There’s no such thing as the perfect education system, but Finland’s has garnered plenty of interest primarily due to students having more recess time, less emphasis on tests and homework and the teaching profession being highly respected.
It was not until millions around the world saw the ground-breaking documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’, did people start scrutinising the teaching methods of the Finns and their undeniable results. The 2010 documentary shed light on America’s distressed education system while offering insights into what the Finns were doing right. Complemented by well-researched pedagogy and highly conducive learning environments, Finnish education comprises over 60,000 educators across 3,500 schools. Teachers here are taught not to hold back in their generosity toward young learners.
About a third of students in Finland receive special attention during their early years as a large proportion are children of migrants, who enter the Finnish school system at different grades and with an array of educational and family backgrounds.
Realising the full potential of each child requires not just tweaking each student’s learning path, but also grouping strong learners together and paying close attention to stragglers. Close attention involves first recognising that young people have many ways of communicating and absorbing knowledge, then engaging each student on his or her terms, even if it warrants one-on-one tutoring. This philosophy shared by educators across Finland is commonly referred to as the ‘whatever it takes’ approach.
Additionally, Finnish teachers are experienced problem-solvers who possess not only the academic skills but also a high EQ. They are usually part of the top graduates and are required to earn a master’s degree in education before embarking on this lofty vocation. Most Finnish schools are small enough for every teacher to know each student by name. Teachers are also trained to be team players who consult co-workers when one technique fails; and are not measured by their student’s academic results.
It’s interesting to note that the country’s Ministry of Education and Culture is run by educators rather than businesspeople. These civil servants with field experience emphasise that education needs ‘heart’. Students too are not measured by standardised tests, apart from one exam at the end of senior year.
The Finnish overhaul and implementation of a new education policy occurred almost half a century ago, but the modest Finns never noticed its efficacy until outsiders started pointing it out and looking in. Today, Finnish students rank among the best in the world when it comes to competencies in subjects like reading, mathematics and science. 99% of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, which is 17.5%higher than in America and 66% go on to pursue higher education - the highest rate in the European Union.
According to a recent survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the disparity between the weakest and best-performing students in Finland is the smallest gap globally. This is diligently reinforced by the public sector, because equality is a principle that the Finns proudly uphold. Informal learning is also emphasised in Finland and children learn through play and encouraged to socialise. Frequent breaks are given to break up the mundanity and refresh young minds for subsequent lessons. Families enjoy government subsidies and education is publicly funded.
Furthermore, schools offer meals, medical welfare and transport if necessary, and healthcare for students in Finland is free. The government describes this holistic approach as ‘the egalitarian principle of good quality universal education, which is inclusive and comprehensive’. Universities across the country also offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programmes free of charge to its own citizens and students from European Union and EEA (European Economic Area) countries. Best-performing students are enticed to pursue a career in teaching where they are groomed in the many subtleties of pedagogy.
In 2019, business journal Quartz noted that Finnish children registered the highest reading test score points per hour of weekly learning time, scoring way above Germany, Sweden and Japan. Finnish students spend less hours in the classroom and this allows teachers to refine theirs lessons and assess the needs of each student. This is an education system focused on learning instead of just acing tests, and one which many countries could and should emulate.