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What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success.

Posted by Bert Maes on February 24, 2010

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Students from Finland outperform peers in 43 other nations – including the United States, Germany and Japan – in mathematics, science and reading skills. Finland is also ranked top in economic competitiveness.

The performance of this small and remote European country springs directly from education policies set in motion 40 years ago, according to the World Bank in its report “Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968.”

A summary:

Explaining the excellence of the schools in Finland is extremely complex. They have beautiful school buildings, well-trained teachers, state-of-the-art technology any fancy textbooks, but that doesn’t explain everything. I will not present an exhaustive or exclusive explanation for Finland’s success, but 10 CHARACTERISTICS MAY BE HELPFUL TO UNDERSTAND:

  • (1) When Finnish kids turn 7 years old they go into compulsory primary school during nine years. All kids start at the same level, no matter what socio-economic background they have. They learn the basic knowledge, skills and attitudes of lifelong learning, which is consistently paying off with better academic achievement in later grades. These primary schools are places where playing and learning are combined with alternative pedagogic approaches, rather than mere instructional institutions.
  • (2) All teachers are prepared in academic universities. Teachers are highly respected and appreciated in Finland, partly because all teachers need a master’s degree to qualify for a permanent job. And the selection is tough: only 10% of the 5000 applicants each year are accepted to the faculties of education in Finnish universities. Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by strengthening the education profession and investing in teacher preparation and support. Their high level knowledge and skills makes that Finnish teachers
  1. can have considerable independence in the classroom to choose their preferred appropriate pedagogical methods;
  2. are very willing to continuously update their professional skills via post-graduate studies;
  3. are more willing to work on themselves, are open to new ideas and developed broader perspectives (I refer slightly to the article: MBAs Make Better CEOs… But Why?);
  4. are eager to be involved into the school development processes in their own schools as well as in national and international projects.
  • (3) Since the 1960s political authorities always have seen education as the key to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive world. All governments, from left to right have respected over the past 4 decades, that economic growth is the primary goal, with education as the critical driver (according to some researchers, education explains 25% of Finland’s growth): “Investment in people is the best investment”.  To be competitive, the governments concluded, Finland has to substantially boost investments in education and research to foster innovation and cutting-edge development.
  • (4) Because the central government ensured sustainable funding to ensure FREE education for all, i.e. took care of ALL costs of tuition, warm school meals, learning materials, text books, transportation, new equipment, new facilities, student counseling, etc,  the teachers are able to focus on teaching and learning, and bringing new ideas and practices in schools.
  • (5) There are no mandatory tests or exams; except for the nationwide National Matriculation Examination, in mother tongue, foreign language, mathematics and social/natural sciences, at the end of the upper-secondary school (from 17-19-year-old). Teachers make their own assessment tests, not quoting numeric grades, but using descriptive feedback, no longer comparing students with one another. This helped teachers and students focusing on learning in a fear-free environment, in which creativity and risk-taking are encouraged. Teachers have more real freedom in time planning when they do not need have to focus on annual tests or exams.
  • (6) Trusting the schools and teachers is a common feature in Finnish schools. Schools receive full autonomy in developing the daily delivery of education services. The ministry of education always believed that teachers, together with principals, parents and their communities know how to provide the best possible education for their children and youth. Except for guidelines for learning goals and assessment criteria, The National Board of Education (taking care of curriculum development, evaluation of education and professional support for teachers) doesn’t dictate lesson plans or standardized tests. School can plan their own curricula to reflect local concerns.
  • (7) For Manufacturing Education: In higher education, Finland offers university level studies or the polytechnics insitutions.  The polytechnic system was the focal point of education policies in Finland during the 1990s and the top priority for regional development. There is a wide consensus on increasing technology, environmental sciences and entrepreneurship education – all of which seem to contribute positively to economic development and growth. As a result regional support networks are developed to help schools and teachers to adopt new technology in education and incorporate technology into classrooms.

  • (8) Building upon the expertise of local players, whose experience, opinions and abilities allowed them to indicate the best ways forward. The teacher unions and the educators themselves have always had the opportunity to be heard, to help crafting a blueprint of the reforms.
  1. The key to get their commitment and support was tapping into and welcoming their expertise as professionals in laying the groundwork of reform. Expert committees of teachers, union representatives, university researchers, textbook authors and government officials designed the new frameworks, hashing out their differences and using each other’s valuable and varied expertise.
  2. Another key was reassuring teachers would not lose employment security and salaries. Before the reforms even commenced the teacher trade organization achieved this in negotiating higher teacher compensation for the extra more demanding work.
  3. Also experiments and pilot programs in developing curriculum reforms have helped ease concerns and win the teachers’ professional commitment. All experimental projects, coming from bottom-up as well, were monitored by university researchers, bringing a consistent culture of innovation in the Finnish education system.
  4. Education reform could only have proceeded if it gave the teachers a way to maintain their pedagogical freedom, creativity and sense of professional responsibility, by allowing them to choose textbooks and learning materials, and to determine the best way to cover the curriculum.
  5. The execution of new curricula, learning materials and new instructional methods was always carefully planned, province by province. Provincial Offices approved the plans from every municipality. The switch to a new reform was also guided by in-service training by a network of national level instructors.
  • (9) Political consensus and the capacity of policy makers to pursue reform: governments, trade unions and employers’ organizations form a tripartite in Finland, closely coordinating, communicating and heading to a common goal. In many countries the opposing-parties usually polarize debates and public opinion. Since the beginning of the 1970s until 1987 the ministry of education had two ministers from the main parties, requiring close political cooperation, resulting in workable solutions as both parties could endorse them. This proved to be the key factor behind the continuity of Finnish education policy. The parties detached from their populist political objectives and strategic maneuvers and began focusing on the subject-matter, on cooperating and acting together.

    Via the close partnership between the labor organizations and the governments, between the employees and the employers, in both planning and implementation stages, the teacher union changed from external political pressure group into a stakeholder in government decision-making, i.e. into one encompassing labor organization, that looks at the interest of the COMPLETE SOCIETY, just like the government. This key element in good quality of governance and public institutions turned out to be the driving force of education performance and economic competitiveness in Finland.
  • (10) Regional development and networking: Today the most important component of providing good education is the management and leadership skills of local political authorities, experts and school principals (carefully selected for their understanding of education development, their experience in teacher-education and their solid proven management skills). The key in the educational reforms was ‘how to find ways to help schools and teachers come together and share what they have learned about productive teaching techniques and effective schools’. The result was the creation of multi-level, professional learning communities of schools sharing locally tested practices and enriching ideas, and matching the needs for local economic development.

RELATED POST: Finland Gets Its First Haas Technical Education Center

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109 Responses to “What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success.”

  1. […] View original post here: What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles … […]

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  3. I normally avoid writing about education systems unless I have liveed in a country for more than one year and have had direct experience with that system. I am writing here because I would like to see more informed research being conducted about Finland and its education system. It is a success story and we need to move our system more in that direction. However, Finland is difficult to study for two reasons: Only 5 million people speak Finnish so we must rely on second-hand reports; and Their system is so radically different from the USA we cannot easily map ours to theirs so it is easy to make misstatements or generalizations that are not accurate.

    I must admit, when I applied for a Fulbright scholarship to Finland I could only name one city in the entire country. I ended up living in Helsinki as a single mother for a total of three years–one year as a Fulbright scholar and then two more years teaching at the University of Helsinki.

    (I write a little bit about my experience on my blog )

    While I applaud your attempt to capture reasons why the Finnish education system has contributed to the highest literacy rates, best STEM scores, and some of the happiest people in the world, I think you have missed the mark on few points.

    1.Teachers have MA degrees. I have seen this written several places and it always makes me smile. The Finnish system is different. Like the German system, their students spend more years in high school.( This is similar to first year at University in the US. Students then do something similar to the British A-level exam. This is very comprehensive. Few of our students would be able to pass these exams. There are main subjects you have chosen to focus on in gymnasium and other subjects that you have minored in. (ie My husband did his A-level exam in Math and Physics but he also studied Chemistry, English and French and Biology as sub-level subjects.) In Finland, students then must pass University admittance exams before being accepted to a program of study. These exams are grueling and few pass on the first try. Many students spend years studying just to get into University. No one helps the students. Students read books and take exams. Period. You can’t take a course like we do for GMAT or LSAT. There are no lectures. You read books and take the exam. Once admitted, students study subjects like law, education, medicine, etc. There is no time limit and since education is free most students take as long as they want to get their first degree. The courses add up to roughly four years if one were to go straight through. So, the MA that students have in Finland is a first degree. Some argue it is a BA but it really is much more rigorous than our BA. In England, students have a BA with roughly the same system. The UK MA program (my German husband got his MA in the UK so I am familiar with this one, too) is one to two years so their system is a bit easier to map to ours. All in all, saying Finnish teachers have an MA is not exactly correct. They have a first degree they call an MA. It produces very fine lawyers and doctors and scientists so I am inclined not to argue with this over simplification. But they have not spent 4 years undergraduate and 2 years graduate school as anyone in the US must do to receive an MA in education. Our system becomes progressively more difficult and focused. Their system is always focused. Since their system produces the best results in the world, I think we should look to other factors because saying teachers have an MA in education is misleading and not an important factor.

    2. Another issue that always bothers me is people point to the fact that children start school at age 7 in Finland as a factor in their success. People suggest we should leave our kids on their own and scrap our preschool system. Finns don’t start teaching subjects until age 7 that is true but the majority of women work in Finland and they have universal daycare. Most children have been in a system that encourages orderly behavior from birth. If you question this, go to Finland during the coldest and darkest months. It can be 40 below zero and people still stand and wait for lights to change. No one walks against the light. No one drinks and drives. People do not speak in public places like trams. Children in universal daycare also learn things like English or Swedish or other second language basics that prepare them for a rigorous system that starts at age 7. Seven year old children in Finland have few behavior issues because they have been treated equally since birth–they have been loved and encouraged by a system that values children.

    3. Your point 6 is accurate but it also is a bit misleading. Teachers have absolute freedom to teach specific things. They don’t keep re-inventing the wheel the way we do. They also do not have the influence of book companies who sell fads. They don’t pay millions for education research and they don’t force un-natural practices on teachers.

    4. Finland is a very egalitarian society. Teachers are respected and are part of the political system. They have a multiparty system and unions. Teachers participate on all levels. All professions are equally valued so you see equal numbers of men and women and equal pay. This does not have a material impact on the curriculum or assessments. Kids don’t carry huge backpacks with fat books–they are presented with less information but they all learn everything that is taught. They do not pass failing children just to get them out of the class. They focus more on teaching than testing because it is easy to test something once a child has been taught. Recently, my husband and I looked at his A-level physics textbook. One book was used for two years. But with that one book you could pass the GRE math secion in the USA.

    5.This is what I believe is at the very core of this success story. Finland has a great and profound design history. This has kept the country competitive since they first started as a nation. This had not changed. Their education system begins with good design. If technology becomes an international requirement they are the first to bring in experts from around the world, learn from them, and then design better products. Nokia is not a one off. Children wear Marimekko socks and drink out of Alvar Aalto glasses. Design, art, music, culture, nature are fundamental to the society and this is one reason why their people are so happy. They also very systematically introduce first and second languages to children. My students at University had what I would call a photographic memory. They could recall information from a page in a book and even tell me the page number. Finns use their minds. They exercise their brains with multiple languages.

    • Lisa said

      Wow! Thanks for the insider info that really helps.

      • Liz Davey said

        Linda, Thank you for your insight on Bert’s post. I live in Atlanta, GA and wonder why my city/state school system continually reinvents itself every time a new method of testing or teaching comes out.

    • Claudia López said

      Hello Linda and Bert, What do you mean by “and they don’t force un-natural practices on teachers”?

  4. Bert Maes said

    Good evening Linda,

    My sincere apologies I didn’t come back to you earlier.

    While I’m traveling to Romania to visit a technical university, I have spend the couple of hours in the airplane thinking about your comments.

    What I would like to remind from your real-life story is:

    1) Finland has one of the best performing education systems in the world (regarding math, reading and science) partly because of its highly effective and tough way of recruiting and training teachers (and other professions)- and the effective support they get. Can you agree with that?

    2) Finland has a very extensive professional system social child / day care system, with generous state supports for parental leave. Sounds like a lot more women are in Finland are encouraged to work, compared to other countries; and at the same time they get the necessary time to grow their children.

    3) Finns use their minds. They exercise their brains with multiple languages. Sounds like Finns are much more open to the world around them and live a real conscious existence.

    Educational success stories like this are impossible to duplicate. Other countries should not even start thinking about it, as you said “Finland has a great and profound design history”. But some elements like teacher education, like professional child care for all, like “more teaching than testing”, like language education,… should be picked up by other countries.

    Thank you so much for having shared your story!


    • Cristina said

      Dear Bert and Linda,

      I’m currently taking my diploma in teaching with Curtin Univ In Perth Australia. I am originally from Romania but have lived and worked in Brunei (where I shall return once i complete my course) for the past 9 years.

      Linda, while reading your article I saw myself being transported back to Romania. I saw myself as a child in the schools system at home. It’s so very much alike, less the way teachers are threated.

      Then I compared the systems with the system what I observed over the years in Brunei. I must write about it one day; it’s 360 degrees different. What a pitty!!

      • Elena said

        Dear Cristina,
        I am also from Romania. I want to open a private school and look for a teacher that could behave pretty much like a Finnish teacher. Basically to understand what’s wrong with education in the country and what is the teacher’s role in improving the situation. Ideally with MA in education taken outside Romania and some valuable practical experience. In case you see this message and think you could help with information or advice, please write me at I also thank to the blogger for occasioning this encounter :). Best, Elena

  5. […] in the previous five years (report from the Wellcome Trust). Maybe people should be obliged, as in Finland, to go to university to become a teacher. There teachers learn how to learn. If the teacher […]

  6. […] paradoxes that have helped promote a lot of trust and respect for the teaching profession – only 10% of the 5000 applicants are accepted to attend faculties of education in Finnish Universities. A lot of people in Finland […]

  7. Jay Reimer said

    I agree that improving student learning is the goal. I also do not directly disagree with your suggestons. However, describing conditions of a high performing environment is not the same thing as a prescription for improving learning. For example, if teachers in Finland have masters degrees more often than teachers in USA, for example, that does not show that getting a higher degree makes a better teacher. This is description of correlation implied to be a mechanism for improvement.

    Can you follow up with a subsequent article that demonstrates/shows HOW these characteristics lead to improved learning.

    Without this, good suggestions like yours (expresssing my opinion) are merely shots in the rhetoric wars; right?

    Keep writing; this is the first step in helpful information!

  8. […] What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success. […]

  9. Belinda said

    I am impressed with what I read. Would it be possible to see on the internet what you teach in English? Or is it perhaps not one of the languages you offer? If you do offer it, I would love to compare what we do in South Africa to what you do in your schools. if anyone in the education system in Finland can assist me with this, I would appreciate it. Kind regards, Belinda van Vuuren, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

  10. […] […]

  11. Finland has often been hailed as having one of the most successful education systems. But what drives its high level of achievement? And what makes it different? Education Minister, Tuula Haatainen, puts the question into a stark economic context. How can a small, affluent country such as Finland maintain a high-wage, high-skill economy? It can’t compete with the low-cost economies of Asia, so it must, as a matter of economic survival, invest heavily in education and training…

  12. […] my quest to look at how tests are used in schools I learnt about the Finnish school system. They have the best school system in Europe according to OECDs PISA survey and yet they don’t […]

  13. Anthony said

    I doing some research on Finland’s success in education. The information you shared was very helpful in trying to understand the success of the Finland Education Systems. I am curious about a couple things though that I don’t think were covered. First, I understand that teachers are given a lot of room to develop their own curriculum. This is obviously working and seems like an excellent idea. However, how is consistency maintained when there is room for so much variation between schools and districts? The second area of interest is the age of students entering basic education. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for them to start earlier? Is there a developmental aspect that this is based on? I am doing a comparative study so any response to this would be appreciated.

  14. Bert Maes said

    Thanks for your questions, Anthony! I appreciate it a lot.
    I believe consistency is maintained due to the national core curricula and frameworks set by the National Board of Education ( There is a clear vision and strategy that is guiding teachers without micromanaging them.
    It is true that children in Finland don’t begin formal schooling until age 7, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything before. In fact, Finnish children have access to very high-quality, affordable child care that easily meets the standards of preschools in the US or Europe. For the cultural aspect of this point, please have a look at the comment of Linda Hahner above, where she describes the equality and respect of children in Finland.

    • Deepak Kr Singh said

      Hello Everybody,
      I am excited to see so much of talk on Finnish education.Right now I am struggling to create interest of parents in the schools where their children study( in the State of Bihar in India).Literacy rate is 67%. Parents do not come to school even though they are requested to come to school to participate in planning for quality education. I am talking about elementary ( basic) education. Could anybody please let me know about a compendium that holds such activities which I could indulge in to attract or bring the parents to school to talk about school business?I would be very grateful. Quick please.

      Deepak Kr singh
      Education Officer
      Government of Bihar

  15. Pam Merkel said

    I am wondering if there is any data concerning how much time students in Finland spend studying vs working, playing sports, gaming, watching TV… things that US students commonly spend their time doing.Is the comparison to US students statistically significant?

  16. Bert Maes said

    Hi Pam,
    some links that might give an answer to your questions: states that youth in Finland spend a lot of their time in front of the TV as well, except that the programs are subtitled. That seems to lead to earlier exposure to reading.
    – A short comparison of the study hours of Korean students versus their Finnish counterparts:
    – You might like this one as well: “When schools give students respect, freedom, and dignity, and leave them more leisure time, students learn more.”

  17. […] People point to Finland’s education success.  Guess what?  The teachers in Finland highly paid, highly RESPECTED and UNIONIZED. […]

  18. steve said

    Hi, Could anybody out there steer me in the right direction for a summary of the education system in Finland? I am a teacher from the UK currently studying for an Msc- writing a dissertation comparing the Finnish education system to proposals outlined in the Education White Paper 2010.
    thanks in advance, really enjoying this debate, fascinating stuff!

  19. steve said

    Thanks very much Bert!

    It appears the Coalition Govt has lifted the PISA report (2009) wholesale and stuck their label on it! hope it works.
    thanks again

  20. Beverly Sisler said

    It is interesting that the educators in Finland listened to the research about the optimal age for teaching children to read. Age 7. It is then that the Finnish educators begin the process of formally educating their children. And it works. Wonder of wonders. Maybe we should pay ATTENTION to the research!!

  21. […] Given all this, I decided to do some really quick research on Finland and its education system. The country is often raised as a model and interestingly, for New York at least, is fully unionized. I found  an interesting blog post by Bert Maes, who writes about industry and education, titled, “What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success.” […]

  22. Priscila said

    I appreciate Linda´s comments so much, as well as the entire article. I agree that we can take elements from the design of the finnish education system but it would be silly to try and adapt it exactly. Living in Guatemala, as I do, and trying to make an exact replica of Finland´s system would be a total failure. This is where we need to exercise our creativity combine it with our knowledge, hard work and cultural environment. In our case, we have opted to train our teachers directly in the system that we are designing and not necessarily in universities in Guatemala where the information is usually not as updated as we would hope….restructuring at all levels!
    Also, expecting to receive support for this innovation from the government is a laugh in Guatemala. We can´t wait on them, we must move forward on our own.
    Thanks again for the very informative article and reply.

    • Deepak Kr Singh said

      You are, it seems , working in Guatemala, for education. I am working in education department, Government of Bihar,India. Right now I am facing disinterestedness of parents in attending parent-teacher meetings. I want to push through some new quality education program which is impossible to do if parents donot participate. Apart from making the Program attractive, what processes i could adopt to attract them? Do u have any idea please?

      Deepak Kr singh
      Education Officer
      Government of Bihar

  23. […] ARTICLE:  What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success. […]

  24. Bert Maes said

    Please read a good interview with Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s Minister of Education, in which she answers following questions:
    – How does teacher training in Finland differ from teacher training in other countries?
    – How are teachers evaluated in Finland? How are they held accountable for student learning?
    – How does Finland incorporate immigrants and minorities into its educational system?
    – What roles do teacher unions play in Finland?
    – What do you think the U.S. can and should learn from Finland when it comes to public education?
    – In the U.S., it’s estimated that 50 percent of new teachers quit within five years. I suspect it’s different in Finland?

  25. Thanks for sharing your insights. A society where teachers have a lot of respect is great for education.

  26. Bert Maes said

    Another cool article related to this topic: Comparing Canada and the U.S. on Education Canada has:
    * Better trained teachers, reasonably well paid, with good job security and unionization. It’s hard to get into teaching in Canada, but our teachers are generally respected and treated well;
    * A strong commitment across the country to equity for all population groups (though there are still large achievement gaps in Canada, they are smaller than in most other countries);
    * Better basic services for all students and families, such as health care and social services generally;
    * Much smaller differences in funding levels from one district to another, and generally more spending in higher need communities;
    * Much consistency across schools and districts in curriculum and teaching methods.

    • Andrew said

      I am a teacher in Canada. You have to be careful quoting Ben Levin. Check out his CV He hasn’t spent one day teaching in a public school.

      Better trained teachers? My BEd degree did not give me one thing that helped me as a teacher.

      Hard to get into teaching? Ridiculous. Everyone who applies gets in, maybe not at your first choice, but it’s easy to get in somewhere. Furthermore, all they care about to get into teaching is your volunteer work, grades are irrelevant. Some of my colleagues training to be a history teacher did not know the significance of the dates 1939-1945. Furthermore, some had never taken even one university history course.

      Teachers generally respected? Absolutely not. Anytime an education article comes up in the news, all the comments are negative.

      I’m not going to go on much more. Look at it this way, my school will graduate 200 students next month with their grade 12. About 25 will be completely illiterate, 50 will not be able to tell you the key elements of a newspaper article and 50 more would not be able to tell you the key elements of a short story. Ergo, out of 200 I would only consider about 75 fully literate.

      You call that a good system?

  27. […] Posts What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success.Part 1: Green Technology ~ Wind Turbines and CNCThe Inspiring Story of Mike Starting His Own […]

  28. Pieter said

    Hi Bert

    lovely article. But I am wondering, do you know where that last picture is taken? around what area?

    Kind regards

  29. […] turns out Finland has the best school system on the planet. […]

  30. Bert Maes said

    The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, a 60-minute movie and Harvard researcher Tony Wagner, credits a “culture of trust” created by the absence of high-stakes testing, teacher-evaluation systems or homework.
    Very smart, very well-trained teachers are the real secret, argues Gadfly’s Daniela Fairchild: “What is most interesting about the film, though, is its depiction of Finland’s rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs—a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength. These programs accept a mere 10 percent of applicants (akin to Ivy League acceptance rates in the U.S.)—and kick out teacher trainees who aren’t up to snuff. Candidates observe veteran teachers, co-design and execute lesson plans, and receive feedback from peers, mentors, and even students.”

  31. Dick Mackey said

    Once the first nine years of education is completed what determines whether a student goes on to a trade or university school? Upon completing the ninth grade what percentage of students leave school and do not continue their fromal education?


    Dick Mackey

  32. Arlene Gluck said

    Mr. Maes,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Finnish education. Although I would agree with the reader who wants to know specifically how these principles influence the school system. I am a doctoral student who is comparing education in Finland in the United States. Part of my project is to communicate with students and teachers in Finland. Can you suggest any sources that could put me in touch with those who speak English but are knowledgable about Finnish schools and teacher training? Any other suggestions?


  33. […] would be from successful programs already in existence from the top ranking countries in Education. Finland education is rated number one in the world. If you read what I’ve just linked, it gives a great summary […]

  34. Jackson Mutie said

    your article is very insightful.I particularly agree with the issue of teacher quality as a factor in Finland education success.however don’t despise your system so much further more US has been served well by the education system by being host to silicon tech companies founded by dropouts from Stanford like Google,facebook and microsoft.what have fins achieved apart from nokia which accounts for more than 25 percent of their economy? however that is beside the point.infact nokia is taking a beating from the innovations in smart phones from Apple and Google Kenya we have a similar issue with 8-4-4 education. some naive people are blaming the system for problems ranging from unemployment to underdevelopment.I think thats not fair.Is it the number of years that matter or the content and approach?most kenyans excel in usa universities.In conlusion i think all educational systems would benefit by laying emphasis on student gifts and main streaming instead of forcing all people into the same content and by govts investing in teachers and recruiting high caliber most frustrations as a student both in high school and university were low caliber teachers who could not think critically.I hated it.Nice research and dont bother with those tests that measure test taking skills and give singapore,shaghai and finland high marks.bring them to Kenya and you will be surprised

  35. […]… […]

  36. […] Bert Maes: What makes education in Finland that good? […]

  37. Dick Mackey said

    The USA tries to educate all K-12 in pretty much the same type of schools. It will never compete at the highest level with other countries because the culture is so different. Is it the best system? That’s up for debate. America’s best students do compete successfully but when you have all students being tested against only the best from other countries it’s a sham. The real problem in the USA is that politicians, who know little about and understand less make the rules. The USA has wasted billions over the past decade on high stakes testing as it feels the only way to evaluate education is by testing which is a total fallacy.

  38. Laylah said

    Excellent article mr. Maes!
    Reading this makes me proud to be a Finn seeing how people all over the world are turning to us to know our “secret”.

    There is no ready made formula to the success of our students. It’s a combination of so many things, inside and outside the school environment.

    I must add that I thoroughly enjoyed my school experience in Finland. I have warm memories of teachers we students highly appreciated and looked up to.

    I would like to add a few points to your list that I think contribute to the excellent performance of Finnish students:

    -schools are small and have a home-like environment
    -children are encouraged to read at home, parents read to children a lot and there are excellent public libraries
    -schools provide free nutritious meals
    -all teachers have Master’s degrees
    -short school hours leave more time for hobbies which keep children active

    Here is a link to a post I wrote some time ago comparing the Finnish and Saudi school systems. I wrote about what I think are the secrets behind our success. I currently live in Saudi-Arabia 🙂

    I would love to hear what you think!

  39. Bakor Kamaal said

    They’re applying Student-Centered philosophy … for more read Freedom to Learn by Carl Roogers

  40. […]… […]

  41. […]… […]

  42. Teacher-to-be said

    This was interesting to read. As being a Finn myself and currently studying to become a teacher, I do have to point out a few facts. This is related to what Linda commented earlier:

    One cannot spend an eternity studying in a University. This used to be the case but due to the European Union and its demands, it was established a few years back that the studying time is restricted. For example, if you are doing your Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Education, that should basically take 5 years. Now that the time for studies is restricted, it is that 5 years plus two years. It is always the estimated time plus two years, hence for example those who study Medicine have a bit longer. Also, the support that is paid for students is restricted as well. It is paid for 55 months, if I remember correctly. So, basically, that is a factor in this, too.

    Secondly, I would like to point out that one can actually take courses that help to prepare for the University entrance exams. These courses are not offered by regular schools but rather by independent companies and they are not free. This is a bit of a problem for example in Law. Almost all students that get accepted to study Law have taken a preparatory course. Hence it is generally said that it is (almost) impossible to get in to study Law without the help of a course like that. Why is this a problem then? It does not execute the principles of free education and it might put families into different positions. The preparatory courses can cost several thousand euros and it is clear that the “rich” families are then having the upper hand.

    I will not go into any more details, even if I would like to.. anyhow, this is an interesting matter, and I very much like reading about what makes school systems (more or less) beneficial.

    • zaaraumar said


    • Hassan said

      Hello, I am from Pakistan. I want to know more specifically about Finland education system.syllabus ? Evaluation? teaching methodology and some other things.I wonder if I can adopt that system in my country. I need some Finn to help me with this all this. I wonder if you can rep me.Kindly share your Facebook, Whatsapp or any social media account if you can.

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  44. falk78 said

    Im a Finn and lives in finland, you can ask me about the schooling system, and yes it is a fact that its a superior system, and its no hoax or joke

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  47. […] it comes to curriculum development.” personally, I like the way Finland does their education.… numbers 4 and 5 are my favorite. […]

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  64. […] hear a lot about the Finland model, and it does have some merit, but it has a completely different societal make up and culture than […]

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  66. […] School reform principles from Finland… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  67. […] School reform principles from Finland… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  68. […] education system to that of Singapore, were also made (read more about their education system at…). There is an underlying message- education is becoming commercialised in Singapore, the effects […]

  69. […] What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success. « BERT MAES. Comments (0) […]

  70. Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article!
    It’s the little changes that make the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

  71. Kristina Karolina Bangun said

    Dear Bert, Linda, Cristina and all,

    I really apppriciate the things you all write here. They really contribute to my understanding of what should be done to improve the education system in my beloved country,Indonesia.

  72. shane said

    Great article, very interesting. I was wondering what is Finlands stance on the inclusion of pupils with learning difficulties and other special educational needs? Are they included in mainstream schools or specially designed settings? and what is their system of giving students ‘special needs statements’?

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  79. […] I’m sure many of you have seen images in the internet that spreads the pros of education in many countries around the world, or articles that explain the success of some systems above the others. This article, for example, and specially the last quote from the first page, resumes excellently, the success of the Finnish education (…alright, the second page resumes everything, the first one just had this nice quote ._.). And they don’t stop repeating this: winners don’t need to compete. Education is our salvation! […]

  80. no wonder.. Anyway, thank you very much for the posts..

    This answers almost all questions on Finland’s excellent performance that I first recognized after observing PISA’s results..

    The second point, according to me, work very much..

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  87. […] for the quality of its schools, instituted long-range educational policies nearly 50 years ago (Maes, 2012). Each Finnish school is autonomous in its curricula and instruction. Education in Finland focuses […]

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