What makes Finland Top of the Class?

Finland has, once again, been voted Number 1 as the Happiest Country in the World, for the fourth time in a row.

From the fresh Finnish outdoor lifestyle and regular connection with nature and a dedication to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens, the outstanding results reflect Finland’s excellent GDP, life expectancy, social support and low crime rate.

But for a nation of just 5.518 million citizens, it has also achieved the accolade of having the best education system in the world, boasting an Upper Secondary School graduation rate of 87% compared with less than 50% in other countries.

So, to what do the Finns attribute their impressive success rate?

No single society can claim perfection.  The usual human problems exist everywhere in the world, but it is the degree of success which can be measured compared with the systems of other societies. The Ministry of Education in Finland has created a unit dedicated to providing advice to anyone wishing to learn more about their methods on how to achieve excellence, because their system has proven to work for them. However, it is easy to see that as a small country with low poverty and crime rates, the integrated systems and flexible policies of Finland may be more manageable to implement among their own close-knit communities than it would be to establish throughout the more competitive and over-crowded cities in the UK.

Every four years the Finnish government reviews their system and adapts it to meet the changing needs and economy of the country.  For example, developmental plans take into consideration the urgency for more complex skills required in the workplace and will adapt the curriculum accordingly.  Quality of teachers is regarded as a highly important factor, as is the trust that the Finns demonstrate in their education system.  In fact, Trust is at the heart of the Finnish way of life.  Trust in the government, the schools, parents, children and their continually evolving system.

Students are taught ‘how to learn’ rather than ‘what to learn’ and such a progressive attitude seems to pay dividends.

Teaching is a valued profession with 59% of graduates making it their first choice of career, and overall, a very positive relationship between students and teachers exists throughout the sector.   This is largely owing to a strong sense of community fostered by the culture of children attending their local schools. Unlike the UK, in Finland there is no difference between private or state schools and there is no official curriculum before the age of 7.  The emphasis is on learning through play, growth and development, social and problem-solving skills tailored to the individual child’s ability. It is not compulsory for children to attend pre-school, so there is no pressure applied to either parents or child.

From the age of 7 years, it is normal for children to walk or cycle to their local school, giving them a sense of independence, self-responsibility, and generating a vital social bond with others in their same hometown.

Between the ages of 13 to 16 there are no formal or national exams.  Cooperation with local organisations engender relationships between students and industry, where children are often fully engaged with the process of designing and developing new systems of learning.  The general focus is on developing the talents of each student and less on form-filling, planning for tests and league tables.

Compulsory education ends at 16 years, but most Finnish students choose to enter High School for the following 3 years.

There is a Finnish proverb which says, ‘What you learn without Joy, you forget without grief.’  This little observation perhaps goes some way to explaining why Finland is Number 1 in the Education and Happiness League:

Learning should foster curiosity and joy.  This is the key to embedding knowledge in a child’s mind; where learning becomes important enough to the student to grow roots and blossom, rather than being quickly forgotten through rigid enforcement and lack of interest.


Onnittelut Suomi!

For many years I have coined the phrase “Happy Successful Students” which is clearly the philosophy embedded within the Finnish education system.

Peter Birkett