What makes Finnish education so special?

Finland is known for its beautiful and pure nature, thousands of lakes and a silent nation. You have probably also heard that Finnish people consume more coffee per capita than any other nation in the world! 

However, there is one thing that we are known for that we are extremely proud of: Our qualified education system. Finland has over the years garnered a lot of attention for its top-notch education. But what makes it so special? Why is it the best public education system in the world? 

Public schools and demand of equality 

The Finnish education system is based on public sector since 1970s. The simple idea is to guarantee an equal and qualified education for all Finnish children no matter where they live or what kind of socioeconomic statuses their families have. There are some private schools and schools founded by foundations but the number of these is very limited due to the government legislation. Education is free of charge for all of the students: from basic education until higher education and universities. Many social services are linked to the basic education as well. 

Teachers have a Masters’ degree and independency

All Finnish teachers have a higher education and it takes five to six years to get a master’s degree and become a teacher. The teaching profession has always been very respected in Finland and many people apply for teacher studies every year. Universities are able to choose the best candidates for the teacher training programs.  

The work itself is quite independent compared to many other countries. Teachers have a lot of responsibility, but at the same time, they are given a lot of freedom in executing the national core curriculum. There are no school inspectors in Finland. Teachers aren’t obligated to report to the headmasters or administrators -instead they usually have a lot of trust from the school management. This freedom gives the teachers an opportunity to be creative and innovative.

PISA results point out happiness but also high learning results

It seems that the equal and free education system for everybody is really working. Based on OECD and PISA results Finnish students have been succeeding remarkable well. It’s also notable that the high level of reading skills is connected with the happiness in life in general. Variation in learning results between schools and areas were the smallest in Finland of all the OECD countries. In Finland the students are supposed to go to the nearest school in their neighbourhood, the families are not allowed to choose the school.

According to the 2018 PISA results, Finnish students’ reading skills are the top of the world (together with Canada, Estonia, Ireland and South Korea). Finnish students came second when testing first time their economical skills in PISA. In natural sciences Finnish students were also top of the world together with Estonia and Japan. In math Finnish students have been succeeding better than average students in OECD countries. 

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Distance learning period in Finland

On March 18, 2020 we started a two month period of distance learning in Finland. Our government’s decision to go this route was announced only two days earlier. During those two days we all organised our teaching differently according to our different styles.

There were few requirements from our Head of Education. 1. Using video conference at the beginning of every lesson and 2. organising subject teaching for grades 7-9 according to our normal daily schedule every day. We quickly learned to use suitable programs and started to make digital exercises for pupils and search for new ideas to solve problems we faced . Only pupils with strong special needs and pupils at the age of 7-10 were allowed to go to school and study in contact with a teacher.

All of us were teaching from home. We started every lesson via video connection and guided our pupils with their exercises. After lessons we planned our next lessons to come. We also had to think new ways for assessment. Because we didn’t know how long our distance learning period was about to last, we had to evaluate pupils work and learning process constantly. Co-operation between teachers through different social media channels was priceless.

Our special education teachers and school assistants were helping us with pupils who had challenges with distance learning. Pupils who dropped out of lines or didn’t return their exercises were called by us. Every now and then we also had to call parents and ask for their help. At first pupils and parents were stressed about the differences in communication methods between teachers, but soon the situation stabilised.

Via internet we were able to have teaching discussions, organise group works and projects, make pupils keep presentations, give tasks and exercises, play digital learning games, make and supervise digital exams, give individual guidance and feedback and have small group conversations, to name a few.

According to our experiences during this two month period there are five key elements for a teacher to succeed online. Autonomy gives us a possibility to try and develop ideas and teach the way we feel comfortable. Co-operation improves our know-how effectively. Creating digital materials make it possible to check and follow pupils learning process constantly. Various teaching methods keep pupil’s interest alive. Individual guiding is an important element to help each pupil learn better.

We don’t know what kind of learning environments are waiting for us in August. It is relieving to be a bit more experienced if distance learning will continue. We also gained confidence in our ability to survive in unexpected situations and acquired new digital tools to teach.