A Quiet Surprise: The Finnish Education System

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I recently attended an education conference in Finland where I had the opportunity to observe five different schools, interact with students, and talk to teachers and principals. Finland has been the envy to other education systems, who fawn over the success of both their students success as well as student happiness. My first day in Finland, I was expecting to witness drastic differences in teaching, learning and the overall setup of a school. However, much to my surprise, I found Finland’s schools to look quite similar to Canadian schools. Walking in and out of classrooms, the lessons looked the same from a distance, but I noticed a lack of defiance on the student behalf. I noticed that with teachers taking their time within their lessons, students did not rush from one subject to another. They quietly took their time and seemed to thoroughly enjoy each and every one of their lessons.

Finland took me by surprise entirely. I was expecting to have to dig deep and drill teachers with specific questions regarding standardized testing, performance results, report cards, and assessment strategies. I wanted to memorize their curriculum and understand what each lesson meant, but rather than questioning anyone, I found it the most beneficial to quietly observe the lessons being taught, watching the teacher’s interactions with students and vice versa. What I found to be vastly different from our Canadian education system was a major cultural difference, which was breathtaking to observe in the Finnish education system. To put my observations simply, I found that Finnish people as a whole trust their teachers, and with trust comes high expectations. Teachers in Finland have willingly risen to the challenge because…

  • Teachers are empowered and highly motivated.
  • Teachers make their own curriculum and work collaboratively with each other.
  • Teacher’s are given options and choice over rigid structure.
  • Teacher’s are encouraged to teach in whatever manner they excel in. For example, if a math teacher also enjoyed music, the teacher would be encouraged to make songs about math to help their students learn.

What happens when teachers are trusted and valued? From top to bottom, it effects the whole education system, and the students are equally as valued. Teachers are appreciated and take pride in their work, which is the overall wellbeing of each and every one of their students. Teachers are offered the time to get to know their students, which leads to…

  • Students opinions are valued, and have a direct impact within their environment. ~ Students are also offered choice and options over rigid structure and enjoy their autonomy.
  • Students are involved in decision making and have a voice
  • Students are encouraged and are intrinsically motivated

Watching a specific lesson in a grade four class, a group of five boys asked to work in the hallway. In this particular hallway, there is table hockey set up. Before I could even consciously predict what would happen, I just assumed they would become distracted from their work and begin to play table hockey. Much to my surprise yet again, the students were too involved in their project to be distracted. I made my way over to the students and very blatantly asked why they wouldn’t want to play in the hallway. They informed me that this particular project was their idea, and they were excited to execute their ideas collaboratively.

Finnish teachers are valued and empowered, leading naturally to the students feeling equally as valued and empowered. It is such a simple and honest idea, that makes a large difference to a child.

Finland, in the quietest voice, you have surprised me.

Article by Sara Machnik

Sara has been working with children for over 15 years holding a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) in Child and Youth studies and is an Ontario Certified Teacher, she is passionate about education and excited to be a part of its evolution.