Finnish Education: The Nordic Way

Introduction. edit

Finland is an outstanding example when the country articulated and implemented its own pathway and achieved great results which are acknowledged and glorified by many prestigious scholars in the world. Finland displays high quality, high equity, and high efficiency in basic education. Hannele Nieme, Pasi Salhberg, and Jouni Valijarvi, among many others from Finland, have published school reports and books that testify to this success story and bring to the table key principles, the pillars of Finnish understanding of what good education is and what it requires. Organizations such McKinsey & Company and Pearson have produced reports that illustrate the top performance and great level of efficiency of Finland and proved this country to be a strong model for school education in the 21st century.

Table 1. Finland’s results in different PISA measurements.

Finland’s Results 2000










Reading literacy 1st**


































* OECD countries/ All participant countries

**A ranking order among OECD countries (among all countries participated in PISA measurements)

In late 2001 when results from Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000 test were published, the world was stunned by the performance of

Finnish students. Later on, in 2003, 2006, and 2009, Finland continued to achieve very high results in the PISA tests, appearing in top lists of OECD standing on

the same level with such "Asian tigers" as South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

Below are the main outcomes on PISA 2018, the full version one can see here.

  • In reading literacy, the main topic of PISA 2018, 15-year-olds in Finland score 520 points compared to an average of 487 points in
  • OECD countries. Girls perform better than boys with a statistically significant difference of 52 points (OECD average: 30 points higher for girls).
  • On average, 15-year-olds score 507 points in mathematics compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries. Girls perform better than boys with a statistically significant difference of 6 points (OECD average: 5 points higher for boys).
  • In Finland, the average performance in science of 15-year-olds is 522 points, compared to an average of 489 points in OECD countries. Girls perform better than boys with a statistically significant difference of 24 points (OECD average: 2 points higher for girls).
  • Socio-economic status explains 9% of the variance in reading performance in Finland (OECD average: 12%).
  • The average difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students in reading is 79 points, compared to an average of 89 in OECD countries. However, 13% of disadvantaged students are academically resilient (OECD average: 11%).

Interestingly, while Finland sometimes even managed to surpass the abovementioned countries, it appears to happen with little student effort (with almost no homework and average time spent at school), only moderate expenditures, and one less year of formal schooling (a well-known scheme of 9-year basic education). And here is the detail I find most fascinating, as many European countries will probably share other features such as being attractive, well organized, very tidy, technologically  equipped,  having  fancy  labs  and  knowledgeable  teachers.  Asian  countries  will  demonstrated  unparalleled  students'  commitment  to  academic success and unquestionable supremacy of teachers' authority. Finland successfully implemented SDG 4 in its core curriculum and proved to be a country with the great level of equity (only 9% of the variances is connected to socio-economic status of the family and more disadvantaged students are academically resilient (13%). In other words, Finland created a miracle combining best practices and aligning their educational system with Global sustainable goals, and the following chapters are aimed at illustrating historical milestones for Finland and unique spirit of Nordic way of everything including best practices in education.

Finnish Education: From Control to Equity. edit

100 Years of Finnish Education

100 years of Finnish education edit

Finland was not exactly a very poor country a century ago, although history kept the records of severe poverty crises during the 17th century and three historic famines in the 1690s, 1830s, and 1860s.

Finland has not always been egalitarian, nor has it been the welfare society the world knows today. In the centuries and decades prior to its independence in 1917, society was divided. On one side, there were elitist Swedish families and high society Finnish families close to the circles of those governing the country, some of whom were Swedish and others were Russian. And, on the other side, there were rural families dealing with harsh blows caused by corruption and poverty.

Until recently Finland has been considered as an agrarian country that stepped on the path of industrialization fairly late compared to other European countries. Due to foreign loans Finland managed to accelerated its development and unlike other  countries  with  "late  industrialization"  Finland  managed  to  escape  recolonization  and  control  from  developed economic giants. The importance of education as a factor ensuring the nation's success was realized in the middle of the 19th century. This was linked to the powerful awakening of the national awareness: the nation needed the enlightened citizens and a literary culture. That marked the emergence of primary schools to provide each child with general elementary education. A large number of primary schools were established across Finland, the law on compulsory education was enacted in 1921. It obliges all pupils to complete at least six grades in primary schools. The first national curriculum was established in 1925. There had been secondary schools and lyceums in Finland before (ca. 1800), but the number soared after Second World War. The country was aimed at equality and the whole educational system was under rigid control of the government: the curriculum, welfare standards, catering and etc.

From Control to Equity: Comprehensive Schools and Modern System edit

The  1970s  saw  a  transformation  of  the  education  system,  when  the  system  of  primary  and  secondary  education  was replaced by the comprehensive school system. It consisted of nine years of basic education provided by the state, adding three  years  of  compulsory  education.  Now,  the  objective  of  the  school  reform  was  to  ensure  equity:  equal,  free  basic education for all children regardless of where their families lived and what their families' socio-economic status was.

Contemporary Finnish Educational System

The ambitious vision for 2025 is that Finland will be a country where everybody despite their gender, age, abilities and status wants to learn and is able to get access to learning. The knowledge and education level of the nation has increased, promoting equal opportunities and supporting the renewal of society. Current  reforms  cover  the  whole  framework  from  early  childhood  education  to  top  scientific  research.  It's  worth mentioning that developing education in Finland is always collaborative, involving all relevant stakeholders.

Comprehensive School edit

The new national core curriculum was implemented in August 2016. The New Comprehensive school programme focuses on new pedagogy, new learning environments and the digitalization of education. The reform makes full use of teachers' skills and experiences while giving them substantial pedagogic freedom. Local solutions, creativity and experimentation rather  than  standardized  and  one-fit-all  approach  are  encouraged.  All  the  established  institutions  such  as  the  National Agency for Education research and implement best practices "on the field" without letting it lost in bureaucratic  mazes  of  ministries.  The  Finnish  Education  Forum  has  been  launched  to  improve  teacher  education.  The  promotion  of  physical  activity  among school-aged children comprises both an increase in physical activity and a reduction in the time when pupils are siting still. In basic education, projects like Schools on the Move ensure that all pupils get at least one hour of physical activity each day. Children and young people are also invited to take part in art and cultural pursuits.

Vocational School edit

The reform in vocational education is one of the most extensive for many decades. Qualification is not defined by the length of curricula anymore - the main criteria are learning outcomes. The objective is to build a flexible vocational education system which responds perfectly to the needs of workplace and enhances the opportunity for lifelong learning.

Higher Education and Science edit

Flexible learning paths assist students in completing their degrees and combining work with studies efficiently. In future, higher education institutions in Finland will offer education throughout the year. Promoting digital learning environments and providing online teaching will also facilitate progress in studies. Novel  practices  and  approaches  are  being  implemented  to  raise  the  quality  of  higher  education  and  research,  and  develop  a  genuinely  international  higher education and research community. Mergers of higher education and research community have resulted in innovative solutions such as Aalto University and the impending Tampere New University .

Finland has a well-developed innovation system and seeks to further strengthen cooperation between higher education institutions and business life. The start-up environment contributes a lot to its success to the bustling entrepreneurship of students in higher education institutions. An example of this are the SLUSH events held around the world.

The Nordic Way: Pillars of Education Policies and "Finding Your Sisu" edit

Below is personal taxonomy that enlists that main pillars that made Finnish education one of the best educational systems in the world:

Equality and equity for lifelong learning edit

Each learner regardless of age, social and professional statute or any special needs, has an equal access to education everywhere and at any time. No standard tests

during basic education, no unjustified selection of pupils to schools. National curriculum promotes subjectivity, freedom and flexibility. Instead of

focusing on equality, that means providing all people with the same type of knowledge and skills, Finnish educational policies are based on equity, making sure

that each learner has an access to the good school and teachers, and will be taught the most appropriate set of skills and knowledge in life situation. Putting more of

focus on disadvantaged students and appreciating their academic resilience and distributing resources to meet each students' needs rather than simply allocating

funding equally.

Culture of trust edit

Finnish  society  is  strongly  rooted  and  based  on  trust  at  all  levels.  Parents  trust  teachers  and  institutions,  teachers  are  exposed  to  the  great  level  of  pedagogic autonomy and local authorities encourage teacher to experiment and be subjective in their planning. Interesting fact: Finland has one of the lowest indicators in school change: parents try not to take their children out of the school in the middle of academic year, they believe that education is highly important and rarely change schools and move places. Thus, teachers have a better understanding of their pupils.

Performance and research-based education edit

It is a part of Finnish culture that good education and training must be provided for learners all ages and in all social contexts. In the Finnish nation, education played  a  determined  role  towards  a  modern  society.  Gifted  with  limited  natural  resources,  education  was  and  is  still  nowadays  the  most  precious  "capital". Lifelong learning is seen as an investment in wealthy and decent living.

Quality of teachers trainers edit

Teaching is a prestigious profession in Finland with only a quarter of all applicants studying in eight universities in the country. Teaching personnel is highly educated and respected in the society like professionals - doctors, lawyers. A master degree is required for teachers and the qualification includes preparation in special  subjects  as  well  as  pedagogical  studies.  Most  importantly,  teaching  training  aims  to  empower  teachers  with  thinking  skills  necessary  to  organize pedagogical experimentations in accordance with changing society and learning practices. Moreover, each year teachers participate in in-service trainings as part of lifelong learning according to personal needs and willingness.

Cultural "touch" edit

From an agrarian country to a modern and innovation-based nation, Finland has made a huge leap in its development and there is no way it could achieve it without cultural principles that lay in society. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Finnish people borrow more books from a library than other countries;
  • Finnish have one of the best mobile games in the world;
  • Finland is the best country in the world to be a mother and the most stable society with hardworking people;

Finally, Finland is a motherland of the world-famous concept Sisu which means Strength and Persistence. This idea is closely knit with everything that Finnish people do. The culture of healthy lifestyle, never giving up and staying strong no matter what have made these outstanding outcomes possible.