Opportunity, Collaboration & Discovery

The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System

CJ Westerberg, December 17, 2014 7:08 PM

Finland. Finnishflag.BobCompton.jpg

 via The Atlantic
Finnish Education Chief: "We Created a School System Based on Equality".
Here are excerpts from interview post:

Q.  I remember being struck by how many vocational or hands-on classes
(home economics, art, technology, and so forth) were available to students
at every Finnish school I visited.  At one secondary school I visited, kids were cooking breakfast; at another, I saw that all the kids had learned how to sew
their own bathing suits.  More than one teacher remarked, "It's important for
students to have different activities to do during the day." And there seems
to be no stigma about vocational education. Is this attitude true of all schools
in Finland?

A.  Yes, we definitely believe that for young people handcrafts, cooking,
creative pursuits, and sports, are all important. We believe these help young
people benefit more from the skills they're learning in school. 

Q.   Do you think that this takes time away from academics?

A.  Academics isn't all kids need. Kids need so much more. School should
be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed;
where they can learn community skills. We like to think that school is also
important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people's feelings. . . . and understanding it matters to take care of others. We definitely want to incorporate all those things in education.

Finland Education:  What's up? 
The Daily Riff Library

by C.J. Westerberg

The Daily Riff is updating and curating the best key story links about Finland and their intensely watched and admired education system ("the best in the world").

December 3, 2013 - Are Finland's Vaulted Schools Slipping? via Wapo
 by Pasi Sahlberg -
 . . . .Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies - and not PISA - drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland's pre-schools and elementary classrooms. Many teachers and parents in Finland believe that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama, and sports. This balance between academic and non-academic learning is critical to children's well-being and happiness in school. PISA tells only a little about these important aspects of school education.

December 3rd - OECD Education Report:  Finland's No Inspection, no league tables and few exams PLUS article round-up via TELEGRAPH

 December 2, 2013 -
Yong Zhao weighs in on the new PISA scores from Finland   

Here's the newest update - September 2013:
China's Education Plan . . .stealing from Finland's Playbook.  Excerpt:

If you think the business competition from China is hard now, brace yourself. It will likely get tougher in about 20 years or so. And how is China doing it? By borrowing a page from Finland.

At first blush, though, it would appear that China is simply lightening up.

"The Ministry of Education plans to lessen the heavy workload," said CCTV, China's state television network explained in a post on the English version of its website.

Under the proposed guidelines, which are still under discussion, "primary schools may no longer set any form of written homework for students in grades one to six," said CCTV, "Instead, schools should work with parents to organize extracurricular activities and after-school assignments, including museum tours and library study."

In addition, the new system would revamp scoring systems and reduce the number of mandatory exams.

Check out this from Business Insider - it's quick & to-the-point which is getting a lot of whoa's from people who even lose interest in top ten lists. Finnish students rank top of the charts in international studies of standardized testing (PISA). 

Next below is a top ten list via Cooperative Catalyst via via Parenting magazine's Mom Congress 2012 summarizing the traits of the much admired and controversial Finnish education.  The Finns seem to do exactly opposite the growing U.S. education agenda:

  1. Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.
  2. Individual schools have curriculum autonomy; individual teachers have classroom autonomy.
  3. It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.
  4. All teachers are required to have a master's degree.
  5. Finland does not have a culture of negative accountability for their teachers. According to Partanen, "bad" teachers receive more professional development; they are not threatened with being fired.
  6. Finland has a culture of collaboration between schools, not competition. Most schools, according to Partanen, perform at the same level, so there is no status in attending a particular facility.
  7. Finland has no private schools.
  8. Education emphasis is "equal opportunity to all."They value equality over excellence.
  9. A much higher percentage of Finland's educational budget goes directly into the classroom than it does in the US, as administrators make approximately the same salary as teachers. This also makes Finland's education more affordable than it is in the US.
  10. Finnish culture values childhood independence; one example: children mostly get themselves to school on their own, by walking or bicycling, etc. Helicopter parenting isn't really in their vocabulary.
  11. Finnish schools don't assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.
  12. Finnish schools have sports, but no sports teams. Competition is not valued.
  13. The focus is on the individual child. If a child is falling behind, the highly trained teaching staff recognizes this need and immediately creates a plan to address the child's individual needs. Likewise, if a child is soaring ahead and bored, the staff is trained and prepared to appropriately address this as well.
  14. Partanen correlated the methods and success of their public schools to US private schools. We already have a model right here at home.
  15. Compulsory school in Finland doesn't begin until children are 7 years old.

What are Finland's strengths?  Perhaps the quickest way to get the big picture is this slide show, or this new and the most in-depth being the above-titled documentary film, "The Finland Phenomenon."  Even if you read all the articles about the Finland school system, I highly recommend you watch the documentary - it fills in the blanks left bare by generalities.

 Can the U.S. and other countries learn from Finland?  Or, as some argue, is this an "outlier" country (translate: a country that teaches others no real lessons to others)?  We also find juxtaposing Finland's practices with Singapore and Japan, there are several key common themes shared by all, but not witnessed in the U.S., such as teacher autonomy, along with some key differences. You be the decider, and let us know what your riff is, on or off-line. 

Other recent links - don't miss podcasts and videos below!:
New curriculum 'abolishes childhood' (  and

The Atlantic Monthly: The Secret to Finland's Success with Schools, Moms, Kids---And Everything.  Sorry the headline and Study did not refer to "Parents" as opposed to "Moms", but a worthy read as it relates to how the general "vibe" of the household or family can affect the well-being and achievement of their children. Glad to see a common sense reality being addressed - does it take deep thinking to get this?

I like how the reporting gives obvious comparisons, such as these:

Tuition at his daughter's university is free, though she took out a small loan for living expenses. Its interest rate is 1 percent.

My cousin is a recent immigrant, and while she was learning the language and training for jobs, the state gave her 700 euros a month to live on.

Check out comments below PLUS
 (3) NEW short videos (under 3 min) via CNN - Perspective from a Math Teacher, Letting Teachers Teach, and Tips from Finland

Video, Articles, and Podcasts

#1 - Video Trailer to the Bob Compton and Tony Wagner Documentary, "The Finland Phenomenon"
        (Bob Compton produced the controversial "2 Million Minutes" edu-documentary; also  
         featuring Tony Wagner, author and educator, "The Global Achievement Gap")

#2 - 30 second Quik-Vid on "Teachers Key to Finland Education"

#3 - Dan Rather and HD NET - "Finnish First"

#4 - NEW New School Venture Fund Summit 2013 - Video - What America Can Learn from the World's Leading Schools


What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success via The Atlantic

26 Amazing Facts about Finland's Unorthodox Education System via Business Insider

 The Children Must Play - The New Republic

 The Final Word is Always Finland  - Quick and the ED 

Finland's Educational Success?  The Anti-Tiger Mom Approach

Interview with Finland Minister of Education


Steve Hargadon's "Future of Education" Podcast on Finnish & American Education Perspectives on Learning Communities  (Well worth the visit!)

h/t #1 video via a tweet from Heidi Hayes Jacobs; h/t  Joanne Jacob

  • socialmisfit

    Finland has the population of the state of Wisconsin. It is 93.5% ethnically homogeneous. They are not flooded with poor and uneducated immigrants. They are blessed with oil and natural resources per capita far above other countries. They don't spend much to protect themselves. If not for the US they would have been part of the old soviet union after WWII. They are near the bottom of the list we would compare to the US. So stop.

  • John Shepherd

    Just out of idle curiosity: Are you American by any chance, because the tone of your comment smacks of false American "superiority?"

  • Trdgrde

    Stop? Of course the societies are different, but still, there are some things in Finnish education system that can be implemented ANYWHERE: i.e. start school age, number of students PER classes, number of SUBJECTS being thought in Elementary education, number of courses assigned to teachers, curriculum autonomy, and the list goes on.

    The fact that you use some socio-cultural differences between the two countries to justify the failures of American education, is plain ignorance.

  • I really loved how this post was written! The education system of Finland should really be admired and hopefully it can be implemented in other countries as well.

  • "Academics isn't all kids need. Kids need so much more. School should be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed; ". This is fact. Its important for all educational centers or schools to incorporate this ideology in their teaching method not only in Finland but all over the world.

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