On this page, we have collected more information about Education in Finland. Right below, you can find access to blog, books, webinars, videos, and links and materials in general. After the icons below, there is a detailed explication of the Finnish Education System and how the Finnish Basic Education works in practice. If you are interested in early years education, you can read our blog or order The Success Story of Finnish Early Childhood Education. Welcome to learn more about Finnish Education!
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Introduction to Finnish Basic Education
Finnish children start primary school the year they turn seven. The previous year is spent in pre-primary education (20 hrs/week and 700 hrs/year), which became compulsory the year 2015 and is free of charge for families. Pre-primary education is part of early childhood education and takes place either in day-care centres or in primary schools.
As stated previously, basic education begins at the age of seven and lasts for nine years. This period is often divided into primary education (grades 1–6) and secondary education (grades 7–9), which have typically been located in separate school buildings. Nowadays it’s becoming more and more common to combine these two into a so called comprehensive school, where pupils from the age of seven up to the age of 15 study under the same roof.
After nine years of compulsory education nearly all youngsters (approx. 95 %) start their studies in upper secondary education. They can choose weather to go to vocational education or to a general upper secondary school.
As the figure beside shows, the Finnish system has no dead ends. Learners can always continue their studies on an upper level of education. Education is free of charge at all levels, which enables higher education for all. Free education and flexible learning paths are considered pre-conditions for lifelong learning, which is seen as important for both individuals and the Finnish society.
Equity – high quality education for every child
Equity is one of the underlying values of the Finnish education system. Education is regarded as a basic citizen right, and all people are entitled to equal access to high-quality education and training. The idea of equity means that the potential of every child is developed. The same educational opportunities are available to everyone despite their gender, age, linguistic and cultural background, economic situation or domicile.
In Finland, basic education is non-selective. Schools do not select their pupils, neither are there any gender-specific school services. Pupils are not channelled or streamed to different schools, but the whole age group attends the same comprehensive school for nine years. Pupils from different socioeconomic backgrounds are mixed, which helps to avoid social differentiation.
The school network is regionally extensive, and pupils have the possibility to attend their nearby school. Most pupils also go to their nearby school, although there’s a possibility to also choose another school with certain restrictions. Schools are not ranked, and because of this, the so-called school-shopping is rare in Finland.
The roots of the Finnish Education System
The history of schooling in Finland began in a close relationship with the church, as it has been in many other countries. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, the national church in Finland, believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible in their native language and began to teach the people to read already during the 17th century.
A national school system, independent of the church, was set up in 1866, when public education began. The initiative for this reform was brought forward by Uno Cygnaeus, who has been named “the father of the Finnish public school”. Cygnaeus was in favor of a school system that could provide education for both boys and girls from all social classes and that would also include practical subjects alongside academic ones. Public schools slowly started to gain ground, but coexisted with church schools for quite some time, especially in the rural areas.
In 1921 the law of compulsory education for all children between ages 7–12 was passed. This was one of the main milestones of the Finnish Education system and had a vital influence on equity. All Finnish municipalities were required to provide schooling for all children regardless of their gender or socio-economic background. However, the school system was not yet equal, but based on streaming pupils to either academic or civic tracks after four years of attending school together. Finally, during the 1970’s, the basic education system was reformed into its modern form: a nine year comprehensive school common for all children. The new comprehensive school combined the advantages of both old systems and balance between theory and practice was found in teaching. These fundamental reforms started from Northern Lapland in 1972 and reached the Southern Helsinki capital area in 1978, finally bringing the whole age group together. Since then, children from different social backgrounds have attended in the same comprehensive school all over Finland.
Formerly, pupils went to school six days a week, but since the year 1971, weekends have been free. Nowadays, the school year starts in the middle of August and ends on the first Saturday of June (190 school days a year). Schools also have a week-long autumn holiday, at least a ten-day Christmas vacation and a week’s winter break. All in all, Finnish pupils spend some of the least time at school compared to other OECD countries, as the school days are also typically quite short.
Free school lunch since 1948
One of the recipes for success in the Finnish basic education is free school lunch. In 1948, Finland became the first country in the world to serve free school meals to every child. The first dishes offered were mainly soups or porridges. The objective was, and still is, to maintain and improve pupils’ health and well-being and to give them energy to concentrate on their school work. Nowadays, the purpose extends far beyond just serving school lunches, and food education in schools is a holistic pedagogical tool.
Every municipality is required to draw up a plan for maintaining and improving the pupils’ welfare. This plan provides the key
principles for arranging school meals and sets out the objectives for health and nutritional education and for teaching good manners. School meals are a pedagogical tool that give information about good nutrition and table manners, but also encourage pupils to increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits, berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk. It is typical for teachers to eat together with the pupils.
Children’s opinions are taken into account when school meals are planned. For example, every now and then a “children’s favorite food day” is arranged, and children get to vote their favourite dish for the lunch of the day. Children’s feedback is also regularly taken into account when planning the annual menu for school lunches.
Quality of education is guaranteed by law
In Finland, basic education is regulated by the Act of Basic Education, set in 1998. Some sections and subsections have been rewritten in 2010. By law, every child in Finland is entitled to:
Free education. Education is free of charge, including teaching, textbooks and other learning materials, and all school equipment and materials. A disabled pupil or a pupil with special educational needs additionally has the right to get the interpretation and assistance services he or she needs to participate in education free of charge.
A place in the near-by-school. Municipalities are required to arrange education so as to make the pupils’ travel to and from school as safe and short as possible.
Safe travel. If the distance to school exceeds five kilometres or when the travel is too difficult, strenuous or dangerous in view of the pupil’s age or other circumstances, pupils are entitled to free transportation.
Safe environment. All pupils are entitled to a safe learning environment both physically and emotionally.
Free school lunch. A balanced, appropriately organised and supervised meal is served for each pupil every school day.
Guidance. All pupils are entitled to guidance counselling.
Support. All pupils have a right to remedial teaching, enhanced support, and special needs education whenever needed.
Encouraging assessment. The law states that the aim of pupil assessment is to guide and encourage learning and to develop the pupil’s capability for self-assessment.
Balance. The pupil’s work load in basic education must be such as to allow him or her enough time for rest, recreation and hobbies over and above the time spent in school, school travel and homework.
Free welfare. Pupils are entitled to free pupil welfare necessary for participation in education.
Working with parents. Schools and teachers are required to cooperate with pupils’ parents/caregivers.
Free education at all levels
Education in Finland is entirely publicly funded by both local and central authorities, and therefore free at all levels from pre-primary to higher education. Free basic education includes instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, and dental care. In addition, if needed, it includes transportation, special support and special needs education.
Local authorities, i.e. municipalities, contribute most of the funding (approx. 75 %) and the rest is covered by funds received from the state. The funding from the state is not earmarked, and municipalities can decide on how to allocate it. The main elements in annual budgeting are decisions concerning teaching hours and group sizes, because they define the teaching resource and further the amount of teachers a school needs. The minimum of teaching hours is determined by the law, but group sizes are not. In grades 1–6, the average size in teaching groups is about twenty pupils.
Public schools are the norm in Finland. Only less than two percent of each age group attend state subsidised private schools, which also follow the national core curriculum. Unlike in many other countries, schools in Finland are not allowed to make profit or to collect tuition fees.
Time allocation – annual weekly lessons
The minimum time allocation per subject is stated by the government. How the teaching hours per subject are allocated on a certain grade and whether or not extra hours are provided, is decided locally by the boards of education in each municipality. As the table shows, during the first and second grades, for instance, there are 14 weekly hours of mother tongue & literature all together, but how the 14 hours are divided between the grades, is decided locally.
Curriculum as the foundation – Learning for life
The Finnish national core curriculum is renewed and refreshed at regular intervals (approx. every ten years). The latest reform was in 2014. In the heart of the renewed curriculum is the idea of enabling every child to maximise their unique potential.
The national goals for education steer the preparation of all aspects of the curriculum. These goals are: 1) Growth as a human being and membership in society, 2) Requisite knowledge and skills, and 3) Promotion of knowledge and ability, equality and lifelong learning.
In addition to the above, the Finnish national core curriculum calls for more attention on the pupil’s identity construction than ever before. Identity construction is emphasised as a learning outcome. The core curriculum states: “Each pupil has the right to a good education and success in their studies. While learning, the pupils are building their identity, their understanding of humanity, worldview and philosophy of life and finding their place in their world. At the same time, they come to understand themselves, other people, the society, the environment and different cultures.”
In order to create a beneficial atmosphere for learning, pupils’ basic physical, emotional and social needs have to be met. In Finland, high-quality learning and pupils’ wellbeing are bound together. The focus is not only on academic skills, but on supporting the pupil’s entire personality as well as on encouraging learning. Joy of learning and the pupils´ active role are emphasised in the core curriculum and furthermore in Finnish schools.
Promoting children’s well-being at school is a multidimensional process. The aim is to support and encourage pupils to develop into creative and critical thinking actors, who are curious, responsible and fair. The joy of learning in Finnish pedagogy contributes to the development of the pupil’s self-esteem and identity. Socially, the pedagogy invests in co-operation and communality, not just in the ways of studying, but also in designing pedagogically appropriate learning environments. The learning environments are versatile. They encourage pupils to observe their physical and social environment and to build their own relationship with it. These elements mentioned above are the key principles that guide the development of the school culture.
Investing in pupils’ well-being generates results. Even though Finland’s performance slipped in the most recent PISA test, Finland still remained the 12th ranked in the world. Worthy of note, Finnish pupils reported the highest level of life satisfaction and the lowest level of school work related anxiety among the participating countries.
One of the objectives of the new curriculum is to increase dialogue and integration between subjects. Real life phenomena are used as the starting point for learning and students are encouraged to use the knowledge and skills combined from different subjects in collaborative problem-solving situations.
In order to meet the challenges of the future, the focus of the renewed core curriculum is on transversal (generic) competences and work across school subjects. Transversal competences are studied as part of every subject and each subject in turn promotes the development these competences.
Although the concept of phenomenon- based learning is not mentioned in the core curriculum, integrating learning and
blurring the boundaries between subjects is a central feature in the curriculum. Working across subjects helps pupils to understand complexities and causal relationships between phenomena.
Phenomenon-based education has increased multidisciplinary projects, thematic events and excursions in Finnish schools. All schools are required to organise at least one multi-disciplinary learning module a year. In addition, teachers can for example plan parallel and integrated subject matters within the same theme and organise different matters in sequential ways. In the new curriculum, teaching is seen more and more as a holistic, integrated instruction and different subjects are no longer separated from each other that strictly.
Room for local variation and specificity
The Finnish national core curriculum for basic education is a document that ensures high quality of education in the whole country. The core curriculum leaves room for local variations and it is further developed at the local level. Education providers are responsible for running the schools and have a high level of autonomy in designing the local curricula, which describe how the principles of the core curriculum are implemented. The local curriculum designed at school level commits the local teachers to the development of the education system and gives them a wide pedagogical responsibility in their work.
The third level of variations within the curriculum are made in the schools’ yearly plans. In addition, teachers enjoy high pedagogical autonomy, which allows them to make the pedagogical choices they find best for their pupils.
The pedagogical autonomy of the schools and teachers makes it possible to take into account features characteristic to the local environment, such as industry, farming, entrepreneurship, nature or other aspects that may bind learning, regional fellowship and identity development together. All of the local variations are based on the Finnish Educational Act and on the national core curriculum.
Teachers in Finland have a significant role in designing learning environments that encourage pupils to construct their identity. Listening and paying attention to the pupils’ own perspectives and interests is seen increasingly important. Teachers are encouraged to develop pedagogical methods and thematic projects that help pupils to get deeply involved in learning processes both as individuals and as important members of their learning communities. During the years at school, pupils learn how to describe themselves from other pupils and teachers. Focusing on meaningful stories and narratives of who we are and who we will become sets the foundation for identity construction.
Further, the pupils are seen as essential partners for the teachers when planning teaching. Teachers may concentrate on the pupils’ perceptions and findings of the current topics. Teachers are encouraged to plan whole learning projects, both the subject matters and the pedagogical perspectives together with the pupils. This is one way of respecting pupils as central and unique participants in Finnish schools.
Collaboration between home and school
In Finland, schools and parents share the same goals regarding the children’s well- being, study aims and future. Teachers see co-operation with the pupils’ parents vital for their own work. Parents know their children best, but teachers are seen as the parents’ educational partners.
Communication between the school and the families is active. There are multiple ways to keep in touch – one of the most efficient ones is the Wilma application. In Wilma, both teachers and parents can share information and notes about children. Parents and pupils might check the assessment criteria on Wilma or ask questions about subjects, tests and school work. The Wilma application also allows teachers to send instant messages for all parents they need to be in contact with. At the same time, parents can see when their child has done well on a school assignment, been absent from a lesson or is in need of help with homework. Wilma also saves the notes to help the teacher’s work when it’s time to assess the pupils.
However, there’s nothing that beats face-to-face meetings between teachers and parents. Parental evenings, assessment discussions (which pupils attend as well) and other ways to keep up the good relationship between home and school are highly respected in Finland. Many teachers also wish that parents talk to them when they have something in mind – better sooner than later. Numerous problems and misunderstandings have been solved during short cloakroom discussions after school, before they have become too big to handle.
Assessment – emphasis on learning, not testing
In Finnish schools, assessment is part of daily work. The curriculum emphasises diversity in assessment methods as well as assessment that guides and promotes learning. Teachers in Finland give information about each pupil’s progress for the pupil and his/her parents on a regular basis. Thus, assessment is seen as a continuous process, not just as an occasional test or as a certificate given at the end of the semester.
In Finland, individual teachers are in charge of carrying out the assessment. Assessment is based on the objectives of the curriculum, but teachers can decide how to carry it out and what kind of exams to organise, or whether to have exams at all. Again, it’s all about freedom and independence in pedagogical solutions.
Teachers can use diverse assessment methods, such as self-assessment, peer-review, conversations with pupils, portfolios and exams to support the pupils’ understanding of their personal learning processes and to make their learning processes visible also for the teacher. Teachers also arrange assessment discussions with pupils and their parents, during which both parties discuss the child’s learning results and set learning aims for the coming semester.
Final assessments take place at the end of semesters. On lower grades, the final assessment consists of written feedback. The first numerical grades are usually not given until secondary school.
For teachers, assessment is also a tool for self-reflection. Knowledge obtained through assessment helps teachers adjust their teaching to the pupils’ individual needs. Further, it helps to differentiate instruction in accordance with the pupils’ individual strengths as well as needs for support.
One important objective of Finnish basic education is to advance the pupils’ competences for self-assessment. Teachers aim at increasing the pupils’ self-knowledge and learning-how-to-learn skills and guiding the pupils to understand their progress and learning processes. The picture below is an example of a self-assessment form used in grades 1 and 2.
Finnish teachers – highly trusted and qualified professionals
One of the biggest success factors behind the Finnish education system is trust in the teachers’ professional skills. Teachers are regarded as independent specialists, who best know the individual strengths and needs of their pupils. The national core curriculum determines the objectives and core contents of different subjects and gives guidelines e.g. for pupil assessment, the planning of learning environments and suggested working approaches, but teachers are highly autonomous to choose their own teaching methods and even materials that best suit their pupils’ needs. Teachers are encouraged to try out new ideas and approaches and to make the school an inspiring place to learn.
Behind the success of Finnish education is also the fact that teachers in Finland are highly qualified. A Master’s degree is a requirement for all teachers in basic education, both for class teachers, subject teachers, special needs teachers and guidance counsellors. Class teachers usually teach classes from 1–6, and subject teachers, who only teach one or a few particular subjects, step in for grades 7–9. Since the qualifications for teachers are uniform all over Finland, the standard and level of teaching varies very little between schools. Children in the rural areas receive the same high quality teaching as children in big cities.
In Finland, the teaching profession is highly valued in the society. Teachers themselves feel satisfied with their job and are happy in their profession. According to a recent OECD study, only a few countries in the world have managed to attract the best students to pursue a teaching career. In Finland, class teacher education is among the most popular programmes in universities, and universities are able to choose the best candidates. One reason for this is the fact that teachers in Finland enjoy a high level of freedom and trust in their profession. The same OECD study found that in the top PISA countries, competent teachers can be found in every school. Finland is a perfect example of this, since all teachers receive the same high-quality, research-based training.
To become a teacher – teacher training
One of the reasons for the high professional competence among Finnish teachers is the fact that teacher training institutions can select heavily. In year 2016, for instance, only 12 % of those who applied were accepted into class teacher education. Teachers in Finland are trained in universities. Teacher education is carried out by the faculties of education in co-operation with the faculties of different teaching subjects.
Class teacher education in Finland (Master’s degree, 300 ECTS) consists of basic, intermediate and advanced studies in education, multidisciplinary studies of school subjects, teacher’s pedagogical studies and minor subject studies. Teachers’ pedagogical studies amount to 60 ETCS, and include both theoretical studies and practical training (20 ECTS minimum).
All class teachers also complete a Master’s thesis (40 ECTS). Thus, Finnish teachers are also trained in research skills, which enables them to monitor and develop their own work according to research findings.
All teacher students participate in teaching practice, which guarantees that Finnish teachers have had experience with real pupils before they enter the profession. Teaching practice includes observation of more experienced teachers, giving supervised lessons alone or with other trainees, and subject-didactic group counselling with discussions and assessment meetings between student teachers and instructors. In Finland, the teacher training schools offer facilities for guided training where theory and practice are intertwined. Collaboration between teacher training schools and faculties of education helps teacher students to apply the theoretical knowledge from their studies into practice.
In many ways, teacher training schools are just like any other schools in Finland. Pupils are the children, who live in the nearby area, just like in any other municipal school. The curriculum followed by these schools is also the same core curriculum as anywhere else in Finland. However, teacher training schools are not owned by municipalities, but are part of universities. Teacher training schools include primary education (grades 1–6), secondary education (grades 7–9) or general upper secondary school (grades 10–12), or all of these.
University level class teacher education gives Finnish teachers a good basis for professional life. In their work, teachers are encouraged to use their creativity. They are not expected to mechanically follow the same procedures, but to use their skills to modify their working methods when meeting different pupils. Finnish teachers are also eager to develop their professional competence by participating in in-service training. Some Finnish municipalities organise in-service training uniformly for all teachers, and in others, individual teachers can decide what type of training to participate in. Municipalities are required to fund three days of professional development (or planning) annually for each teacher.
Ingredients of the Success Story of Finnish Basic Education
We have now taken a journey through Finnish basic education and discussed its tradition, values, pedagogy and some of the newest innovations. What does the success story of Finnish schools consist of? There might not be a complete recipe that could be copied and utilised everywhere, but some ingredients can be considered as fundamental components behind the success.
Focus on the child. In Finnish pedagogy, the child is seen as the starting point for everything. Children’s unique needs and interests are taken into account when designing teaching, and the child is given an active role in learning situations.
Joy of learning. The new national core curriculum emphasises joy of learning. Finnish teachers believe that positive emotional experiences, peer interaction, collaborative work and play, as well as creative activities enhance learning.
Equal opportunities. As a Nordic welfare state, Finland wants to make sure that all children, regardless of their social background, have the same educational opportunities. Education in Finland is free of charge and children are not channelled or streamed to different institutions.
Focus on learning. Finnish teachers do not concentrate on preparing their pupils for tests. Instead, the focus is on learning skills needed later in life and on finding each pupil’s individual strengths.
Support and well-being. All pupils are entitled to the individual support they need in order to succeed in their studies. The child’s overall well-being is in focus, and this is supported e.g. with healthy school meals, free health and dental care and by allowing children enough time to rest.
High quality. The quality of education in Finland is generally high all over the country and sufficient resources for the schools are considered important. Quality is maintained by university level teacher education, competent school management and by constantly encouraging schools and teachers to develop education according to the newest research.
Freedom and trust. Instead of control, freedom and trust are emphasised in Finnish schools. School inspections were abolished in the early 1990s, and steering is done through information, support and funding. Schools are not ranked and instead of competition, pupils are encouraged to work together. Teachers enjoy high autonomy in their work and are trusted in their profession.
Sense of community. Finnish schools co-operate actively with the surrounding communities and the society. Parents are encouraged to be involved in schooling and the schools’ multiprofessional teams work to support the children’s wellbeing. A sense of community is created when children feel good about themselves and have access to a safe and an inspiring learning environment.
Text on this page is partly form The Success Story of Finnish Basic Education, written by Piia Roos, Susanna Mikkonen, Laura Rantavuori and Maiju Kinossalo in 2018.