For many years, Finland was always near to the top of PISA – the Program for International Student Assessment – an important tool for measuring education systems worldwide. Although Finland´s ranking dropped to 12 in the most recent Pisa ranking, it is still within the top of the European countries. Finland had good scores in science and literature, which was 4, but got 12 in mathematics. This last category pulled down the country for the 12th place. Anyway, the results show that Finland is one of the best countries in relation to its school system.
For many years, the world asks the same question: Which is the secret of Finland? Do we really have a secret? Well, I started to ask the same question when I begun to work as a teacher in Finland. I came from Brazil, which has occupied the worst places in the ranking, reaching 62° position of the 70 participating countries (PISA 2015). Comparing and analyzing the differences between these two countries helped me to understand some key points.
Freedom is an important aspect of teaching in Finland. Teachers are very autonomous professionally and this is because they pass for a high level training at the University. In general, a Master´s degree is required for all teachers, but it is made automatically after the Bachelor´s degree. In order to maintain the high level of Finnish teachers, they are required to participate in in-service training every year and several other training courses according the need of the teacher or school.
The school don´t have a supervisor to control what the teachers do or what methods they choose to use in the classroom. But that is because they know how to use the autonomy which is given to them. It´s a freedom with responsibility and they have to be able to take pedagogical decisions. But it isn´t a solitary work by any means. The teachers work in teams and each school have a group of professionals that can help the teachers if needed. Educational psychologist, physiotherapist, school nurse, psychologists, psychopedagogues and, other professionals are available to students if teachers need their help.
Teachers are free to innovate and, actually encouraged to create and change their classroom for different teaching styles or use other school´s spaces.
In reality, all this development comes from the history of the country. The educational system was modified in the 70’s, it was decided that education would be offered free to all children equally. The main idea was erase the student´s background and give everybody the same chances. In this way, Finland created an educational system that works for everybody. The country has none percentage of illiteracy, and about 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school and this is the highest rate in the Europe.
The number of private schools are about 2 percent, and then we have schools in other languages and other methodologies, like Montessori and Waldorf. Nevertheless, the Finnish public school is still the best.
More free time
The students have more pauses in their classes compared to other countries. For comparison, there is only one big break of about 30 min in Brazil between the classes. However, meanwhile, the Finns value the free time and play. By law, the schools must give students 15 min break for every 45 minutes of instruction.
The same occurs with homework. According to the OECD, Finnish students spend relatively little time in homework, spending about 2,8 hours a week on it. There is a little piece of homework everyday to reinforce the learning and to give the parents an opportunity to get involved.
In Finland, independence is already stimulated since kindergarten. Since young ages, children are encouraged to make decisions and to take care of their spaces. Finnish teachers are less authoritarian compared with another countries. More trust and freedom result in independent students.
This is a result of a good class contract, when all rules are established together and everybody knows what to do at once. It is a routine.
This independence starts with little things, like to go with your group to a school library and perform in a silence and effective way your study. Or simply choose where you want to do your study when teacher is open for that. Teachers are not controlling and they listen more their students. The children can decide, for example, how to put their tables and change completely the style of the classroom.
Other reasons are that all schools are likely the same. There is not competition between schools. On the contrary, they cooperate with each other. In Finland doesn´t exist the best school or the best neighborhood. All schools receive almost the same funding. The difference sometimes is related to one city that has more resources compared to others on how much they have to share for their schools.
The last point is that the curricula is aligned with preschool and all the schools of the country. There are no differences in methodologies or styles. Once a student finish the preschool, he or she can go to any part of the country without significant changes. The bases of the curricula will remain the same. As a result, Finland has an almost unique synchronicity between all schools of the country and this is another point of equality.
Concluding, there are many other reasons that make the Finnish education system one of the best in the world. It is difficult to present all the aspects in just one article. To learn with Finns and to be able to implement something from Finland in your country or in your school take time and is a process.
But, at the end of the day, I hope you can get inspired!
By Evelyse Eerola