the Dragonfly journal

Finnish Education: What Can We Learn?

By Dragonfly Training

It has become a perceived truth that Finnish education is the best in the world. Over the past 40 years, the Finns have developed an unconventional system regularly ranked top internationally in examination results related to maths, science and reading among others. Its system, in which children don’t attend school until seven years old and exams aren’t taken until the mid-teens, is inherently different from the one found in the UK. But what can we learn from our continental neighbour’s fascinating education system? It seems that everyone from politicians to educationalists consistently point to Finland as proof of a system that really works, so what are the reasons behind this astonishing success?

irst and foremost, our teacher entry standards are generally far lower. Whereas the Finns appoint only those qualified with a Master’s degree to a teaching position, last weekend an NASUWT conference in the UK publicised the “deeply concerning” number of unqualified teachers allowed to teach here. For many years in the late 90s and early to mid naughties, teacher recruitment in the UK was very difficult, leading to a lowering of entry standards in many areas. The union outcry last week followed an even further lax in education policy by the government which allows academy schools to appoint individuals not officially teacher qualified; a true contrast to the standard set by the Scandinavians. However, we find ourselves deep in a recession and the supposed quality of those looking to enter teaching is rising sharply. Many universities are noting how their average A level point of entry for PGCE courses is rising year on year. If we can maintain this rise during our climb out of the recession too, then our system will benefit significantly both in education itself and also in terms of the economy. Leading British businessman John Cridland even recently went as far as advising that “if we raise our attainment level to somewhere even close to the levels achieved in Finland, we could add one percentage point a year on growth.”

Another significant difference found in the Finnish system relates to the basic makeup of their classes. In Finland, classes consist of pupils of all ability, without a ranked system defined by academic achievement. Finnish classes are instead defined by age with the aim of collective progress. The result:  the lowest gap between top and bottom graded pupils in the world. The credit for this achievement lies in both successful differentiated teaching and general teaching quality.

And whilst this concept may be a little radical to implement in its entirety, we can learn from its success by promoting high standards in differentiated and qualified training. Finnish teachers spend only four hours on average per day in the classroom, instead being paid to attend two hours’ worth of professional development a week. And perhaps this strategy of consistently maintaining the highest standard of teaching through training, discussion and ensuring teaching remains as up to date as possible is the way we can, for now, attempt to keep up with the Finnish pace-setters.