Why Finnish Schools Are Better (Sort Of..)

Anna Dusseau  | 25th May 2020

“One of the luckiest things to happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”

Agatha Christie

Not all school systems are the same.

In Finland, there are no Ofsted-style inspections, no streaming by ability, no fee-paying private schools, no school uniforms and no school league tables; and yet a staggering 93% of students graduate from either vocational or academic courses, with 66% going on to higher education; the highest rate in the European Union. What’s going on? The Finnish education system was revolutionized some 50 years ago as part of the country’s recovery plan and with the first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test scores back in 2000, Finland was revealed to have the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in Maths, too. But this impressive ranking is barely on their radar. ‘We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,’ said Pasi Sahlberg, former director general of the Finnish education system. ‘We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.’ (LynNell Hancock, Smithsonian Magazine, 2011)

Far from the current western model for state education, Finnish students only begin school at age 7 and there was until recently no compulsory schooling past 16, forming a total of 9 years’ mandatory education compared to almost 15 years in the UK. It’s as far as post-industrial schooling has come to a perfect system, but I’m still not convinced. Even in the last few years, Finland has seen some shift in their unshakeable system, with PISA rankings falling (not that they care) and measures brought into schools to stretch more gifted students. So, ability streaming is back. Most recently, the minimum leaving age for students was raised to 18 – in line with the UK – and changes in school demographics has seen, anecdotally, the start of many parents ‘shopping’ for the best schools. Rather like comparing Nokia and iPhone, it turns out that public education is all much of a muchness when it comes down to it.

And I’m not trashing the Finnish model here, because I do think it stands head and shoulders above the rest. I’m just saying that, having seen the multiple benefits of homeschooling in action, I’m not convinced any school exists which could begin to measure up to that.

Published by Anna Dusseau

Writer | Educator | Homeschooling Mum

16 thoughts on “Why Finnish Schools Are Better (Sort Of..)

  1. My take on doing the best we can with education is to admit that school is about childcare and have that -the children’s well-being and happiness and feeling of safety- made paramount; made the basis of a teacher’s job, with then the ability to learn in an individual way leading from that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that would be an excellent ideal to work towards. Schooling will always exist because of the nature of employment, but all children deserve a good start and a happy education. It doesn’t have to be like this. Thank you for your comments.


  2. Totally agree! The Finnish Education system is much better. I’ve read that they’ve actually moved away from teaching subjects as well, to a more topic based approach. But still no comparison to home ed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would guess that immigration could explain recent shifts in the Finnish education system. Much of Finland’s earlier education reforms hinged on destroying achievement gaps. It’s not difficult to do that when you have a largely homogeneous (and small, population-wise) country – just turn teaching and education into an object of cultural prestige, which is essentially all they did. It’s as hard to become a school teacher in Finland as to become a doctor or lawyer, whereas in the US anyone who can fog a mirror can get a teaching certificate. (Sorry not sorry.)

    But Finland has started importing the (quite serious) achievement gaps of other countries, where students have been impacted by war, poverty, and cultural beliefs that all amount to not having broad access to education (particularly for girls). It is difficult to take a child from, say, Somalia or Iraq, and dump them in a classroom of peers that have been on the receiving end of one of the better education systems in the developed world. And the flip side of that is the parents of children who do not have the socioeconomic challenges of refugee families have high expectations for the level their own children will be educated at. The reintroduction of concepts like ability streaming might be the unintended consequences of their good intentions, and once they worm their way into a system for whatever reason, the prevalence increases because everyone wants the best for their child. This is not to say that immigrant children cannot attain high levels of education over time, but it does create inescapable disparities in the short term.

    In a way, Finland is only now dealing with the education challenges that more diverse countries have been dealing with for centuries, and it’s starting to show in metrics like test scores. Of course, homeschooling is not an easy alternative for many populations either. It’s difficult to be a good homeschooler if you did not receive a high-quality education yourself. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As always, thanks a bunch for your fantastic contribution to the discussions on my site. I had read a bit about the changing diversity of the population in Finland and decided to keep the article short and sidestep some of that detail as I didn’t feel confident on exactly how to interpret the data. But your commentary is very powerful and I think this adds another level to anyone reading my original post. Thank you! Your writing absolutely sizzles and I agree entirely with your views and analysis. I’m so glad you read my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the kind words. My mother’s side of the family immigrated to the US from Finland, so all of the attention Finnish culture receives here (and elsewhere) has always kind of amused me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes I agree with your view. But in our country private schools are promoting their schools saying that they are giving Finland system of education.

    Does really home education Excell the Finland system of education. Many people are confusing me regarding this context.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Home education is a beautiful way of living for families who want to commit to it. Any school is still a school and is an unnatural way for children to learn. Thank you so much for commenting! It’s interesting to hear how private schools are jumping on this.

      Liked by 2 people

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