Finnish education has repeatedly been declared the best in the world by many global studies and rankings, most recently by a study published by Pearson. As we approach the International Exhibition & Forum for public education (IEFE 2013) where Finland is the official guest country, many might wonder why Finnish education is so recognized worldwide. How can it be that a country in the far northernmost part of Europe is the education superpower?
Finnish fame in education has inspired researchers and educators to seek out the key factors behind Finnish success. Many countries that have recognized education as the key for future competitiveness and prosperity are interested in applying Finnish expertise to create the world’s best performing education and schools. As we know, quality in education is a sum of many factors facilitating and promoting the achievement of desired learning outcomes.
In Finland, the following six factors account for the success of the education system everyone is talking about:
1. Education for all
In Finland, each child has equal opportunities for education, regardless of the background of the students. Finnish basic education is completely free of charge, including instruction, materials, school and student welfare.
2. High-quality teachers
On all school levels in Finland, teachers are highly qualified and committed. A master’s degree is a requirement and teacher education includes intensive teaching practice periods. Teachers work independently and enjoy full autonomy in the classroom.
3. Focus on the student
Curriculum implementation and organization of schoolwork in Finland is based on the conception of learning that focuses on student activity and interaction with teachers, other students and the entire school community. Special emphasis is placed on student-centered working approaches and learning environments.
4. Effective practices for student guidance and counseling
A unique system of guidance and counseling is in place in Finland. Individual support for the learning and welfare of students is well accommodated on all levels of the Finnish education system. Guidance and counseling is considered an educational strength which is highly important, especially when young people graduate and enter into the work arena.
5. Encouraging assessment and evaluation
In Finland, student assessment and evaluation of education and learning outcomes are encouraging and supportive in their nature. The aim of evaluation is to produce information that supports both schools and students to further develop. National testing, school ranking lists and inspection systems do not exist.
6. Flexibility and trust
The Finnish education system is flexible and the administration is based on the principle of “centralized steering, local implementation”. Even though steering is conducted through legislation, the national core curriculum and overall government planning, schools and teachers enjoy large autonomy. As one education expert from the GCC region put it after observing education in Finland: “There is no magic, only trust.”
The writer is the ambassador of Finland to Saudi Arabia.