The World Can Learn from Finland

For anyone involved (or interested) in education anywhere in the world,  paying attention to what is happening  with education in Finland is a must.  

Europe Map with Finland Highlighted

Yes, that small Scandinavian nation whose unique approach to education has changed the very characteristic of that nation.

It was news to me when I came across an article on the subject and it was intriguing enough to cause me to probe some more. 

Today, Finland’s education stands out. It is studied. Countries are trying to figure out how to emulate it. And people continue to wonder how and why Finland has been so successful.

First, it’s important to define what success in education means, How about these factors?

  • Performance on Assessment Tests
  • High School Graduation Rates
    • 93% (compared to 75% in the US)
  • Percentage of Students Who Go to College
    • 2 out of 3 go on to college; highest in all of Europe

Charts on Finland Versus US

Finland did not have anything close to an overnight success with this model. Nothing like that.

Instead it has been a journey – a highly successful one at that. It all started in the 1970’s with a clear strategy and policies to reform education, the national focus being development of human capital.

What’s unique about Finland’s education?

  • High rate of student-teacher interaction
    • With a ratio of 1:12 (compared to 1:24 and more in the US)
    • Freedom and flexibility with a focus on individual students
  • Virtually no standardized testing
    • First test is not until high school. This compares to a US student who takes an average of 10 tests before high school
  • Kids have more time to be kids
    • No rote teaching, minimal home work (none until they are teens), emphasis on creativity and creative thinking
    • 75 minutes of recess (versus an average of 27 minutes in the US)
    • School starts at age 7 for kids
  • Focus on teachers
    • Every teacher has a minimum of a Masters degree; only the top 10% are accepted into teaching
    • This is a highly respected and sought after profession
    • Loose national curriculum with more control and autonomy given to teachers
  • Cooperation not competition
    • Schools aren’t ranked against each other
    • Teachers don’t face formal reviews
    • Students aren’t under intense pressure to get into college 

This is a holistic approach that is producing some amazing results.

Best of all, there is no concept of private education. This is all public education, freely available to all children with a great emphasis placed on equality and equity to all.

Every child gets the same opportunity in Finland.

It’s a cop out if anyone says, “but Finland is different, smaller, easier, whatever….”. This is a system of education that every country in the world must learn from.

Thankfully, its results have been so impressive that educators from over 50 countries have visited Finland over the last few years to find out more. Someday, can we hope that it will come to a neighborhood near us?



This was just an “in a nutshell” introduction to a fascinating success story. For more on this topic, here are a few quick resources. Educators, read up!

26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Finland is #1!

Human Capital:The Formula That Makes Finland’s Schools So Good

Why Are Finland’s Schools So Successful?

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System [the most comprehensive portal that I found]





Posted on October 13, 2013, in people and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hey, let me correct some misconceptions here (I was trained in Finland and taught there before moving abroad):

    Student-teacher ratio is not quite that good, but the truth is that teachers in Finland have much more freedom.

    My students had homework starting on grade 1 – but (and this is a BIG but) homework is never graded, nor is there too much of it. The principle is to allow students revisit what they learned at school, because it makes learning easier.

    About equity and other things you are absolutely correct! And, for those who are explaining Finland’s success with demographics and politics – well, Sweden is a very similar society (and other Nordic countries, too), so how come their education is not on the same level, if it only depends on the social structure?

    And, cooperation is very important. Finland never aimed to be the #1. We just wanted everyone to have good education. Maybe we could expand that to the world?


    • Thanks Nina. Although you corrected misconceptions, you also validated that Finland is an example to follow for education around the world. Easier said than done!


  2. Hi Maansi,

    Yes, I think Finland does have an exemplary educational system. 🙂 But, things can always be improved, so the continuous growth is important.

    If I had to concentrate the Finnish success into one single thing, I think it is how there more attention is paid to learning (and how to support students’ learning) than teaching (and teacher improvement).


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