After wide ranging reforms over forty years ago, the Finnish education system is now largely regarded as one of the best in the world.
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 unorthodox. However, the results speak for themselves.
Pasi Sahlberg, Finland’s foremost authority on education, and Krista Kiuru, the current Finnish Education Minister, regularly discuss what makes their education system such a success. So here are ten things that we can learn from Finland which might help improve education in the UK.
1. Introduce Educational Values at a Young Age
Educational values are instilled into children and parents from an early age in Finland. Every new family gets sent a free ‘maternity package,’ which includes a host of vital items for looking after a baby, along with the child’s first picture book.
This helps encourage parents to promote reading and learning as early as possible, and also provides a stimulating item for babies to interact with immediately.
2. Increase Opportunities for Subsidised Day Care
As young children develop, a strong emphasis is placed on day care education and learning in Finland. From as young as 8 months, the general norm is to place children in nurseries or day care centres, or promote learning in a ‘family day care’ environment.
Day care places are heavily subsidised by the state and based on parental income, but generally, even the top earners will only pay about 14% of the total cost. It’s also a mandatory requirement for municipalities to provide a free year of preschool for children aged six.
3. Wait until Children are Ready to Learn
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. Maximise Play Time
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. Ensure Adequate Support Is Available For Children
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. Improve the Ratio of Staff to Children
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 three’s, 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 less than 25 pupils per teacher.
7. Provide More Development Opportunities For Staff
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. Place a Higher Value on Teachers and Early Years Practitioners
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. Develop How We Value Education
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. Don’t Be Afraid To Change
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. Is this something we can (or should) emulate in the UK?
What do you think about Finland’s educational system? Are there any other cultures that you believe we can learn from regarding educational values? Leave a comment below or tweet us @HopeEducationUK.