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December 30, 2014

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Finland education system based on flexibility

FEW probably think of Finland as a leader in education but it consistently ranks high in the PISA study, which compares national education systems.

About five years ago the Finnish government started thinking about promoting its education system to the world.

The underlying philosophy

The importance of high-quality and accessible early education are considered extremely important while educators and companies in the field are keen to explore the latest theories and advances.

The basic goal of early education is to foster a love for learning. When learning becomes fun, it becomes a healthy addiction, according to Rovio Fun Learning Research Lab, which cooperates with Helsinki University’s Department of Teacher Education in the study of fun learning solutions and early education projects.

According to the lab, the ability to think, creativity, global awareness, as well as communication and collaboration skills are the keys to success in the 21st century. It is also important to teach the concept that “it is fun to fail,” so that children will not be afraid of challenges or be easily frustrated by failures in the future.

Equal educational opportunities, high quality education and safeguarding a competent labor force are the keys for the country’s system.

Meanwhile, the country invests big in research and development. Education, science and technology policies have been developed over the long term to strengthen national research and innovation.

“Education lies at the heart of society,” says a slogan printed on publicity materials of the Finnish National Board of Education. It has been calculated that nearly 75 percent of Finnish people between the age of 25 and 64 hold at least a secondary education certificate, while one third hold higher diplomas.

Teaching is a popular profession in Finland because it’s a well respected career and not just a highly paid one. Applicant numbers are often five times higher than the intake to teacher education programs.

At the University of Jyvaskyla, 2,389 applicants applied for the university’s primary school teacher training program and only 86 were accepted.

Finnish teachers are required to hold a master’s degree and undergo in-classroom training before they can become a primary school teacher. They are life-long learners and are required to have strong ethics.

Teachers decide class content, student assessments, teaching methods and explore the potential of each student while building their interest in all aspects of life.

“For primary school class teachers, we don’t want to see academic masters who are excellent only in the subjects,” said Pasi Ikonen, an expert with the Department of Teacher Education, University of Jyvaskyla. “We are cultivating experts who are passionate and familiar with communication skills, as well as paedeutics (the science of learning) and psychology.”

According to Ikonen, the advantage of training in all subjects is that teachers can combine knowledge and pass it on in a more practical way. Project-oriented study is common in Finnish schools.

“The teacher and students decide on a project together, like the study of meteorological change. Knowledge of science, geography, arts and even literature will be taught in the procedure depending on how the project has been designed,” said Ikonen.

“The teaching materials are still divided by subjects but the teachers don’t have to follow everything strictly.”

Indeed, Finnish teachers have a lot of professional freedom and opportunity to influence their work and the development of their schools, as well as the drawing up of local curricula.

Meanwhile, students are not evaluated simply by exams and tests. Most Finnish parents keep an open mind and trust teachers. It’s commonly agreed that regular tests are not necessary as competition among students is not the purpose, while personal progress is what really matters.

In Finland, education providers are responsible for the effectiveness and quality of the education provided, in addition to practical teaching arrangements.

According to the Finnish Education Administration, the evolution toward today’s self-evaluation system started in the early 1990s when the administration was decentralized. At the same time school and textbook inspections were abolished.


In the 1970s, quality assurance was largely based on norms and inspections, which were carried out to ensure regulations were observed, as well as to provide guidance and to make proposals for improvements. Current education legislation is based on a principle of decentralization. Schools are not ranked and an independent body under the Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for external evaluations.

“The aim with the national assessment is to develop and steer, not to control,” said Birgitta Vuorinen, a counsellor for education with the ministry. “Ranking schools has been debated about in the last few years.

However, even if the pressure primarily comes from the media, the consensus is that results of national assessments will not be publicized.”

The legislation gives education providers a great deal of freedom. They can decide on the teachers, teaching material and teaching methods used, as well as the frequency of the quality assurance measures. A self-made plan for evaluation and development is required, and are generally written into the local school curriculum.

Despite the lack of rankings, other information is available to public, including the number of students, courses, the success of its graduates, as well as the number of international students.

“Instead of ranking the schools, we provide the public with figures of the institutions so that they can make their own choices. This is another kind of pressure placed on the universities and schools that keeps the education quality at a certain level,” Vuorinen said.

When students or parents are not happy with an institution, the municipality takes the complaints. People can also go to court and take legal action against institutions.

No dead ends

The system comprises nine-year basic education, upper secondary education (including vocational training) and then higher education provided by universities and polytechnics. It’s a system that many say “has no dead ends.”

The system is flexible. If a student wants to switch from vocational training to a university all they need to do is take a preparation course. Adult education is also readily available.

“About one fifth of university newcomers have a vocational education background,” Vuorinen said. “Universities will provide one year of preparation courses to get them ready for further studies. The idea is to always keep the door open to those who are not yet sure about their future path.” The counselor said this “no dead-end” concept helps meet changing social needs.”


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