Since 2000, world attention has been drawn to the amazing results shown by Finland’s 3 500 schools, which consistently produce the world’s best performers in reading, science and maths in the annual PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests of 15-years olds.
At times they dip to second, third or fourth place (behind Singapore, China, Japan, Canada and Ireland, depending on subject) but are held up as examples to the world because they achieve what they do in such a unique and surprising way.
Not for them the hours spent cramming, the rote learning, the almost robotic obsession with marks and achievements that we associate with other top performing countries. Finland’s schools seem remarkably relaxed compared with schools in other countries; they value harmony, health and happiness above all, spend a large portion of the day playing, and start school as late at 9.30 am. Why, then, the excellent results?
Some basic facts about Finland’s schools:
The Finnish education system is not centred on tests and exams. Children are assessed on overall performance through class work and projects, with one voluntary exam held when they are 16.
Starting school at an older age
In Finland, children start school when they are seven. Pre-school is voluntary, but most opt for it, receiving a higher level of learning than is common in preschools elsewhere.
University is not held up as the only ideal
In Finland, the choice of whether to enter university or opt for vocational training beyond high school is not seen as a better vs lesser dichotomy. Both are highly valued. After the first nine years, children have the option of a more academically inclined three-year course to prepare for university, or a more vocationally inclined three-year course to prepare for other careers.
Teachers highly qualified
Teachers in Finland are the highest qualified in the world; a minimum of a master’s degree is required, and salaries reflect the high status they enjoy in society. They are also, almost without exception, dedicated, professional, passionate and prepared to go further in ensuring that learning takes place than is common in other countries. Extra coaching for weaker students is a given.
Education system run by educators, not politicians
In Finland, the education department is run by educators, not politicians or business people.
Co-operation and enjoyment
Finland’s children actually enjoy school. A large portion of the day is spent outdoors, co-peration, not competition is emphasised, and without the pressures of exams and homework, children get on with the real business of school – learning and growing as human beings.