Saturday, February 28, 2015

Finnish Education

Many of my friends have been asking me questions about the Finnish education system so I thought I would devote this post to what I have learned so far. Finns think very highly of education. The most important feature of the Finnish education policy is a commitment to a vision of a knowledge-based society. Not only does Finland put a lot of resources into their education system for children, but they also have a strong education system for adults. Comprehensive education is free. That means that school books, meals, transport and health care are provided free of charge. Furthermore, there is no tuition for college and advanced studies. The goal in this country is to promote educational equality and they don't believe that a person's economic status should prevent this. When I think of the school loans that my sons are weighted down by, I have to admit I am jealous and envious of Finland's approach to education.

All children must attend school from first grade to ninth grade. First graders are seven years old (one year older than our students). Most children also attend pre-school and day-care which is offered through their municipality.
6 and 7 year olds visiting the forest
5th Grade class learning about seasons

2nd graders learning about bones

The school day is much shorter than ours in the US. Children start school at different times depending on their schedule. Some at 8:00 and others around 9:00. In addition their day can end anywhere from 12:30 to 2:30. Part of this is because while the schools have music, art and PE, if the student has a real interest in these things they participate in classes or activities offered through the community. In other words, a student will go to school and have basic classes but then after school they might go to a sports club or an art or music school. Very different than how we provide things.

However, because of this Finnish youth are very independent. I have seen children as young as about 9 years old taking buses and subways by themselves. They go to these activities alone or go home, often to an empty house.

After 9th grade, if the students want to continue with their education they can go to either a vocational or regular high school. However, they have to apply to these schools. That means that while they have attended their local primary school in their community, they may not get accepted to their local high school. The acceptance of students into high school is based on their previous grades. This is mostly just true when they are in a city like Helsinki that has a lot of schools. Typically country schools would only have one high school so this wouldn't be an issue for them.
High School Students, Grade 12 in physics class

Grade 8, Physics Class
At the end of high school all students take a final matriculation exam. This exam is not only for graduation but also for entry into a university. This is the only national exam that is taken. They have nothing like our NECAPs or smarter balance or the multitude of exams that we submit our students to. In fact, all the testing that many countries, like the US does, goes against the Finnish philosophy. They focus on providing excellent teachers, good solid curriculum, providing resources and then trusting their teachers to teach the students what is important!!

Now the last thing I want to talk about are the teachers. All educators in Finland must have a masters degree. Many teachers I have met, no matter the grade they teach, have doctorates. Teaching is a highly respected occupation. In addition, it is very difficult to become a teacher. Universities only take top students into their programs. In order to apply into a teaching position (grades 1-6) a candidate must pass a test on assigned written material and an interview. It isn't just about grades, but also about an individuals characteristics that would make them a good teacher. In grades older than 6 they must be qualified in at least one subject area, and most often they are qualified in at least two. So they study their area of expertise for three years, have one year of pedagogical studies and the last year for a master's thesis. Lastly, special education teachers must be classroom teachers first. Then they apply to the special education program and if they get in, they take further studies.
This is a science methods course that I audited at the University for pre-school and kindergarten teachers.

So I hope this was a good overview of the Finnish education system. They must be doing something right because not only are their PISA scores very high  but the variation between schools is the lowest of all the countries that participate  That means it doesn't matter if you go to school in the city or way up north in Lapland, students have the same access to good education.

Now, I didn't talk about everything so if you have questions please let me know. Also, your questions will help me make sure that I am getting all the information I need while here. I think that we could learn a lot from the Finns. Hope to hear from you. 

Oh I almost forgot the Finnish word today is  "koulu"  It means school.


  1. Okay, I have a question. Since you have a picture posted above of kids learning outdoors, I'm wondering how much time they spend outside the walls of their classroom - in nature or on field trips. Does this vary a lot from grade to grade?
    Also, on a different note, how does the Finnish education system prepare kids for adult life - in terms of things like learning to balance a checkbook, drive a car, cook, care for children . . .

  2. Very good and useful information about the finnish education, Thanks for sharing. Please do publish some useful information regarding finnish educational system in future. I bookmarked this one too.

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