Imagine going to a school where the amount of homework that you had was minimal and you would have almost no exams at all? A school where you can wake up later, arrive home earlier AND have 15-minute breaks after each 45-minute lesson? Seems too good to be true, right? But it IS true, and this is how schools operate in Finland. You must probably be thinking; “I have never heard of a school that functions that way, there must be something there”, funny thing, is that there isn’t. Finland has an educational system very different from what we are accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean that children won’t learn because they practically have no work to do. In fact, Finland is considered the most well-developed education worldwide nowadays; and I’ll tell you why.
For decades now, Finland has initiated several simple changes that have revolutionised its educational system; and as a consequence of all these large-scale changes, it has become the 8th most educated country in the world, and has the highest ranking in High School Completion Rate. Yet, their immense success has not come only from limiting the number of tests and homework and making teachers have less time for work. Their success came from profound research. They were inspired by other educational systems, listened to the voice of the parents and teachers, but most importantly, always kept in mind their main goal: to stay consistent so that all children are provided with equal opportunities and learning. The nation is well known for its holistic teaching environment and common-sense practices that aim for equality rather than excellence. Due to this way of education, Finnish students have an extremely healthy balance between school and personal life, allowing them to participate in more extra-curricular activities. Many factors differentiate Finland’s educational system from other systems worldwide and though they may seem small, they created extremely strong and talented students who have both a high reading proficiency and life satisfaction. Let’s take a look at them!
The schools are publicly funded
The people in the government agencies that are running Finnish schools aren’t business people, politicians or military leaders; they are educators and know what they are doing. All over Finland, all schools have the same national goals and extracts from the same pool of university-trained educators; that way, a teenager that studies in a rural area is receiving the same education as a teenager living in the urban zone.
They have no standardized testing
In most schools around the world, students are much more worried about having excellent grades on exams than actually learning the subject. Because of that, students will learn how to cram just to pass the test and actually learning is out of the question for them. Finland has no standardized test, the only mandatory exam is at the end of compulsory school when the pupil is 16. Students are graded on an individual basis and the grading systems are set by their teacher; they formulate their grading systems for the students rather than relying on exams. Instead of taking tests, the pupil’s learning is assessed through various qualitative methods which focus on their overall development rather than their memorization skills and quantitative results. Learning is different and personalized for each student; teachers do that by empowering students’ strengths and supporting their challenges. The students are deeply encouraged to follow their personalized learning path through a system that deeply helps them.
How Finnish people recognize their teachers
In Finland, the teachers are extremely respected and valued; their “status” is at the same level as doctors and lawyers. The teachers are always extremely educated and committed to their work. Finns pay very high respect and trust to the teachers. What is also different in Finland are the requirements they need to have in order to become a teacher. All teachers must have a master’s degree before exercising their profession. Teaching programs are the most strict and selective professional schools in the whole country, and only 10% of the applicants to the teaching programs are accepted.
Cooperation and NOT Competition
In Finland, the schools do not care about “artificial merit-based” systems; there are no lists of top teachers or even top schools and no rankings or comparisons. They state that “it is not a competition, cooperation is the norm”.
Making the basics an opportunity
As previously mentioned, the educational program in Finland aims to make the schools a more equitable place. They go by the saying that “Education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality”. Their priorities are:
All students receive free school meals;
Ease access to free health care;
And taxi service if needed.
Starting school at an older age
Pupils start compulsory school at the age of seven. There are only nine years of obligatory school for Finnish students. After the age of 16, it is optional. Finland’s education system is sorted into:
(Optional) The ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care), combines education, teaching, and a goal-oriented manner.
Their goal is to promote children’s development, health and wellbeing as well as to improve children’s opportunity for learning.
Kids learn through playing.
(Optional) Pre-Primary Education (1-year duration for 6-year-olds)
(Mandatory) Basic Education (9 years duration for children aged 7 to 16)
(Optional) Upper Secondary Education
(Optional) Higher Education
(Optional) Adult Education And Training
Covers education leading to a qualification, degree studies, training preparing for competence-based qualifications, degree studies, and further continuing education updating and extending the professional skills, etc.
Students wake up later in the morning
Studies have shown that early starting times at school can be detrimental to the student’s health and well-being. Schools in Finland usually start at 9:00-9:45 and end at 14:00-14:45! Honestly, this is a dream come true. As if it couldn’t get better; there are 15-20 minute breaks every 45-minute lesson; isn’t this the BEST?
Consistency of teachers in classes
Students tend to have the same teachers throughout their school years; by doing that, the teacher is able to create a bond with their students and take on the role of a tutor or even a family member. The teacher learns the positives and negatives of the students and how to specifically work with them. As much as I like this, imagine being stuck 6 years with a teacher you can’t get along with? In a blink of an eye, the dream switches to a nightmare.
A more relaxed atmosphere
Students only have a couple of classes a day, and a lot of time to enjoy recreational activities and relax. As explained previously, the 15-20 minute breaks have the aim to make the students relax a bit, get some air and stretch. Children spend much more of their time playing outside even in winter times, that is because Finland strongly follows their “belief” which is “learning through play”. All the activities are planned around the holistic wellbeing of being a child, supporting their learning journey. The teachers also work in a relaxed atmosphere; they only spend around 4 hours a day teaching. They spend their extra time building curriculum and assessing their students. The Finnish teachers also have their own rooms where they can relax, socialize or prepare for the day.
Less homework and outside work are needed
According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in other countries around the world. According to the same source, the differences between the extremely talented and strong students to the ones that still require some help or development is the smallest in the whole world. 93% of Finnish students graduate from high school while only 75% of students in the USA graduate. Students in Finland spend around half an hour at night working on school activities; the pupils are getting everything they need to get done in school without adding the pressures that come with excelling academically. By not having to stress about grades and a ton of homework, they can focus on their true task: learning and growing as human beings.
To conclude, Finland, even with a crazy educational system that we are not accustomed to, managed to be one of the countries with the best education. This system has brought a lot of success to the students, and all of them receive the same amount of education. All Finnish students speak 2-3 languages and have opportunities to learn new things such as baking, poetry, and music. It seems weird how a school can operate like this, and it would be interesting to see this system spreading throughout the world. I believe that with this “policy”, students wouldn’t have that many emotional problems and suffer from stress with the amount of work and time they stay at school. Yet, this reform is complicated and may take time. In addition to that, there are many reforms that must be done not only in the educational sector for this to happen, so it is very complex to make all countries function this way. But, fingers crossed; we can never lose hope!