FinishFinland has emerged as a superpower in primary and secondary education. This small Nordic country has captured the imagination of the world because of its innovative approach to primary and secondary education. Relative to other ranked countries, Finnish schools tend of assign much less homework. Their primary school curriculum revolved around creative education.

PISA Survey

According to the PISA survey conducted once every three years by OECD, the test scores of 15-year-old Finnish students have been consistently ranked at or near the top in reading, math, and science competencies since 2000. The other countries in this category include South Korea and Singapore. More recently, students from Shanghai, China, have been reporting the best test scores.

A noteworthy feature about the Finnish school experiment is that much of the education is publicly financed. Consequently, students are not expected to pay any tuition fees for their education. Only a handful of private schools exist in Finland, which suggests that much of the excellence in tests scores is the by-product of the public school experiment.

The Finnish Model

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been that every child should have the same learning opportunity regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. From a public discourse viewpoint, education is perceived as a gateway to level social inequality. Regardless of our predisposition on our definition of the “right” education model, we all can agree that the Finnish schooling model is based on a powerful and desirable social construct.

In Finland, teachers need a master’s degree to enter the profession. Their teacher’s training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. Pay is reasonably high for Finnish teachers and administrators and they are given considerable responsibility. If a teacher performance is sub-standard, the principal is responsible for rectifying the situation. The main driver of the education policy in Finland is cooperation, and not competition, between teachers and schools.

US Model

Much of the primary and secondary education in the US is also based on the public school model, which is similar to the Finnish school model, but with a fundamental difference. Although US public schools also do not charge any tuition from school children, the funding is largely based on a portion of the revenues earned from property taxes in those neighborhoods. Therefore, more affluent neighborhoods with high real estate values generate more taxes which allows for more funding for their school systems. In sharp contrast, less affluent school districts are unable to match the resources afforded by the more affluent neighborhoods, which means the quality of education tends to  suffer in less affluent neighborhoods. Even though the state provides additional funding, the allocation of funds needed in a large number of school districts is typically insufficient to produce high quality education. Holding other factors constant, researchers find that the amount of school funding explains a large portion of the school-performance.

The PISA tests confirm that Finland is able to generate and sustain academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

Finland, April 3, 2016; 11.48A

Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Pasi Sahlberg, Director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility


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