After wide-ranging reforms over forty years ago, the award for the best education system in the world goes to Finland.
Each year, Finland continually appears in the top ten for every subject in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysis (OECD), and each year Finnish students are amongst the highest performing in the Programme for International Student Achievement’s league tables (PISA).
With no school inspectors, no league tables, no tuition fees and very few exams, Finland’s education system is certainly out of the norm. But the results speak for themselves.
Is it possible to take the successes of Finland and make the same changes and developments in the UK? We’ve taken a look at 10 of the reasons why Finnish education is successful.
1. The education model in Finland is present from the very beginning
Finland provide each baby that is born in the country with a box that is filled with clothes, sheets and toys: a starter kit. The box is designed for the baby to sleep in and the emphasis on education is made by the inclusion of a picture book.
This tradition dates back to the 1930s and it was put in place to ensure every child, no matter what their background, is provided with an equal start in life.
2. Finland provides full-time early childhood education
As young children develop, a strong emphasis is placed on day care education and learning in Finland. From as young as 9 months, the general norm is to place children in nurseries or day care centres, or promote learning in a ‘family day care’ environment.
If both parents are in full-time jobs, the child has a right to full-time early childhood education. If one parent is working and the other is at home, as a minimum, the chid is still entitled to 20 hours of education a week.
3. The compulsory age for education is 7 years old
Mandatory schooling doesn’t begin until children are seven years old in Finland. Experts there take the view that children learn better when they are ready; aged seven, they’re eager to learn.
Instead, the focus is on early years development, with government programmes and societal values promoting learning through parental teaching and free play.
4. Finland emphasises the value of play in early years
Since children don’t start school until they’re seven, a huge emphasis is placed on the importance of play in their early development. Finland’s government programme – Early Childhood Education and Care (EPEC) – values an integrated approach to care, education and teaching, or ‘educare’ as it’s known. As part of this, the programme states that “Learning through play is essential.”
Throughout school life, the value of play time remains a key focus too. Compared to other countries worldwide, Finnish students get more breaks, have shorter school hours, and minimal homework, leaving more time for other activities.
5. Finland provides each and every child the support they need
As well as providing a large amount of play time for young children, Finnish schools and day care centres also excel at offering a substantial level of support.
Food, medical care, and even taxi services to and from school are provided free of charge to children. Nurses and psychologists are all on hand in schools too, to provide counselling services to any child who might need it. Over 30% of children receive some kind of help during their school career.
6. They see value in having a low educationalists to learner ratio
Finland’s EPEC recommends a maximum of four children per staff member for zero to three year olds (and those in family day care), and seven children per staff member for older kids. This is comparable to the UK for under threes, but for older children, only one member of staff is required for up to eight children.
This low ratio of early years practitioners to children offers greater possibilities for more personal, intensive care of children, and more valuable interactions.
Class sizes are generally kept as low as possible too, with more than 25 pupils per teacher.
7. Finland puts huge emphasis on CPD
A greater emphasis is placed on the importance of staff training and nurturing in Finland, with both teachers and practitioners receiving a dedicated amount of time each week for professional development.
This helps to ensure that all staff members continue learning and improving, staying at the forefront of the global education field. Training, seminars, workshops and mentoring are all provided on a variety of subjects, including the curriculum, health issues, educational transitions and communication.
8. Being an educationalist in Finland is held in high regard
Teachers and early years practitioners hold a high place in society in Finland, and competition is stiff to enter the profession. Whilst the starting salary isn’t much different to what you might expect in the UK, there’s an average of ten applicants for every one place on a primary teaching course.
There’s only one route into the profession as well. Anyone who wants to become a teacher in Finland must earn a master’s degree in education from one of the top research universities in the country, and from there, the top 10% will go into teaching.
9. Education in Finland is valued. By everyone
Perhaps one of the biggest factors why Finland stands out as an educational leader is the value that their society as a whole places on education.
Participation in preschool education and early years learning is entirely voluntary; but almost every child will take a preschool place. Finnish culture highly values education and promotes learning at every opportunity, for every child.
Finnish teachers tend to have an ‘every brain is important’ approach, and the education system promotes equality and passion throughout the classroom. Every child, regardless of ability, is taught together.
10. Finland have never been afraid to make changes
Most importantly, Finland wasn’t afraid to embrace change. They placed a higher value on education, and improved opportunities for both staff and children. Forty years ago, the system wasn’t working. Today, it leads the way.
A study by the Smithonian Institute showed the gap in achievement between the weakest and strongest students in Finland was the smallest in the world.
So, tip o’ the cap to Finland: leading the way as the best educational system in the world.