Finland’s unique education system is widely regarded as amongst the world’s best.
Students regularly perform well in international academic tests which measure ability in math, science and reading. In fact Finland is the best-ranked European country in these tests.
Around 66% of Finnish students enter college which is the highest rate in the EU. 93% graduate from either an academic or vocational high school.
These rates are similarly high in other countries such as Singapore, Canada and Japan however it’s the approach to education in Finland that differs from other high performing nations.
Instead of concentrating on test-based results and carefully structured curriculums, Finland focuses more on educating the individual.
“Whatever it takes!” is the teaching philosophy that leads to smaller class sizes, more student assistance and less emphasis on tests.
Children start compulsory schooling at seven which is slightly later than most other nations. Students complete nine years of compulsory schooling after which they elect for either further academic or vocational-based education.
However it’s what happens before school that is especially interesting.
Finland provides free pre primary education which is one year of kindergarten to prepare them for compulsory schooling.
This stage is regarded by many Finnish educators as the most important in a child’s education.
There is no structured reading syllabus or any daily math drills to be seen.
Instead there’s a heavy emphasis on learning through play. In their pre-primary year Finnish children are encouraged to develop their social and language skills as well as the ability to learn.
This comes from both “free play” and carefully selected play. Free play might involve building mud houses or running an ice cream store.
Selected or more structured play could be constructing something, acting out a story or solving a puzzle.
Teachers monitor the students and their interactions constantly, noting strengths and any needs that may need addressing.
The children develop crucial skills for learning such as concentration, resolve and problem solving.
They learn how to learn.
Most importantly they are encouraged to realize “the joy of learning”. Children gain great satisfaction from figuring things out by themselves and discovering their skills.
Throughout their education Finnish children are well supported in the classroom.
Teaching is a highly regarded profession. Teachers must have at least a Master’s degree and only the top 10% most skilled and motivated graduates are recruited from universities.
Finnish teachers enjoy considerable freedom and trust in their roles and job satisfaction is typically high.
They are encouraged to brainstorm with one another over effective teaching methods. Assistant teachers provide ongoing support to any students needing guidance with certain areas of study and the gap between the stronger and weaker students is very low.
Schools work together towards the same objective without competing with each other over test scores and enrolments.
There are few standardized tests in Finland. Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg said “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.”
Entrance exams for universities opt against standard, lengthy multiple choice tests. Instead, examinations focus on shorter more complicated questions that are based around problem-solving and analysis.
The nature of tertiary study in general has a strong practical base, with the focus being on the world of work and industry-related projects.
This carries over into adult life. For a population of just 5.5 million, the country punches well above its weight.
Finland is a world leader in innovative fields such as healthcare technology, A.I research and information and communications technology (ICT).
The same open-minded approach seen in education is applied to the workforce. 90% of Finnish companies allow their staff to choose their working hours within 3 hours of standard starting and finishing times.
This allows people to comfortably balance their professional and family lives while being productive, happy workers.
This is likely to change further given 2020’s disruptive work patterns leading to workers (around the world) turning to working from home with flexible hours.
While adopting the Finnish education model may not be entirely possible for many countries, the philosophies behind the learning and teaching processes are at the very least worth experimenting with.
As veteran school principal Kari Louhivuori says, “It’s what we do. Prepare kids for life”.