The country’s achievements in education have other nations, especially the United States, doing their homework.
It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.
Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.
“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.
Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”
This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.
“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”
The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”
In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”
There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.
Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.
Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns. They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much. “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.”
Maija Rintola stood before her chattering class of twenty-three 7- and 8-year-olds one late April day in Kirkkojarven Koulu. A tangle of multicolored threads topped her copper hair like a painted wig. The 20-year teacher was trying out her look for Vappu, the day teachers and children come to school in riotous costumes to celebrate May Day. The morning sun poured through the slate and lemon linen shades onto containers of Easter grass growing on the wooden sills. Rintola smiled and held up her open hand at a slant—her time-tested “silent giraffe,” which signaled the kids to be quiet. Little hats, coats, shoes stowed in their cubbies, the children wiggled next to their desks in their stocking feet, waiting for a turn to tell their tale from the playground. They had just returned from their regular 15 minutes of playtime outdoors between lessons. “Play is important at this age,” Rintola would later say. “We value play.”
With their wiggles unwound, the students took from their desks little bags of buttons, beans and laminated cards numbered 1 through 20. A teacher’s aide passed around yellow strips representing units of ten. At a smart board at the front of the room, Rintola ushered the class through the principles of base ten. One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. Those who finished early played an advanced “nut puzzle” game. After 40 minutes it was time for a hot lunch in the cathedral-like cafeteria.
Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”
It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Student health care is free.
Even so, Rintola said her children arrived last August miles apart in reading and language levels. By April, nearly every child in the class was reading, and most were writing. Boys had been coaxed into literature with books like Kapteeni Kalsarin (“Captain Underpants”). The school’s special education teacher teamed up with Rintola to teach five children with a variety of behavioral and learning problems. The national goal for the past five years has been to mainstream all children. The only time Rintola’s children are pulled out is for Finnish as a Second Language classes, taught by a teacher with 30 years’ experience and graduate school training.
There are exceptions, though, however rare. One first-grade girl was not in Rintola’s class. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish. She was studying math down the hall in a special “preparing class” taught by an expert in multicultural learning. It is designed to help children keep up with their subjects while they conquer the language. Kirkkojarvi’s teachers have learned to deal with their unusually large number of immigrant students. The city of Espoo helps them out with an extra 82,000 euros a year in “positive discrimination” funds to pay for things like special resource teachers, counselors and six special needs classes.
Rintola will teach the same children next year and possibly the next five years, depending on the needs of the school. “It’s a good system. I can make strong connections with the children,” said Rintola, who was handpicked by Louhivuori 20 years ago. “I understand who they are.” Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry.
Not until sixth grade will kids have the option to sit for a district-wide exam, and then only if the classroom teacher agrees to participate. Most do, out of curiosity. Results are not publicized. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests. “Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”
I had come to Kirkkojarvi to see how the Finnish approach works with students who are not stereotypically blond, blue-eyed and Lutheran. But I wondered if Kirkkojarvi’s success against the odds might be a fluke. Some of the more vocal conservative reformers in America have grown weary of the “We-Love-Finland crowd” or so-called Finnish Envy. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5.4 million people—4 percent of them foreign born. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. It employs standardized exams and teachers without master’s degrees. And like America, Norway’s PISA scores have been stalled in the middle ranges for the better part of a decade.
To get a second sampling, I headed east from Espoo to Helsinki and a rough neighborhood called Siilitie, Finnish for “Hedgehog Road” and known for having the oldest low-income housing project in Finland. The 50-year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores. Half of its 200 first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies.
A class of first graders scampered among nearby pine and birch trees, each holding a stack of the teacher’s homemade laminated “outdoor math” cards. “Find a stick as big as your foot,” one read. “Gather 50 rocks and acorns and lay them out in groups of ten,” read another. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks. Aleksi Gustafsson, whose master’s degree is from Helsinki University, developed the exercise after attending one of the many workshops available free to teachers. “I did research on how useful this is for kids,” he said. “It’s fun for the children to work outside. They really learn with it.”
Gustafsson’s sister, Nana Germeroth, teaches a class of mostly learning-impaired children; Gustafsson’s students have no learning or behavioral issues. The two combined most of their classes this year to mix their ideas and abilities along with the children’s varying levels. “We know each other really well,” said Germeroth, who is ten years older. “I know what Aleksi is thinking.”
The school receives 47,000 euros a year in positive discrimination money to hire aides and special education teachers, who are paid slightly higher salaries than classroom teachers because of their required sixth year of university training and the demands of their jobs. There is one teacher (or assistant) in Siilitie for every seven students.
In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching. Last year, Kaisa Summa, a teacher with five years’ experience, was having trouble keeping a gaggle of first-grade boys under control. She had looked longingly into Paivi Kangasvieri’s quiet second-grade room next door, wondering what secrets the 25-year-veteran colleague could share. Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. It worked. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week. “We complement each other,” said Kangasvieri, who describes herself as a calm and firm “father” to Summa’s warm mothering. “It is cooperative teaching at its best,” she says.
Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it. After all, nearly 100 percent of the school’s ninth graders go on to high schools. Even many of the most severely disabled will find a place in Finland’s expanded system of vocational high schools, which are attended by 43 percent of Finnish high-school students, who prepare to work in restaurants, hospitals, construction sites and offices. “We help situate them in the right high school,” said then deputy principal Anne Roselius. “We are interested in what will become of them in life.”
Finland’s schools were not always a wonder. Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. (The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous.) Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education.
The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love (or pronounce). In 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some 600 years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. Petersburg. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917, Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war. Three more wars between 1939 and 1945—two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians. “Still we managed to keep our freedom,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a director general in the Ministry of Education and Culture.
In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive."
Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”
To be sure, it was only in the past decade that Finland’s international science scores rose. In fact, the country’s earliest efforts could be called somewhat Stalinistic. The first national curriculum, developed in the early ’70s, weighed in at 700 stultifying pages. Timo Heikkinen, who began teaching in Finland’s public schools in 1980 and is now principal of Kallahti Comprehensive School in eastern Helsinki, remembers when most of his high-school teachers sat at their desks dictating to the open notebooks of compliant children.
And there are still challenges. Finland’s crippling financial collapse in the early ’90s brought fresh economic challenges to this “confident and assertive Eurostate,” as David Kirby calls it in A Concise History of Finland. At the same time, immigrants poured into the country, clustering in low-income housing projects and placing added strain on schools. A recent report by the Academy of Finland warned that some schools in the country’s large cities were becoming more skewed by race and class as affluent, white Finns choose schools with fewer poor, immigrant populations.
A few years ago, Kallahti principal Timo Heikkinen began noticing that, increasingly, affluent Finnish parents, perhaps worried about the rising number of Somali children at Kallahti, began sending their children to one of two other schools nearby. In response, Heikkinen and his teachers designed new environmental science courses that take advantage of the school’s proximity to the forest. And a new biology lab with 3-D technology allows older students to observe blood flowing inside the human body.
It has yet to catch on, Heikkinen admits. Then he added: “But we are always looking for ways to improve.”
In other words, whatever it takes.
When I left my 7th grade math classroom for my Fulbright research assignment in Finland I thought I would come back from this experience with more inspiring, engaging, innovative lessons. I expected to have great new ideas on how to teach my mathematics curriculum and I would revamp my lessons so that I could include more curriculum, more math and get students to think more, talk more and do more math.
This drive to do more and More and MORE is a state of existence for most teachers in the US….it is engrained in us from day one. There is a constant pressure to push our students to the next level to have them do bigger and better things. The lessons have to be more exciting, more engaging and cover more content. This phenomena is driven by data, or parents, or administrators or simply by our work-centric society where we gauge our success as a human being by how busy we are and how burnt out we feel at the end of the day. We measure our worth with completed lists and we criminalize down time. We teach this “work till you drop” mentality to our students who either simply give up somewhere along the way or become as burnt out as we find ourselves.
When I arrived in Finland I did not find big flashy innovative thought provoking math lessons. I did not find students who were better at mathematics or knew more math content. In fact the Jr. High and High school math classrooms have been rather typical of what I have experienced in Indiana. And most of the struggles (like students not remembering their basic math facts) were the same. The instruction and classroom structure of a math classroom in Finland follows the basic formula that has been performed by math teachers for centuries: The teachers go over homework, they present a lesson (some of the kids listen and some don’t), and then they assign homework. While some lectures have been wonderful and I have gotten to observe some fantastic teachers, I would say that on the whole I have seen more engaging and interactive secondary math instruction from teachers in the United States. It is rare to see a math lesson that is measurably better than those found in my district and I have seen several that were actually far worse.
So, what is the difference? If the instruction in secondary mathematics is the same or sometimes worse than those found in the US, why are Finnish students succeeding and ours are failing? The difference is not the instruction. Good teaching is good teaching and it can be found in both Finland and in the US. (The same can be said for bad teaching.) The difference is less tangible and more fundamental. Finland truly believes “Less is More.” This national mantra is deeply engrained into the Finnish mindset and is the guiding principal to Finland’s educational philosophy.
Less IS more.
They believe it. They live by it. Their houses are not larger than what they need in which to comfortably live. They do not buy or over consume. They live simply and humbly. They don’t feel the need to have 300 types of cereal to choose from when 10 will do. The women wear less make-up. The men don’t have giant trucks (or any vehicles at all, really). Instead of buying hundreds of cheap articles of clothing the Finns buy a few expensive items of high quality that will last for decades rather than months. They truly believe and live by the mentality of less is more.
Conversely in the US we truly believe “more is more” and we constantly desire and pursue more in all areas of our lives. We are obsessed with all things new, shiny and exciting and are constantly wanting to upgrade our lives. Out with the old in with the new! This mentality of “more is more” creeps into all areas of our lives and it confuses and stifles our education system.
We can’t even stick to ONE philosophy of education long enough to see if it actually works. We are constantly trying new methods, ideas and initiatives. We keep adding more and more to our plates without removing any of the past ideas. Currently we believe “more” is the answer to all of our education problems— everything can be solved with MORE classes, longer days, MORE homework, MORE assignments, MORE pressure, MORE content, MORE meetings, MORE after school tutoring, and of course MORE testing! All this is doing is creating MORE burnt out teachers, MORE stressed out students and MORE frustration.
Finland on the other hand believes less is more. This is exemplified in several ways for both teachers and students.
Less = More
1. Less Formal Schooling = More Options
Students in Finland start formal schooling at the age of seven. Yes, seven! Finland allows their children to be children, to learn through playing and exploring rather than sitting still locked up in a classroom. But don’t they get behind? No! The kids start school when they are actually developmentally ready to learn and focus. This first year is followed by only nine years of compulsory school. Everything after ninth grade is optional and at the age of 16 the students can choose from the following three tracks:
• Upper Secondary School: This three year program prepares students for the Matriculation Test that determines their acceptance into University. Students usually pick which upper secondary school they would like to attend based on the school’s specialties and apply to get into that institution. I think of this as a mixture of High School and College. (In recent years a little less than 40% choose this option.)
•Vocational Education: This is a three year program that trains students for various careers as well as gives them the option to take the Matriculation test to then apply for University should they so choose. However, the students in this track are usually content with their skill and either enter the workforce or they go on to a Poly-technical College to get further training. (A little less than 60% choose this track.)
(But wait! Shouldn’t everyone take calculus, economics, and advanced chemistry?! Shouldn’t everyone get a University degree?! No, not everyone has to go to University! Hmmm….. interesting….. What if we provided options for those who want to become successful (and very profitable) welders or electricians? What if we didn’t force students who know that their talents reside outside of the world of formal academics to take three years of high school classes that they found boring and useless? What if we allowed them to train in and explore vocations they found fascinating and in which they were gifted? What if we made these students feel valued and like they had a place in the education realm?)
• Enter the workforce. (Less than 5% choose this path)
2. Less Time in School = More Rest
Students typically start school between 9:00 and 9:45. Actually, Helsinki is thinking of creating a law stating that schools cannot begin before 9:00 am because research has consistently proved that adolescents need quality sleep in the morning. The school day usually ends by 2:00 or 2:45. Some days they start earlier and some days they start later. Finnish students’ schedules are always different and changing; however they typically have three to four 75 minute classes a day with several breaks in between. This overall system allows both students and teachers to be well rested and ready to teach/learn.
3. Fewer Instruction Hours = More Planning Time
Teachers have shorter days as well. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) an average Finnish teacher teaches 600 hours annually or about 4 or less lessons daily. An average U.S. teacher almost doubles that teaching time with an average of over 1,080 hours of in-class instruction annually. This equals an average of six or more lessons daily. Also, teachers and students in Finland are not expected to be at school when they do not have a class. For example, if they don’t have any afternoon classes on Thursdays, they (both teachers and students) can simply leave. Or if their first class on a Wednesday starts at 11:00, they don’t have to be at school until that time. This system allows the Finnish teacher more time to plan and think about each lesson. It allows them to create great, thought provoking lessons.
4. Fewer Teachers = More Consistency and Care
Elementary students in Finland often have the SAME teacher for up to SIX YEARS of their education. That is right! The same teacher cares for, nurtures and tends to the education of the same group of students for six years in a row. And you had better believe that during those six years with the same 15-20 students, those teachers have figured out the individual instructional needs and learning styles of each and every student. These teachers know where each of their students have been and where they are going. They track the kids’ progress and have a personal invested interest in seeing the kids succeed and reach their goals. There is no “passing the buck” onto the next teacher because they ARE the next teacher. If there is a discipline or behavior problem, the teacher had better nip it in the bud right away or else deal with it the next six years. ( Some schools in Finland only loop their elementary children for three years at a time instead of six, however the benefits are still the same. )
This system is not only helpful to a child because it gives them the consistency, care and individualized attention they need, it also helps the teachers understand the curriculum in a holistic and linear way. The teacher knows what they need to teach to get them to the next step, while also giving the teachers freedom to work at the pace of their students. Teachers don’t feel the pressure to speed up or slow down so that they are “ready” for the teacher next year. Again, they are the teacher next year and they control the curriculum! They know where the kids are and what they have learned and will plan according to the students’ needs! I really believe this is a HUGE part of Finland’s success story and it does not receive enough attention.
5. Fewer Accepted Applicants= More Confidence in Teachers
So……children have the same teacher for three to six years. What if your kid gets a “bad teacher”? Finland works very hard to make sure there are no “bad teachers.” Primary education is THE most competitive degree to get in Finland. The elementary education departments in Finland only accept 10% of all applicants and turns down thousands of students annually. A person not only has to be the best and the brightest to become a primary teacher, they also have to have passed a series of interviews and personality screenings to get in. So, it isn’t enough to be the smartest in your class, you also have to have the natural ability and drive to teach.
Finland understands that the ability to teach isn’t something that can be gained from studying. It is usually a gift and passion. Some have it, some don’t. The few universities with teaching programs in Finland make sure they only accept applicants that have that gift. On top of excellent grades, and a natural disposition to be a teacher, all teachers must get a Master’s degree and write a Master’s Thesis. This generates a lot of confidence and trust in Finland’s teachers. Parents trust the teachers to be highly qualified, trained, and gifted individuals. They do not try to interfere or usurp their authority and decisions. I asked a math teacher how many emails they typically get from parents. They shrugged and answered “About five or six”. I said, “Oh, I get about that much a day too.” They then answered…”No! I meant five or six a semester!” Again, what would it be like to live in a society based on trust and respect?
6. Fewer Classes= More Breaks
As I stated before, students only have three to four (or rarely, five) classes a day. They also have several breaks/recesses/ snack times during the day and these usually happen outside come rain or shine. These 15 to 20 minute gives them time to digest what they are learning, use their muscles, stretch their legs, get some fresh air and let out the “wiggles.” There are several neurological advantages for these breaks. Study after study supports the need for children to be physically active in order to learn. Stagnation of the body leads to stagnation of the brain and unfocused, “hyper” children.
The teachers also have these breaks. The first day I was in a school in Finland a teacher apologized for the state of the “Teacher Room.” She then commented on the fact that all teacher rooms must look like this. I laughed and politely agreed, but in my head I was thinking; “What is a teacher room?” A teacher’s room is what used to be called the teacher’s lounge in the U.S…back before they went extinct. In Finland these rooms are always full of teachers who are either working, preparing, grabbing a cup of coffee, or simply resting, socializing, and mentally preparing for their next class.
Secondary level teachers usually have 10 to 20 minute breaks in between classes and often have a few skip (prep) periods as well. These rooms are different depending on the school, but from what I can tell the basic formula is a few tables, a few couches, a coffee pot, a kitchen, a selection of free fruit and snacks, and teachers to talk and collaborate with. A few of them even have massage chairs! Ha!
So, why don’t these rooms of collaboration, support and solace exist in the U.S.? We do not have TIME! Every day we teach six to seven classes in a row with no breaks. The three to five minute passing periods we do get are often used to answer emails from parents, erase the board, get ready for the next class, make copies, answer student questions, pick up the mess left behind by the students, and (heaven forbid) go to the bathroom! If we have a spare moment we are then expected to monitor the hallway because we can’t trust students to get to class without supervision. The luxury of actually sitting down for 10 minutes and enjoying a cup of coffee with some colleagues is an absolute dream, and having a day with only three classes—that is a fantasy!
7. Less Testing = More Learning
Imagine all of the exciting things you could do with your students if there wasn’t a giant state test looming over your head every year. Imagine the freedom you could have if your pay wasn’t connected to your student’s test scores. Imagine how much more fun and engaging your lessons would be!
Although it still exists, there is overall less pressure on the teacher in Finland to get through the curriculum. The teacher is simply trusted to do a good job and therefore they have more control over their classroom and its content. The teacher is able to take more risks and try new things and create exciting, engaging curriculum that allows students to become skilled individuals ready for the real world. They have time to teach skills that allow students to develop into individuals who know how to start a project and work systematically to accomplish a goal. They have time to teach craft education where students get to learn how to do real life skills like sewing, cooking, cleaning, woodworking and more! And while they are learning these amazing skills they are also learning math and problem solving and how to follow directions!
8. Fewer Topics = More Depth
I have observed several fifth through ninth grade math classes in Finland. I have looked at the curriculum covered over these five years of education and I realized that I attempt to teach the content of five years of Finnish math education in one year. Each math topic presented in every grade level I have observed here is include in my seventh grade curriculum.
Again, the American mentality of “more is more” simply does not work. If I am to get through everything I am expected to do in one year I have to introduce a new topic/lesson every other day and I always feel “behind”. Behind what, I am not sure, but the pressure is there pushing me and my students along. In Finland, teachers take their time. They look deeper into the topic and don’t panic if they are a little behind or don’t cover every topic in the existence of mathematics in a single year.
Also, students only have math a few times a week. In fact, after Easter Break, all of my seventh graders only have math ONCE a week! My heart still panics a little when I hear this! I can’t believe that is enough math time! How will they be ready for the tests?! Oh— wait. There are no tests. There is no need to rush through. The students get to actually understand the material before they are forced on to a new topic. One teacher showed me a course book and said that it had too many topics for one five week grading period. I looked at the entire book and had to stifle a chuckle because it essentially covered what would be found in ONE chapter from my textbook. Why do we push our kids in the U.S. to learn so much so quickly? No wonder they are stressed out! No wonder they give up!
9. Less Homework = More Participation
According to the OECD, Finnish students have the least amount of homework in the world. They average under half an hour of homework a night. Finnish students typically do not have outside tutors or lessons either. This is especially shocking when you realize Finnish students are outscoring the high performing Asian nations whose students receive hours of additional/outside instruction. From what I can observe, students in Finland get the work done in class, and teachers feel that what the students are able to do in school is enough. Again, there is not pressure to have them do more than what is necessary for them to learn a skill. Often the assignments are open-ended and not really graded. Yet, the students work on it in class diligently. It is very interesting to see what happens to the students when they are given something to do. The students who were not listening to the lesson at all put away their phones and start working on the task set before them. Even if it is just a suggested assignment, they give it their full attention up to the end of class. It is almost like there is an unspoken agreement: “I won’t give you homework if you work on this while you are in my classroom.” This system has really made me think about the amount of homework I assign on a daily basis.
10. Fewer Students = More Individual Attention
This is obvious. If you have fewer students you will be able to give them the care and attention they need to learn. A Finnish teacher will have about 3 to 4 classes of 20 students a day- so they will see between 60 to 80 students a day. I see 180 students every single day. I have 30 to 35 students in a class, six classes in a row, 5 days a week.
11. Less Structure = More Trust
Trust is key to this whole system not structure. Instead of being suspicious of one another and creating tons of structure, rules, hoops and tests to see if the system is working, they simply trust the system. Society trusts the schools to hire good Teachers. The schools trust the teachers to be highly trained individuals and therefore give them freedom to create the type of classroom environment that is best for their individual students. The Parent’s trust the teachers to make decisions that will help their children learn and thrive. The Teachers trust the students to do the work and learn for the sake of learning. The Students trust the teachers to give them the tools they need to be successful. Society trusts the system and gives education the respect it deserves. It works and it isn’t complicated. Finland has it figured out.
Less IS More.
Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, Finland's school system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings for education systems.
So how do they do it?
It's simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.
Finnish children don't start school until they are 7.
Compared with other systems, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.
Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.
66 percent of students go to college.
The highest rate in Europe.
The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.
Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments every class.
93 percent of Finns graduate from high school.
17.5 percent higher than the US.
43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.
Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for "professional development".
Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students.
The school system is 100% state funded.
All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots
The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008
Compared with $36,000 in the United States.
However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make.
In the US, this figure is 62%.
There is no merit pay for teachers
Teachers are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers
In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.
It's consistently come top or very near every time since.
And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic
Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.
Finland has a population of 5.4 million, roughly the same as what Singapore has. And that’s pretty much where the similarities between these two countries end.
Because the quality of education between these two countries cannot be any further apart.
Tuition is virtually unheard of, homework is rarer than precious metal and exams are conducted only when it is really required — maybe three times in one lifetime.
Sounds wonderful, right?
Therefore, here are 18 other reasons Finland is leading Singapore and the rest of the world in terms of education by about a mile — give and take, a few light years.
1. Pre-school teachers in Finland are required to have a basic three-year degree and many hold master’s degrees.
In Singapore, if you’re a woman without a criminal record, you’re pretty much getting the job.
2. The teacher-student ratio for pupils between three and six years old is 1:7.
This is virtually unheard of in Singapore.
3. Finland operates 24-hour childcare centres catering to parents who might be stewardesses, policemen and nurses.
Singapore operates 24-hour kopitiams.
4. Teachers of primary and secondary schools study for five years up to master’s level.
In Singapore, 19-year-olds do relief teaching in secondary schools.
5. Finnish pre-schools for three to seven-year-olds are focused on play. A play-based curriculum stimulates creative development and a curiosity for learning.
Singaporean parents try to make their 6-month-old infants read.
6. By law, Finnish children under the age of seven have a right to attend childcare regardless of family income or parental employment.
In Singapore, the law is used to deter criminals.
7. The top 10 percent of students to graduate from Finnish high school will pick teaching over law. It would be a miracle if we found 10 people in Singapore who did that.
8. This year alone, 2,000 applied for 100 spots in the primary school teacher-education programme in one Finnish institution.
This statistic sounds like the number of applicants for NUS Medicine.
9. There is no yearly appraisal or grading of a teacher’s performance, due to the rigorous training teachers have undergone in Finland.
In Singapore, most teachers get a C, while scholar teachers tend to get a B. True story.
10. Finnish primary school teachers make an average of US$30,500 (S$38,300) a year.
Male teachers get this pay because they served NS. Female teachers, tough luck.
11. Finnish schools are all equal — every school is a good school.
In Singapore, Raffles Institution is the best school.
12. In Finland, government spending on education makes up 6.8 percent of gross domestic product. Education is free from pre-school to university level.
If you’re going to university in Singapore, get a bank loan.
13. Education reforms in the 1970s scrapped private schools and schools become publicly funded.
Nope, not in Singapore.
14. Finnish children were ranked among the top performers in mathematics, science and literacy in the first Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) studies in 2000 and the second in 2003.
The study compares 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science.
We need tuition to get the same results.
15. Streaming of Finnish students occur only at age 16.
Streaming of children in Singapore used to begin as early as 9 years old in the past.
16. Classes have an average of 25 students in Finland.
Classes have an average of 40 students in Singapore.
17. Finnish teachers design their own lessons and assess students based on tests designed by themselves.
Teachers in Singapore design lessons for teachers, who then assess students based on whatever energy they might have left after dealing with CCAs, HOD meetings, marking, remedial classes etc.
18. Finland has a strong reading culture. The Finns borrow more books from the library than any nationality in the world.
Singaporeans like to watch movies on their smartphones.
The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, "Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States."
Following his recommendation, I enrolled my seven-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu. Finland, which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border.
OK, I wasn't just blindly following Gardner - I had a position as a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland for a semester. But the point is that, for five months, my wife, my son and I experienced a stunningly stress-free, and stunningly good, school system. Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.
In Finland, children don't receive formal academic training until the age of seven. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light.
Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, "There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing."
One evening, I asked my son what he did for gym that day. "They sent us into the woods with a map and compass and we had to find our way out," he said.
Finland doesn't waste time or money on low-quality mass standardised testing. Instead, children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality "personalised learning device" ever created - flesh-and-blood teachers.
In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: "Let children be children," "The work of a child is to play," and "Children learn best through play."
The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive. There are no scripted lessons and no quasi-martial requirements to walk in straight lines or sit up straight. As one Chinese student-teacher studying in Finland marvelled to me, "In Chinese schools, you feel like you're in the military. Here, you feel like you're part of a really nice family." She is trying to figure out how she can stay in Finland permanently.
In Finland teachers are the most trusted and admired professionals next to doctors, in part because they are required to have a master's degree in education with specialisation in research and classroom practice.
"Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians," one Finnish childhood education professor told me. "We also have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell businesspeople to stay out of our building." In fact, any Finnish citizen is free to visit any school whenever they like, but her message was clear: Educators are the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats, and not technology vendors.
Finland delivers on a national public scale highly qualified, highly respected and highly professionalised teachers who conduct personalised one-on-one instruction; manageable class sizes; a rich, developmentally correct curriculum; regular physical activity; little or no low-quality standardised tests and the toxic stress and wasted time and energy that accompanies them; daily assessments by teachers; and a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals.
One day last November, when the first snow came to my part of Finland, I heard a commotion outside my university faculty office window, which is close to the teacher training school's outdoor play area. I walked over to investigate.
The field was filled with children savouring the first taste of winter amid the pine trees.
"Do you hear that?" asked the recess monitor, a special education teacher wearing a yellow safety smock.
"That," she said proudly, "is the voice of happiness."
Spend five minutes in Jussi Hietava’s fourth-grade math class in remote, rural Finland, and you may learn all you need to know about education reform – if you want results, try doing the opposite of what American “education reformers” think we should do in classrooms.
Instead of control, competition, stress, standardized testing, screen-based schools and loosened teacher qualifications, try warmth, collaboration, and highly professionalized, teacher-led encouragement and assessment.
At the University of Eastern Finland’s Normaalikoulu teacher training school in Joensuu, Finland, you can see Hietava’s students enjoying the cutting-edge concept of “personalized learning.”
But this is not a tale of classroom computers. While the school has the latest technology, there isn’t a tablet or smartphone in sight, just a smart board and a teacher’s desktop.
Screens can only deliver simulations of personalized learning, this is the real thing, pushed to the absolute limit.
This is the story of the quiet, daily, flesh-and-blood miracles that are achieved by Hietava and teachers the world over, in countless face-to-face and over-the-shoulder interactions with schoolchildren.
Often, Hietava does two things simultaneously: both mentoring young student teachers and teaching his fourth grade class.
Hieteva sets the classroom atmosphere. Children are allowed to slouch, wiggle and giggle from time to time if they want to, since that’s what children are biologically engineered to do, in Finland, America, Asia and everywhere else.
This is a flagship in the “ultimate charter school network” – Finland’s public schools.
Here, as in any other Finnish school, teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals.
Here, in contrast to the atmosphere in American public schools, Hietava and his colleagues are encouraged to constantly experiment with new approaches to improve learning.
Hietava’s latest innovations are with pilot-testing “self-assessments,” where his students write daily narratives on their learning and progress; and with “peer assessments,” a striking concept where children are carefully guided to offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions to each other.
The 37 year-old Hietava, a school dad and Finnish champion golfer in his spare time, has trained scores of teachers, Unlike in America, where thousands of teacher positions in inner cities are filled by candidates with five or six weeks of summer training, no teacher in Finland is allowed to lead a primary school class without a master’s degree in education, with specialization in research and classroom practice, from one of this small nation’s eleven elite graduate schools of education.
As a boy, Hietava dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, but he grew so tall that he couldn’t safely eject from an aircraft without injuring his legs. So he entered an even more respected profession, teaching, which is the most admired job in Finland next to medical doctors.
I am “embedded” at this university as a Fulbright Scholar and university lecturer, as a classroom observer, and as the father of a second grader who attends this school.
How did I wind up here in Europe’s biggest national forest, on the edge of the Western world in Joensuu, Finland, the last, farthest-east sizable town in the EU before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border?
In 2012, while helping civil rights hero James Meredith write his memoir “A Mission From God,” we interviewed a panel of America’s greatest education experts and asked them for their ideas on improving America’s public schools.
One of the experts, the famed Professor Howard Gardner of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, told us, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States. You can read about what Finland has accomplished in ‘Finnish Lessons’ by Pasi Sahlberg.”
I read the book and met with Sahlberg, a former Finnish math teacher who is now also at Harvard’s education school as Visiting Professor.
After speaking with him I decided I had to give my own now-eight-year old child a public school experience in what seemed to be the most child-centered, most evidence-based, and most effective primary school system in the world.
Now, after watching Jussi Hietava and other Finnish educators in action for five months, I have come to realize that Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence and equity to its children are the result of a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best.
Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.
The homework load for children in Finland varies by teacher, but is lighter overall than most other developed countries. This insight is supported by research, which has found little academic benefit in childhood for any more than brief sessions of homework until around high school.
There are some who argue that since Finland has less socio-economic diversity than, for example, the United States, there’s little to learn here. But Finland’s success is not a “Nordic thing,” since Finland significantly out-achieves its “cultural control group” countries like Norway and Sweden on international benchmarks. And Finland’s size, immigration and income levels are roughly similar to those of a number of American states, where the bulk of education policy is implemented.
There are also those who would argue that this kind of approach wouldn’t work in America’s inner city schools, which instead need “no excuses,” boot-camp drilling-and-discipline, relentless standardized test prep, Stakhanovian workloads and stress-and-fear-based “rigor.”
But what if the opposite is true?
What if many of Finland’s educational practices are not cultural quirks or non-replicable national idiosyncrasies — but are instead bare-minimum global best practices that all our children urgently need, especially those children in high-poverty schools?
Finland has, like any other nation, a unique culture. But it has identified, often by studying historical educational research and practices that originated in the United States, many fundamental childhood education insights that can inspire, and be tested and adapted by, any other nation.
As Pasi Sahlberg has pointed out, “If you come to Finland, you’ll see how great American schools could be.”
Finland’s education system is hardly perfect, and its schools and society are entering a period of huge budget and social pressures. Reading levels among children have dropped off. Some advanced learners feel bored in school. Finland has launched an expensive, high-risk national push toward universal digitalization and tabletization of childhood education that has little basis in evidence and flies in the face of a recent major OECD study that found very little academic benefit for school children from most classroom technology.
But as a parent or prospective parent, I have spent time in many of the most prestigious private schools in New York City and toured many of the city’s public school classrooms, in the largest public school system in the world. And I am convinced that the primary school education my child is getting in the Normaalikoulu in Joensuu is on a par with, or far surpasses, that available at any other school I’ve seen.
I have a suggestion for every philanthropist, parent, educator and policymaker in the world who wants to improve children’s education.
Start by coming to Finland. Spend some time sitting in the back of Jussi Hietava’s classroom, or any other Finnish classroom.
If you look closely and open your mind, you may see the School of Tomorrow.
When it comes to education, the Finnish know what they’re doing. The Scandinavian country has one of the top education systems in the world, and this year, ranked number one in literacy. So what’s Finland’s secret? It’s simple: more play, less work.
Here we take a look at what makes Finland’s education system so unique.
1. Kids don’t start formal school until age seven.
Before formal school, kids attend daycare where emphasis is put on creative play. There is also a strong focus on teaching children social skills and fostering their love of learning.
“Kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically,” says Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg. “Instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”
2. The first day of school is all fun and games.
Instead of jumping straight into lesson plans, Finnish schools like to keep things light on the first day with games, exercise and discussions about summer vacations. Some teachers even give their students a half-day off, The Atlantic reports. The idea is to ease students and teachers back into the school routine and make the transition as stress-free as possible.
3. Finland schools don’t have subjects.
Last year, Finland announced that their education system would be dropping subjects in favour of a new method known as “teaching by phenomenon.” This means that teachers focus on interdisciplinary topics so that students can combine different skills in one lesson, such as learning geography in French.
According to Finnish educator Sahlberg, Finland has been experimenting with this teaching method since the 1980s.
4. School days are short.
Finland has one of the shortest school days in the world, averaging about five hours. Kids are also given very little homework so that they have more time for free play. According to a 2014 study of 15-year-olds around the world, Finnish students spent 2.8 hours per week doing homework, compared to 6.1 hours American students spent.
5. Students get a 15-minute break every 45-minutes of class.
This is law in Finland. The Scandinavian country strongly believes in independent learning and learning through play.
6. There are no standardized tests.
Students are only tested so teachers can see what they know. However, kids are required to take an exam in order to graduate from high school and enter university.
7. Teachers are as revered as doctors.
Finnish teachers are highly respected and educating them is put on par with training doctors. According to the Center on International Education Benchmarking (CIEB), only one in 10 students who apply to teachers programs are accepted.
Finland began the reform of its education system some 40 years ago. Today, Finland’s school system is top-ranked among developed nations, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international standardized test for 15-year-olds in language, math and science. The most interesting aspect of their education system is that Finland achieved its success by breaking what are considered the customary rules of education.
Finnish children do not begin school until the age of seven, when they are developmentally ready to learn, and schooling is compulsory for just nine years. School days are shorter and classes are fewer. Homework is minimal. There are no mandated standardized tests. There are no rankings, comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.
Yet 93% of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, this is 17% higher than in the US. Sixty-six percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. And Finland spends about 30% less per student than the US.
What can other countries learn from Finland’s achievement? Here are three lessons.
Let children play. Students in Finland only have three to four classes a day. They also have several breaks and recesses during the day, which usually are held outside whatever the weather, even in winter. These 15 to 20-minute breaks allow children time to digest what they are learning, to play and exercise in the fresh air. Studies have shown that children need to let out the “wiggles,” and to be physically active in order to learn. Children who sit too much lose their focus, leading to so-called “hyper” kids. Less time in the classroom also benefits teachers, who use it to think, plan and create lessons.
Give teachers some respect. Primary school teacher is one of the most sought-after positions and competitive degrees in Finland. Teaching programs accept just 10% of applicants and turn down thousands of students annually. The best and brightest candidates have to pass a series of interviews and personality screenings, designed to determine their natural ability and drive to teach. In addition to top grades and a natural disposition toward teaching, all teachers must earn a Master’s degree. The requirement for an advanced degree essentially confers upon Finnish teachers the same status as a doctor or lawyer.
Because only students with a gift for teaching are accepted into university programs, and teachers are so well-qualified and well-trained, they are highly respected and trusted by parents. Parents have confidence teachers will do what is in the best interest of the children. Teachers in turn are free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucracy or excessive regulation.
Provide as much individual attention as possible. Classes are smaller in Finland. In elementary school, students often have the same teacher for up to six years of their education. Teachers get to know their students, their individual needs and learning styles. Weaker students are caught early and given extra assistance. The Finnish system overall stresses warmth, collaboration, encouragement and assessment, with teachers doing whatever it takes to help students, rather than stress and control.
The school system in Finland can be summed up in the words of a teacher, as quoted in Smithsonian magazine. “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” he says. “We know much more about the children than tests can tell us.”
IBL World School to adopt Finland education and Become the First Asia in the world to integrate all subjects into one basis learning.
Finland’s education is considered one of the best in the world. In international ratings, it’s always in the top ten.
Finnish officials want to remove school subjects from the curriculum. There will no longer be any classes in physics, math, literature, history, or geography.
The head of the Department of Education in Helsinki, Marjo Kyllonen, explained the changes:
“There are schools that are teaching in the old-fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginning of the 1900s — but the needs are not the same, and we need something fit for the 21st century.“
Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math. And by taking the course ”Working in a Cafe," students will absorb a whole body of knowledge about the English language, economics, and communication skills.
This system will be introduced for learners, beginning at the age of 16. The general idea is that the students ought to choose for themselves which topic or phenomenon they want to study, bearing in mind their ambitions for the future and their capabilities. In this way, no student will have to pass through an entire course on physics or chemistry while all the time thinking to themselves “What do I need to know this for?”
The traditional format of teacher-pupil communication is also going to change. Students will no longer sit behind school desks and wait anxiously to be called upon to answer a question. Instead, they will work together in small groups to discuss problems.
The Finnish education system encourages collective work, which is why the changes will prepare them for the future.