What Finland is doing to Improve its Schools

Finland rose to prominence some 20 years ago when its students scored the highest out of a set of countries on an international test. However, it lost its status as No. 1 after the education sector was badly hit in the 2008 recession, resulting in budget cuts and downsizing those schools’ staff. Despite all these, it is still one of the most successful education systems in the world.

To improve the sector, the Finnish government began to take some steps, and in recent years, some of these reforms have made it to global headlines partly due to some of the misinterpretations that these reforms have been subject to. For example, a few years ago, a change in curriculum resulted in rumors that Finland was giving up teaching traditional subjects. Another popular story is that Finnish kids no longer get homework. These and many other stories are false, they still need exam help regularly, and this article aims to explain in detail what Finland is really up to and doing to improve its education sector.

The secret to Finland’s success in education is that it is child-oriented, research, and evidence-based and managed by professional and well-trained teachers. However, all these are global education best practices and not cultural practices restricted to Finland alone.

Finland’s first appearance as a leading country in education came in the early 2000s when it appeared against all odds at the top of an international test ranking. The test is known as PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Since then, thousands of people have traveled worldwide to see which aspect of the Finnish education policies they can replicate in their countries to repeat the same success and improve their schools.

The education systems of countries and cities such Finland, Alberta, Ontario, and Japan have continued to perform better every year in terms of quality. And on the other hand, despite the reforms and the amount of money invested over the last decade, the education quality and standards of countries like Australia, England, Sweden, and the United States have not seen much improvement.

To put into perspective, below are some of the lessons and tips we have been able to pick up from Finland:

  • Education systems and schools are not to be run like Business Corporation, where unhealthy competition and performance’s order of the day. Instead, every successful education system relies on collaboration and trust in and between schools.
  • The teaching profession is not technical; neither is it a temporary craft that anyone can engage in. Every successful education system in the world depends on a high level of professionalism in the teaching profession. A teacher’s job requires advanced academic qualification and education, solid scientific and practical knowledge, and the willingness to continue to grow and improve on the job.
  • Literacy and numeracy test scores alone are not the best way to judge the quality of education. Every successful education system emphasizes child development, well-being, arts, music, drama, and physical education.

These and several other lessons are what successful systems like Finland continue to put in place a year to continue maintaining its position as a leading country in education.

The Finnish state authorities revised the National Core Curriculum (NCC) in 2014, and below are some of the fundamentals about the Finnish school systems and what’s going on:

First, most districts and educational providers in about 311 municipalities are responsible for drawing up the local curricula and annual work plans based on NCC recommendations, even though schools take the lead in curriculum planning under the municipal authorities’ close supervision.

Second, the NCC is a loose regulatory document as it is not clear or fixated on what schools should teach or how to arrange their work. Therefore, giving schools flexibility and autonomy in curriculum design may significantly change school to school.

Lastly, due to the decentralized nature of authority in the Finnish education systems, schools can have different practical arrangements to make their curriculum model distinct. Therefore, making it wrong for anyone to make submissions and conclusions based on what one school does.

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