Finland’s educational approach, characterized by progressive reforms, offers a compelling model for other countries. With its delayed introduction of compulsory education and a strong focus on learning rather than standardized testing, Finland prioritizes student well-being. These lessons provide valuable guidance for nations aiming to improve their schooling systems, emphasizing innovation, and children’s rights as essential elements for academic achievement and personal growth.
Finnish schools are renowned worldwide for their success, despite the fact Finland made education compulsory relatively late, in 1921. This change was particularly crucial in the past for rural areas where school attendance was limited. In the 1960s, the country’s learning system was reformed to meet the need for vocational workers who were to rebuild the country after World War II. This reform led to a new curriculum that adopted a fresh approach, encompassing both technical and academic studies (European Commission, 2023).
It was only in 2012 that the compulsory education was extended to 18 years, making upper secondary training free for all students, further enhancing children’s rights and access to education (European Commission, 2023). The success of the reforms became evident in 2000 when the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results showed that Finnish youth were the best readers globally. In subsequent years, they also excelled in math and science, consistently ranking among the top countries (Hancock L, 2011).
Key principles and components of the Finnish model
The new program aimed to get back to the fundamentals of learning. Their goal wasn’t just about achieving top grades or intensifying competition. Instead, they wanted to create a fairer school environment. Since the 1980s, Finnish educators have emphasized principles such as reducing social inequality through schooling, providing psychological counseling, and offering personalized guidance for students, among others (Calagrossi M, 2018).
The Finnish education system prioritizes learning over testing. Unlike in many countries, there are no regular national exams. Instead, teachers assess students based on curriculum objectives. The only nationwide test, called the matriculation examination, happens at the end of high school. This exam serves to determine admission to advanced studies (Council for Creative Education, n.d.)
Finland funds most of its school training publicly, meaning there are no tuition fees at any level of education. Even in the early years of schooling, things like school materials, meals, and transportation are free. In high school, students pay for their books and transport. There is also a good system of study grants and loans available to support students in high school and college (Council for Creative Education, n.d.)
Teachers in Finland undergo a demanding, research-based five-year master’s program that is highly competitive, with only a small number of applicants being accepted. What sets Finnish educators apart is their autonomy in selecting teaching methods, a departure from the norms in many other countries where external requirements like standardized testing and government control are prevalent. This approach aims to nurture teachers who can make informed decisions and consistently enhance their teaching techniques. Consequently, the school teachers enjoy a high level of respect (Crouch D, 2015).
Positive educational outcomes for children
Finland prioritizes children’s mental well-being by implementing a nationwide anti-bullying policy in schools. This policy is rigorously enforced to ensure a safe learning environment. The country is committed to addressing inequality, as it is often connected to bullying and mental health problems. The Finnish school system challenges the idea that children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be less successful. Instead, it strives to provide all students with an equal opportunity to excel, regardless of their background (Poon Y. X, 2020).
The curriculum is designed to engage children and foster their interest in the world around them. Instead of dividing class time into subjects, Finnish students learn by exploring around them, making learning more relevant (Poon Y. X, 2020). Additionally, the curriculum promotes greater pupil participation, encourages students to take responsibility for their learning, and emphasizes competencies such as critical thinking and cultural awareness (Finnish National Agency for Education, n.d).
Subjects are modernized to reflect contemporary society and daily life management. The curriculum also guides the development of a school culture that promotes learning, interaction, and welfare while introducing multidisciplinary learning modules and diverse assessment methods. Overall, it aims to provide a comprehensive education that nurtures engagement, adaptability, and a positive learning environment for children (Finnish National Agency for Education, n.d.).
Finnish strong emphasis on children’s well-being aligns with the principles of children’s rights. This holistic approach encourages students to take charge of their learning journey. It also ensures that every child has an equal opportunity to excel academically and personally, making Finland a prime example of education that champions children’s welfare.
Lessons from Finland for global education
Finland‘s school system can teach others important lessons. For instance, students here have shorter school days, no homework, and they focus more on learning. Teachers also pursue higher qualifications, which helps students do better in school. On the other hand, In the United States, there’s more focus on government tests, especially in math and reading. But other subjects like history and art aren’t given as much importance. To improve, the US can learn from the Finnish approach, which values learning over testing (Matias S, 2019).
Similarly, the United Kingdom’s education system could also adopt valuable lessons from Finland where teachers foster a higher quality of learning, instead of relying on mandatory tests. Regrettably, teachers in the UK have less freedom to shape their curriculum and methods, which in turn hinders innovation and collaboration. Lastly, in Finland, children start formal schooling at age 7, allowing for more play and better social development, unlike in the UK, where formal education begins at age 5 (Career Teachers, 2018).
Humanium remains dedicated to safeguarding children’s fundamental rights, such as their right to education and protection. That is why we believe that countries worldwide can draw valuable lessons from the Finnish system, which prioritizes play, autonomy, and equal opportunities for children’s development.
At Humanium, we support lifelong learning initiatives that contribute to a brighter future for children. If you wish to support our cause, please consider donating, volunteering, or becoming a member. Together, we can advocate for a more equitable and child-centered approach to education.
Written by Lidija Misic
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