Finland’s Extraordinary Education System

(Photo courtesy of America is number "0" in education.
(Photo courtesy of America is number “0” in education.

By: Luke Quevedo

According to The Atlantic, Finland, home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant, is also number one in education. For the past several years, Finland’s students have had the highest science and reading test scores in the developed world, and are neck-in-neck with South Korea and Singapore when it comes to math scores.  However, Finland doesn’t cram their students and give them 8+ hour classes like South Korea and Singapore.

(Photo courtesy of Countries graded on their demographics
(Photo courtesy of Countries graded on their demographics

26 Facts about Finland’s Education System:

  1. Children don’t start school until they’re 7 years old (New York Times).
  2. Students rarely take tests/exams until they’re in their teens (New York Times).
  3. Students aren’t measured for their first 6 years of education (New York Times).
  4. There is only one mandatory standardized test and they take it when they’re 16 (Smithsonian).
  5. All children are taught in the same class room no matter what (Smithsonian).
  6. Finland spends 30% more on education than the US (Smithsonian).
  7. Students receive extra help during the first 9 years of school if they need it (Smithsonian).
  8. 66% of students go to college (Smithsonian).
  9. Finland has the smallest difference between strongest and weakest students in the world (Smithsonian).
  10. Science classes are held off until students are 16 so they can perform practical experiments daily (The New Republic).
  11. 93% of students graduate from high school (Smithsonian).
  12. 43% of students go to vocational school (Smithsonian).
  13. Students get 75 minutes of lunch/recess compared to the US’s average of 27 minutes (The New Republic).
  14. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours a week to do professional development, because even teachers aren’t done learning (New York Times).
  15. Finland has the same number of teachers as New York City, but less students (New York Times).
  16. Finland’s school system is 100% state funded (Smithsonian).
  17. All teachers are required to have a Master’s degree (New York Times).
  18. Finland’s curriculum is only a flexible guideline (Smithsonian).
  19. Only 10% of the top graduates can be teachers (Smithsonian).
  20.  The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher in 2008 was $29,000 (Smithsonian).
  21. Teachers with 15+ years of experience make 102% more than other college graduates (New York Times).
  22. Teachers have no merit pay (The New Republic).
  23. Teachers have the same status as doctors and lawyers (Smithsonian).
  24. In 2001 during the international standardized measurement, Finnish students were number one in reading, science and math in the world (OECD/PISA).
  25. Finnish students on average learn up to 3 to 4 languages (BBC News).
  26. Even though there’s a big difference between Finland and the US, it beats all other countries with similar demographics. (Smithsonian).

According to BBC World News, success in Finland is not measured by winners and losers, learning is more like a team game, and the best and worst pupils are taught together. It’s controversial and sometimes causes problems, but it still works.

Finland’s students also do the least amount of class hours per week in the developed world, and they still get the best results.

In the US and most other countries, education is built around the idea of competition, some schools will succeed and other won’t, but in Finland any school is the same as any other school, that means there’s no such thing as a failing Finnish school.

Finland’s Education Minister, Henna Virkkunen is proud of her country’s record but her next goal is to target the brightest pupils. She says, ”The Finnish system supports very much those pupils who have learning difficulties but we have to pay more attention also to those pupils who are very talented. Now we have started a pilot project about how to support those pupils who are very gifted in certain areas.”


The educational system’s success in Finland seems to be part cultural. Pupils study in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

The system’s success is built on the idea of less can be more. There is an emphasis on relaxed schools, free from political prescriptions. This combination, they believe, means that no child is left behind.

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