Finland hasn't got natural resources to rely on and suffered deeply from war, making the nation poor. Despite this Finnish politicians made massive changes in the education to fight poverty and lift the country back on its feet. Especially initial teacher training was given a lot of attention. This has paid dividends giving Finland a high innovation index allowing a small nation to compete globally. And yet, its successful education system is one of the most cost effective systems in the world.
Finnish students score well in international tests such as Timms, Pirls and PISA. The differences between the weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to a survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Also, the differences between schools are very small and a Finnish child is getting the same quality education in schools in Finland, whether it is in Lapland or Helsinki.
There are no standardized testing (apart from A-levels in high-school) or school inspectors continuously checking on the quality of teaching. And yet the learning results are good. External inspection of teachers’ work and testing of students’ achievement have been transferred from national authorities to be central aspects of the teaching profession, as well as school leadership.
Holistic approach to education
Formal schooling in Finland does not begin until age 7, when children are considered to be ready, motivated and eager to learn. Basic education creates the conditions for lifelong learning and continuous development, which is an integral part of building a good life. Childhood, play and playful learning are highly valued in Finnish education. Whilst playing children get to practice their skills and imagination. Children should learn how to learn, experiment and make mistakes, not how to take a test.
Finnish education is not just about academic subjects, but 21st century competences and providing equal opportunities for all to succeed in life. Thus, art, music, physical education, textile and woodwork have important role in the curriculum and must be included in each and every schools' education. Balanced curriculum gives arts, music, manual skills and other non-academic areas the same importance as traditional school subjects. They support the holistic development of children, self-expression and creativity.
What is the Secret Sauce behind Finnish students high scores in international tests such as PISA?
Finland is renowned for teacher autonomy. Teaching targets are set by the national curriculum, but within this framework teaching and choice of tools and devices is highly independent. Teachers and principals are trusted professionals who know what is best for the children in their schools and classrooms. They have a great deal of autonomy deciding how to support learning best in their schools. This independence in schools is not a total freedom to do whatever teachers want, but they do have freedom within the framework offered in the broad curriculum.
Finnish teachers hold a Master's degree and are trained to continuously develop their profession and innovative teaching practices. Highly trained teachers and research based pedagogy enhance individual and collaborative learning in schools. Future focused research, curriculum implementation and its further development are all part of their work.
The secret sauce behind Finnish students high scores in international tests such as PISA, is holistic approach to education and a system that supports teachers in their work. This includes a curriculum developed together with teachers. Teachers are the ones who put the new national curriculum in Finland (2016) into practice and the broad curriculum allows them to have freedom to implement it in the best suitable way to meet the needs of their local community, school and learners.
The value of investing in teachers and effective education
So,what is Finnish education?
Research based pedagogy, broad curriculum and teacher driven innovations.
I cannot emphasise more about the value of investing in teachers in improving education. And not just their initial teacher training, but the education policies and the whole working environment should support teachers to do their demanding and important work in the most effective way. Teachers working conditions, trust, respect and competitive salary help them to commit to their chosen profession for a life-time and not just until they find another, better paid job. It is not enough to just have well trained teachers, but the whole education system needs to support teachers to be able to their work most effectively.