Learning from other models: Education in Finland

In the effort to make Sackville's public school system the best it can be, it's worthwhile to examine successful models that exist elsewhere for ideas. There has been much written lately about the successes of the Finnish education system, so let's take a closer look at some of the features that stand out about Finnish schools.

Transformation of the education system in Finland began about 40 years ago as part of the effort to help the country's economic recovery plan. Since then, Finland has topped the charts in reading, math and science literacy. Part of the success comes from the fact that teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. It is interesting to note that Finnish schools provide children with not only an education, but many other important resources and services, including a daily hot meal, psychological counseling and health and dental services.

Noteworthy features of Finnish schools

In Finland, schools are the centre of the community. Teachers are highly respected and celebrated. Furthermore:

  • Schooling begins at the age of 7. Before that, children in preschool learn through songs, storytelling, and games.
  • There is a big focus on play in the early years, and children spend much of their time outdoors. Elementary students have an average recess length of 75 minutes.
  • Between each lesson are 15 minute free-play breaks.
  • Fresh air, nature and regular movement breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, "There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing."
  • Schools tend to be small, with a high teacher to student ratio.
  • There are no mandated standardized tests, except for one formal exam taken at the end of high school when students are 16 years old.
  • There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.
  • There is minimal or no homework.
  • Finnish teachers spend only about 4 hours a day in the classroom teaching, and have 2 hours per week of professional development.
  • Equality is central to the system. All students—regardless of abilities or special needs—receive the same access to education. Segregation by one's ability is illegal and there is funding for highly trained special education teachers and aides.
  • Every school has the same national goals and a developmentally-correct curriculum, which provides guidelines, not prescriptions.
  • All teachers earn a fifth-year master’s degree in educational theory and practice at one of eight state universities—fully funded by the government. Schools select teachers from the top 10% of graduates.
  • Teachers in Finland have autonomy and respect, with a status equal to doctors and lawyers.
  • The education system is always improving, always working to meet the needs of all students.
The Finnish model:
Extracurricular choice, intrinsic motivation.

Finland has a short school day rich with school-sponsored extracurriculars, because Finns believe important learning happens outside the classroom. (Ideas.Ted.com)

What can we learn from the finland model?

Finland is clearly doing something right. Students and teachers are thriving and happy. It makes sense to examine the Finnish model more closely in the months to come and see how we can integrate some of it's successful features into the Sackville education model.

The two short videos below highlight some ways that Finnish schools stand out from those in North America.


Further reading

This is Why Finland Has the Best Schools -- William Doyle, The Age National, March 2016.

Finland’s social climbers: How they’re fighting inequality with education, and winning -- Doug Sanders, Globe & Mail, April 2016.

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful? A Special Report -- LynNell Hancock, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2011