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5 Reasons Why the Finnish Education System Is One of the Best in the World

Until the 1950s, Finland’s situation was much like India’s — struggling to overthrow the last vestiges of its colonial, fractured past and staggering under the weight of a slow-paced economy. However, in 1963 the Finnish Parliament decided to put emphasis on quality public education as one of the measures to foster economic growth, for equity in education forms the backbone in global economic power. While the journey towards realising the “Big Dream of Finnish Education” has not been smooth, Finland has nonetheless been a leading nation in education for the past two decades, according to the scores and statistics provided by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). While countries such as Singapore and Japan are successful mostly due to a highly competitive mode of education, Finland has a very unique philosophy of education, which has secured it a permanent position among the top-ranking nations in education and qualified its area of expertise in innovative teaching-learning methodologies.

Finland’s adoption of unorthodox methodologies in education is a topic of immense interest across the globe. The Asian mode of study, as practised in successful countries such as China, Singapore, Japan and Korea, is based on memorisation, rote learning and hard work. However, this mode of learning is exhausting and fails to motivate learners. Finland, on the other hand, has created a learner-centric, stress-free environment that strives for a wholesome learning experience over excellence. Let us see how it is different.

Innovative preschool education as a strong foundation for the future

The Finnish children start compulsory education at the age of seven. They are given a free reign in the early childhood years, for it is believed that children learn better when they are ready. The Finns have designed their early childhood education and care (ECEC) curriculum on an educare model, that focuses primarily on developing interpersonal skills through play. It is organised in day-care centres, clubs run by local parishes and non-governmental organisations, and in various open facilities hosted by the municipalities for early education activities. The ECEC is available to the public at a capped cost and is based on a local curriculum guided by the National Core Curriculum for ECEC (2016). Additionally, parents have the right to take childcare leave until their child is three years old, so as to ensure better parental involvement in the early years of a child’s development.

Finnish Education System

According to the new National Core Curriculum, preschool education lays stress upon personality development via the seven chief areas of competency— thinking skills and learning ability, cultural competence, managing daily life and taking care of oneself and others, multiliteracies, critical-thinking skills and technology competency. The curriculum is chiefly activity-based and teachers play the role of facilitators and observers, guiding the children unobtrusively into nurturing their rudimentary talents. Collaboration with parents is also a necessary part of preschool education and parents are advised to spend as much time as they can spare with their kids for additional guidance.

Greater importance of the teaching profession

To ensure that quality education is disseminated, Finland has set the bar high for teachers in terms of academic qualifications (a master’s degree is mandatory) and rigorous training, which continues throughout their career. The profession is revered and held at par with other well-respected professions such as medicine and law. The wages for teachers is quite good in comparison with countries such as the United States. Teaching programs are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the entire country and principals are responsible for monitoring the performance of teachers.

The pupil-teacher dynamic is one of the key areas of emphasis in Finnish education. It is maintained on an individual basis, instead of distilling it down to background checks and data analysis as part of standardised examinations. One of the ways in which Finland ensures teachers’ attentiveness towards learners’ individual needs is by maintaining a low pupil-teacher ratio (PTR), which is currently 11:1, as compared to India’s PTR of 35:1. Finnish teachers are also accorded more freedom in the content and method of their instruction as compared to most other teachers around the world, which allows them to cater to the needs of their students in an individualised manner.

Cooperation delineating the learning environment, not competition

Among the nations of European Union, Finland has the lowest inequality rate when it comes to education. Nearly all schools are public schools and the very few independent schools are also financed such that no tuition fees are required. This is why Finnish education fosters a sense of cooperation rather than competition as China or the US. Finland’s educational system does not have artificial or arbitrary merit-based systems. There are no lists of top-performing schools or teachers. In an age, where accomplishments are considered a result of teamwork, developing problem-solving skills as a collaborative effort is extremely necessary, which Finland does successfully.

The classroom spaces are designed for collaborative learning, with seats arranged around small tables, thus enabling group work.  The curriculum is designed to create opportunities for students to explore phenomena and practice solving global dilemmas, both in the context of traditional classrooms and today’s society. Cooperative learning tasks operate on the “sink or swim together” mentality, that is, the premise that the success of one student hinges on the success of all others in the group. Thus, there is an incentive for each individual to contribute to the greater good of the group as well as gain the chance to teach their peers, which fosters both collaboration and autonomy.

Less burden of study

Apart from decreasing the burden of compulsory education by allowing kids to attend school at a higher age, Finnish education policies believe in less strenuous coursework. Students feel refreshed when they attend classes because classes start at 9:00–9:45 a.m., as opposed to most other places in the world, where classes start as early as 7:00–8:00 a.m. Children get more time to rest, which helps them concentrate on studies with a clear mind. Additionally, they have less class hours with more time for recess, which is essential for their social and emotional development. Less class hours also mean more free time for teachers, who can use it to devise better teaching strategies for their students.

Homework is also less burdensome for Finnish students. Most students in the world have to wade through hours of homework every night, leaving them with very little time for pursuing their own interests. This is not so for Finnish students. They finish most work during school hours, which leaves them with very little or no homework, thus allowing them to relax and spend their time home on their own pursuits.

Only one standardised test at the end of school education

There are no mandated standardised tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. Additionally, there are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. This makes Finland a veritable utopia for students across the world, whose chief bane of existence are the scores of mandatory standardised examinations. The lack of emphasis on standardised tests means that Finnish teachers have a great deal of flexibility in how they structure their curriculum and in evaluating the progress of students using more individualised metrics. They believe that standardising tests and comparing statistics take away the human aspect from proper assessment and evaluation.

The single standardised test, National Matriculation Examination, is taken at the age of 16. It tests students’ competency on topics from all subjects, often requiring multidisciplinary knowledge and skills. Taking the focus off of testing and putting it on learning has had positive developmental effects on students, including critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. It further helps them score well in the PISA international standardised test. While other countries trust technology to calculate the intelligence of students, tests in Finland is corrected and graded by educators themselves. This system of assessment, therefore, not only reduces stress on learners but also helps give them personalised attention from their teachers.

These are some of the changes that Finland has implemented in the education sector. It has come a long way in developing the love of learning in kids, a feat usually difficult to achieve because of the more-or-less traditional methods of education. Finland is not at par with the US or Australia in terms of economic power, but it certainly has a more sustainable society than these nations because of the all-round development of their students, which is improving more and more with advanced research in the area. Thus, the Finnish education system, with its effective but simple values, can become a model for developing nations such as India by creating a self-sustaining youth, who can build a strong foundation for tomorrow’s world.

Pritikana Karmakar

Pritikana Karmakar is an experienced copywriter at Next Education. She is a part of the editorial team of The Next World magazine. She loves to read fiction, and has a research interest in speculative fiction, language and narratology.


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