The education system in Finland is widely recognized at least as one of the best in the world, particularly because of its results in the OECD’s PISA Report published every three years, where it consistently comes out at or very near the top. Here are some of the principal reasons that offer the opportunity of reflection by other countries, including the UK and Spain, even the USA.
1. Teachers are highly valued professionals. Education is considered a prestigious and respected vocation, giving teachers a significant amount of authority in society. Obtaining a degree in Teaching (called Magisterio in Spain) is a difficult and demanding procedure that even include personal interviews.
2. Education is free and therefore accessible to everyone. The law makes it obligatory and free from ages 7 to 16, and must be taken in public institutions. Books and school materials are also free, as are the free hot meals every child gets each day. Local authorities are obliged to organize transportation for students living more than 5 kilometres from a school.
3. Public money is distributed equally. State funds are shared justly between the schools. There is a basic subsidy that is adjusted to the needs of each education centre, making it very similar to the rest. Equal opportunity is the essential value.
4. Curriculi are common to all but each school organises its own application. Each school and its teachers design their own curriculum following the general common lines. Each centre makes its own plans in order to meet established objectives.
5. Education is personalised. From the very beginning of schooling, the schools support students with special needs, thus avoiding complications as the child progresses through the system and school failure is minimised. Learning abilities and rhythms of each child are respected . Standardised tests and activities are avoided. The same teacher often sees a student through from the 1st grade (age 7) to the 6th (12), which allows him or her to know the student well.
6. Students have time for everything. While education is taken seriously, importance is also given to play and rest. Children do not begin schooling until age 7, when they are considered to be mature enough to learn. School hours are shorter than in most other countries: Primary students have only 3 or 4 hours of class a day, with 15 minutes between each, plus meal times. There is hardly any homework; schooling is done at school, not at home.
7. Lesson preparation is part of the school day. Teachers do not give as many classes as in other places, which means that they spend less time in the classroom, and have more time for preparation, research, organisation or collaborative work with their peers.
8. Competition and ratings are avoided. Students do not take tests or get marks until 5th grade (age 11). Reports given to parents are descriptive, not numerical.
9. Curiosity and participation rank high. Imagination and initiative are highly prized in Finnish society. There are many professionals in the creative and artistic fields, as well as in engineering and technology. This is encouraged in the education system, where creativity, experimentation and cooperation are more highly valued than memorization and ‘master classes’.
10. Parents take part because the society and its families believe education is fundamental, in addition to cultural activities. This is made possible through grants made to parents aimed at establishing a good balance between work and family, so parents have more time with their children.