unneeded regimentation and more caring. Students usually only have a couple of classes a day. They have several times to eat their food, enjoy recreational activities and generally just relax. Spread throughout the day are 15 to 20-minute intervals where the kids can get up and stretch, grab some fresh air and decompress.
According to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world. They spend only half an hour a night working on stuff from school. Finnish students also don’t have tutors. Yet they’re outperforming cultures that have toxic school-to-life balances without the unneeded or unnecessary stress.
How is Finland able to provide such comprehensive, universal education for all citizens? Simple: Everybody is on board. Beyond enshrining the right to education in their constitution, the Finnish people value education and put in the time to build a system that adheres to the best education research.
If other countries want to follow Finland’s model, they needn’t photocopy its education model; however, they will need the country’s gusto for education’s importance.