Finland walks the talk when it comes to education
Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Photo by Piia Roos, (teacher of early years, PhD, pedagogical expert in VisitEDUfinn)
How many times have we heard politicians and others say “children are our most precious resource”? It’s hard to disagree with this statement, but we certainly don’t always see it reflected in our actions and policies. In his April 21 talk, His Excellency Roy Eriksson, Finland’s Ambassador to Canada, explained how Finland has taken this philosophy to heart. Their education system is seen as key to their national success in maximizing Finland’s human and economic potential. Finland’s commitment to education excellence has resulted in scholastic results at or near the top of the world’s. Since higher education is often linked with high life satisfaction, it is possible that this is one of the reasons Finland has been ranked as the world’s happiest nation.
How did it come about that little Finland has developed such a successful education system? The Ambassador explained that Finland is poor in natural resources and only transitioned from an agriculturally based economy to an industrial economy in the 1960’s. It was late in that decade that educational reform took place when the government recognized that its main resource was its own people, and that they would need to be educated. Access to higher education was established as everyone’s right and since then, lifelong education has increasingly become the standard.
Excellence in education has not been achieved through a rigorous set of curricula and testing. Rather, the Ambassador gave credit to Finland’s very qualified and highly motivated teachers. Teaching is a highly respected and well paid profession in Finland and a Master’s level education is a prerequisite to becoming a teacher. Many aspire to teach but only about 20% of applicants are accepted.
The Finnish approach to teaching is a holistic one that aims to motivate students and give them additional support as needed. Indoor and outdoor activities are integrated in the school day, with less time in the classroom than in most countries. It is a student-centred approach that has resulted in egalitarian results, with minimal differences among the results of children from different regional and socio-economic backgrounds.
Ambassador Eriksson’s talk led to some heartfelt comments by participants. A question about the importance of the humanities and critical thinking in the Finnish education system turned into a discussion about art and music, both of which are part of the main curricula well into the secondary school years. Alvar Aalto University was mentioned as combining the arts, sciences, and business in an innovative way. One participant recounted an unforgettable experience observing a Finnish classroom and being amazed at the positive learning atmosphere. Teacher and students operated as a unit, he noted, and he found the experience very engaging and enjoyable. Another participant commented on the emphasis placed in Finland on creating a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere for children. The Ambassador noted that students are consulted on the school environment and their feedback is incorporated if possible.
Finland has made meaningful, egalitarian, holistic education a true priority with proven results in its general population and economy, as well as in its many world-renown musicians, composers, visual artists, and entrepreneurs.