ThemesMath & Science - Jan 30, 2012

What makes Finnish education stand out?

Finnish pupils do well in PISA studies, and the Finnish education system has a good reputation. In addition to quality teacher training, the reason may be the democratic atmosphere in Finnish classrooms.

Photo: Ms L / Flickr.com (Creative Commons).

As far back as in the 19th century, Uuno Cygnaeus, ‘the father of primary education’ in Finland said that the best kind of class was one, where the pupils spoke more than the teacher.

The atmosphere at Finnish schools has been described democratic and cosy. The child has the role of an active learner and operator. Children also learn from each other, they are allowed to talk, to move and to try out things. This is all based on something known as ‘the new concept of learning’: the more the learning comes from learners themselves, the better.

“The idea of child-centred education is part of academic teacher training. We are constantly developing learning forms and methods in which the child is taken into account even more,” says Professor Kirsi Tirri from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Behavioural Sciences.

“Finnish teacher training and education can be seen as a new form of design, which can be applied all over the world”, Tirri says. However, many Asian countries, with authoritarian education systems, have also done well in PISA, and in these countries, the activeness of Finns is found somewhat puzzling. Thus, the Finnish way in education may be difficult to apply in very hierarchical societies.

Another strength of the Finnish education system that might be more easily transferred to another countries is integration. A Finnish classroom has pupils from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and of varying levels of performance. The teacher’s job is to provide instruction adjusted to the needs of each pupil in the classroom. More advanced students are given different exercises and tasks than those who are less advanced, and multiculturalism is a benefit to all.

On a global scale, the high standard of teacher training is also exceptional in Finland. The Finnish universities that educate future teachers have their own teacher training schools, which are ordinary schools for the pupils, but function as ‘laboratories’ for teachers, where they can put what they have learnt into practice.

Also, only the very best applicants are selected for teacher education programmes. In 2011, only 6.7 per cent of the applicants were accepted. In other words, it is more difficult to get into teacher education than into medical or law school.

This article is based on What makes Finnish teachers special? (by Siina Vasama, traslation: AAC Global) published in Helsinki University News.

Elisa Lautala works as web editor for University of Helsinki's Faculty of Science. Elisa likes all kinds of cultural events, good books, warm weather, and aqua-jogging.