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Let’s suppose you are at a family reunion in your home country or traveling abroad and meeting new people. As soon as you say the word “Finland” someone is bound to ask something along the lines of: is it true that they have a great education system? How is it like? Those are questions I constantly get asked, and because I am passionate about the topic of education, I end up giving long, unasked-for lectures. In order to answer those questions in an easy way that will not bore your listeners to death, here are 6 short facts about the Finnish education system.
- The school starts later. Children begin their formal education when they are seven years old. This is when they start primary school (also called comprehensive school) and they are taught basic skills like reading and writing. Before this age, children can attend different types of daycare centers where the emphasis lies primarily in creative play and not in academic subjects. Children attend a year of preschool at the age of six.
- Compulsory schooling lasts for nine years. Students must attend school from the age of seven until the age of 16. After that, they can attend secondary school or pursue vocational education. Although most secondary schools are also tuition-free, students must buy their own textbooks and other school supplies. Comprehensive schools are publicly funded; the country has implemented the strategy of having public schools available for every student. Commonly, schools are located close to the students’ house; however, in rural areas where this is not possible, free transportation is provided. Primary schools also provide lunch for all students. You can read an article from 2017 about schools providing organic milk here.
- Less homework. Out of the OECD countries, Finnish students have the least amount of homework. This is because the work is mainly done in school, which leaves them with plenty of free time to get involved in extracurricular activities. Furthermore, they have developed a reading culture. Finland is known for having one of the highest literacy scores in the world. (You can read about that here.) This is because, from an early age, reading is deeply emphasized; three books are even provided as part of the “maternity pack”!
- Being a teacher is prestigious. In Finland, being a schoolteacher is considered prestigious. Primary school teachers must complete a master’s degree and, while the teachers of 1-6 grades study pedagogy, teachers of grades 7-9 must specialize in their teaching subjects. Finnish teachers have great autonomy in the classroom and can choose their textbooks.
- Bilingual education. Because Finland has two official languages, it is by law that every student can choose to pursue an education in either Finnish or Swedish. Kids whose native language is not Finnish or Swedish are given extra help with one of those languages so that they can attend school.
- No standardized tests. During comprehensive school, students do not take any form of standardized tests. Instead, teachers evaluate the students’ progress and provide the grades. It is common that students have the same teacher for multiple years, which makes it possible for the teacher to really get to know each student and track individual progress.
If education is something that interests you, stay tuned because in the upcoming weeks we will interview different members of the education community and you will be the highlight of the night when the all too famous question is asked: So, what is the deal with Finland and its education system?