What We All Can Learn From Finland’s Education System

Do you know that Finland’s education has consistently been ranked as the best in the world?

They believe in the saying ‘Less is More’ and therefore aim at providing many learning opportunities and experiences for the students to help in their all-round development.

In Finland, the welfare society is built on education, culture, and knowledge.

Because of this, education is seen as a key factor in enhancing competitiveness.

Compare this with the world.

In many countries, although the education system has undergone changes, there are still areas needing much improvement.

There are many things going wrong with our schooling system.

The problem cannot entirely be blame on the administration.

Most countries today have very large population that it becomes so difficult for it citizens to have a better education system benefiting each and every child.

It may be true that most countries cannot build Elite Schools.

But our schooling system can certainly undergo some changes to help the holistic development of students.

We can all take inspiration from the education system of Finland.

History Behind Finland’s Education System

For hundreds of years, the fins had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east.

In 1809, after the swedes had ruled Finland and its people for 600 years, they gave it up to Russia.

The czar created Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire.

He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. Petersburg.

In 1917, czar fell to the Bolsheviks and Finland declared its independence.

After independence, the country was scratched.

This forced the Finnish parliament to take a bold decision and choose public education as its best shoot to economic recovery.

The idea behind this decision was to help every child to have an equal opportunity to receive high quality education regardless of the family’s income and to grow up to become active citizens.

The education system adopted includes early childhood education, preschool education, comprehensive education, upper secondary education and higher education.

What We Can Learn

Here are few things you need to know about Finland’s education system.

  1. Education is free with fully subsidized meals

Education in Finland is free with no tuition fees and with fully subsidized meals served to full-time students.

Of course, this would be a bit difficult in populated countries.

Because even though the government can provide such a scheme, the population of the country will challenge such policies.

But unlike China or India which can struggle due to its population, countries like US or Ghana can easily implement this factor in their schools.

  • No standardized testing

Finland’s schooling system goes against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.

Staying in line with our print-minded sensibilities, standardized testing is the blanket way most teachers test for subject comprehension.

Filling in little bubbles on a scantron and answering pre-canned questions is somehow supposed to be a way to determine mastery or at least competence of a subject.

What often happens is that students will learn to cram just to pass a test and teachers will be teaching with the sole purpose of students passing a test.

Learning has been thrown out of the equation.

Finland on the other hand has no standardized tests.

Their only exception is something called the National Matriculation Exam, which is a voluntary test for students at the end of an upper-secondary school.

All children throughout Finland are graded on an individualized basis and grading system set by their teacher.

Tracking overall progress is done by the Ministry of Education, which samples groups across different ranges of schools.

  •  Starting school at an older age

In Finland, children don’t attend school until they reach the age of seven.

They’re given free range to develop as children and not to be chained to a compulsory education.

This is simply just how kids become kids.

Hence, Finland allows its children to be children, to learn through playing and exploring rather than sitting still locked up in a classroom.

Also in Finland, youngsters spend less time in school and get less homework.

There are only 9 years of compulsory school that Finnish children are required to attend.

Everything past the ninth grade or at the age of 16 is optional.

Just from a psychological standpoint, this is a freeing ideal.

Although this may come as a shock, many students today really feel like they’re stuck in a prison.

Finland alleviates this forced idea and instead opts to prepare its children for the real world.

  •  Secondary education is optional

Once the schooling starts, the next nine years are compulsory.

After their nine-year basic education in a school, students at the age of 16 may choose to continue their secondary education in either.

  1. an academic track, which trains and determines students acceptance into University or
  • vocational track,  which trains students for various careers

Both the academic and vocational track takes three years and gives a qualification to continue to tertiary education.

They also have an option to quit and enter the workforce but only 5% of the population chooses this option.

  • Focus is on basics

Many school systems are so concerned with increasing test scores and comprehension in math and science that they tend to forget what constitutes a happy, harmonious and healthy student and learning environment.

When the Finnish school system was in need of such a serious reform.

The program that was put together focused on returning back to the basics.

It wasn’t about dominating with excellent marks or upping the ante.

Instead, they looked to make the school environment a more equitable place.

  • Less time spent on teaching and learning.

Yes! That’s right!

Finnish students’ schedules are always different and changing;

However, they typically have three to four 75 minute classes a day with several breaks in between. 

This overall system allows both students and teachers to be well rested and ready to teach/learn.

The student gets 75 mins of recess per day.

Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours a week in professional development.

Not only students but teachers also benefit from this system.

Finland’s teachers have high status, professional support, and good pay.

They have fewer instruction hours and more time planning their lessons.

  •  No Accountability for teachers

A lot of the blames in school today goes to teachers and rightfully so sometimes.

But in Finland, the bar is set so high for teachers, that there is often no reason to have a rigorous “grading” system for teachers.

All teachers are required to have a master’s degree before entering the profession.

Teaching programs are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the entire country.

If a teacher isn’t performing well, it’s the individual principal’s responsibility to do something about it.

The concept of the pupil-teacher dynamic that was once the master to apprentice cannot be distilled down to a few bureaucratic checks and standardized testing measures.

It needs to be dealt with on an individual basis.

  •  No discrimination in school

All children no matter whether smart or not is taught in the same class. 

There is no discrimination.

The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.

  • Entirely different evaluation system

You may be wondering how the assessment is conducted throughout the year?

Well, the teachers conduct the evaluation of students’ performance throughout the year setting certain standards or goals that every student has to achieve.

  1.  Cooperation not competition

While most people see the educational system as one big competition, the Finns see it differently.

They believe in the saying that “Real winners do not compete.”

Ironically, this attitude has put them at the head of the international pack.

Finland’s educational system doesn’t worry about artificial or arbitrary merit-based systems.

There are no lists of top performing schools or teachers.

It’s not an environment of competition – instead, cooperation is the norm.

  1.  College degrees are optional

The current pipeline for education in most countries is incredibly stagnant and immutable.

Children are stuck in the K-12 circuit jumping from teacher to teacher.

Each grade becomes a preparation for the next, all ending in the grand culmination of college, which then prepares you for the next grand thing on the conveyor belt.

Many students don’t need to go to college and get a worthless degree or flounder about trying to find purpose and incur massive debt.

Finland solves this dilemma by offering options that are equally advantageous for the student continuing their education.

There is a lesser focused contrast of college-educated versus trade-school or working class.

Both can be equally professional and fulfilling for a career.

In Finland, there is the Upper Secondary School which is a three-year program that prepares students for the Matriculation Test that determines their acceptance into a University.

This is usually based off of specialties they’ve acquired during their time in “high-school”

Next, there is vocational education, which is a three-year program that trains students for various careers.

They have the option to take the Matriculation test if they want to then apply to University.

  1.  Enough sleep for kids

Waking up early, catching a bus or ride, participating in morning and after school extracurricular are huge time sinks for a student.

Add to the fact that some classes start anywhere from 6am to 8am and you’ve got sleepy, uninspired adolescents on your hands.

Students in Finland usually start school anywhere from 9:00 – 9:45 AM.

Research has shown that early start times are detrimental to students’ well-being, health, and maturation.

Finnish schools start the day later and usually end by 2:00 – 2:45 AM.

They have longer class periods and much longer breaks in between.

The overall system isn’t there to ram and cram information to their students, but to create an environment of holistic learning.

  1.  Teachers bond well with students

There are fewer teachers and students in Finnish schools.

You can’t expect to teach an auditorium of invisible faces and breakthrough to them on an individual level.

Students in Finland often have the same teacher for up to six years of their education.

During this time, the teacher can take on the role of a mentor or even a family member.

During those years, mutual trust and bonding are built so that both parties know and respect each other.

Different needs and learning styles vary on an individual basis.

Finnish teachers can account for this because they’ve figured out the student’s own idiosyncratic needs.

They can accurately chart and care for their progress and help them reach their goals.

There is no passing along to the next teacher because there isn’t one.

  1.  A more relaxed atmosphere

There is a general trend in what Finland is doing with its schools.

Less stress, less unneeded regimentation and more caring.

Students usually only have a couple of classes a day.

They have several times to eat their food, enjoy recreational activities and generally just relax.

Spreads throughout the day are 15 to 20-minute intervals where the kids can get up and stretch, grab some fresh air and decompress.

This type of environment is also needed by the teachers.

Teacher rooms are set up all over Finnish schools, where they can lounge about and relax, prepare for the day or just simply socialize.

Teachers are people too and need to be functional so they can operate at the best of their abilities.

  1.  Very little time on homework

According to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world.

They spend only half an hour a night working on stuff from school.

Finnish students also don’t have tutors.

Yet they’re outperforming cultures that have toxic school-to-life balances without the unneeded or unnecessary stress.

Finnish students are getting everything they need to get done in school without the added pressures that come with excelling at a subject.

Without having to worry about grades and busy-work they are able to focus on the true task at hand – learning and growing as a human being.


It is considered one of the best education systems in the world.

It routinely outperforms the United States in reading, science, and mathematics.

Finland’s school system stands as a wonderful example for the rest of the world.

Maybe in future, other countries may undergo certain changes and thereby transform their education system into something better just like Finland.

What do you think? 

Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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