High Learning Outcomes
The Finnish educational system came to international awareness when the first PISA results were published in 2000. Learning outcomes of 15-year-old students in reading literacy, mathematical literacy, and science literacy were at the top level. The Finnish educational system has also succeeded among older ager groups. The mean Finnish proficiency scores of people aged 16 to 65 in both literacy and numeracy are significantly above the average of OECD countries participating in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).
The reasons for this success have been discussed in hundreds of international forums, and the most common question has been how it can be possible that with only average monetary investments by the Finnish government, a very small amount of homework and number of lesson hours in schools, and an extremely light educational evaluation system that does not use inspections, the Finnish education system can achieve such consistently high results in quality and equality in international comparisons. In the Finnish educational system, many subsystems are designed to be connected, and the most important factors are outlined below.
Equity as a Basic Value
The main objective of the Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education, regardless of age, domicile, financial situation, sex, or mother tongue. Education is considered to be one of the fundamental rights of all citizens.
Flexible Education System for Lifelong Learning (LLL)
Lifelong learning policy entails that transitions from one level to another and from education to the labor market are as flexible as possible. According to an analysis of government education policy documents, LLL is considered holistically in Finland. According to this holistic approach, LLL is a program that starts from a person’s early years and continues throughout the full life course. Life-wide learning is integrated at all levels of the educational system, in both the academic and vocational educational tracks. A holistic approach considers both formal and informal learning.
Local Freedom and Responsibility
The Finnish educational system is decentralized; local education authorities are responsible for the provision and quality of educational service. Governance is very light; instead of a detailed, imposed national curriculum, there is a national curriculum system that provides a value basis for the entire educational system and defines objectives for each educational level. In these core curricula, objectives are expressed at a general level, with the purpose of providing the basis for local education providers to do the detailed work.
Teachers have extensive freedom regarding how they teach and what kinds of assessment methods they use. They can also select textbooks and other learning materials and can even choose whether to use textbooks at all.
An inclusion policy in special needs education is absolutely critical for promoting all students’ equal rights to learn. The basic principle is that all students with learning difficulties must be given help and support to overcome those issues. They can have extra tuition hours or special needs instruction integrated into their own classes, and temporary or longer-term help in special classes or groups.
Enhancement-led and Formative Evaluation Policy for Promoting Quality
The aim of the national evaluation system is to support the local education administration and the development of schools as goal-oriented and open units, and to produce and provide up-to-date and reliable information on the context, functioning, results, and effects of the education system as a whole.
High-Quality Teachers and Teacher Education
High-quality teachers are unquestionably one of the major reasons for students’ high learning outcomes. Teachers in Finland are members of a respected academic and ethical profession. Finnish teacher education (TE) for both primary and secondary school teachers is a 5-year MA program in a university setting. The MA programs are very attractive to young people; class teacher programs for grade levels 1 to 6 are very popular among talented applicants and less than 10% of applicants are accepted. Secondary school teachers also face very strict entrance requirements: academic ability, especially thinking skills; motivation for the career choice; and social skills are all tested in the entrance examinations. Successful applicants are thus well-trained for and deeply committed to the teaching profession.