Education in Finland: An International Perspective


By: Laura Conard & Katrina James

Miami University Fall 2016


A typical school day in Finland:


The school day begins at 8am with students coming into the school and the typical buzz of students and teachers talking to greet one another. Teachers begin their lessons and teach about 45 minutes of content and practice activities, that is all designed by the teachers.  Afterwards, there is a 15 minute recess  where students play outside and take a break from their studies. Then another 45 minute lesson in a new topic or content area is given, followed by a 15 minute recess. Schools typical teach math courses in the morning, followed by reading and writing, with language courses in Finnish, Swedish and English in the afternoon. The curriculum consists of  music, gym, shop class, and home economics in each grade starting around 3rd grade, having them once or twice a week within a student’s schedule. In high school,  they get to choose the electives they want to focus more on and take more hours of that elective over the others. The school day continues with this pattern of 45 minutes of instruction followed by 15 minutes of recess. Many schools strictly enforce going outside and releasing energy during recess to recharge and give the students unstructured time to do what they want. Lunch is usually around 11:30am where students get 45 minutes to eat. The day ends around 1pm where student then go home to participate in their after-school hobbies like dance, music, sport teams, and art. Teacher’s afternoons consist of their own research and development of pedagogy and curriculum.



Looking into Finland’s education system reveals many differences when compared to the United States. Since Finland’s education is praised among the world while the United States are criticized, we decided to investigate the causes.




“Academics isn’t all kids need. Kids need so much more. School should be where we teach the meaning of life; where kids learn they are needed; where they can learn community skills. We like to think that school is also important for developing a good self-image, a strong sensitivity to other people’s feelings … and understanding it matters to take care of others. We definitely want to incorporate all those things in education.” -Krista Kiuru, Finland’s minister of education and science

“By 12th grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world. In fact, if the more than 16,000 Colorado students who dropped out of high school last year had only finished, the economy in this state would have seen an additional $4.1 billion in wages over these students’ lifetimes.” -President Barack Obama



Even within these two quotes, you can see the driving force between each country’s education system. Finland’s system has proven to value the whole child while believing that every student is capable. America’s education system focuses on how the economy will be affected, which leans greatly towards competition. For that main reason, their are significant differences in the education systems.



Finland’s education vs America’s education

Teachers need a Master’s degree

Teachers need a Bachelor’s degree or less depending on the age

Getting a job is much more competitive

Teaching is an overpopulated profession

Have more autonomy in planning lessons

Often given scripted curriculums or district mandated curriculums

No Inspection process once you are a teacher

Teachers have to pass OTES evaluations and complete a RESA program after they start teaching

No homework

Teachers can assign as much homework as they want

More recess time

Recess has been reduced significantly over past years

Parents are supportive

Parents are critical of teachers

Each classroom has a PTA

The school has a PTA


















Difficulties in emulating Finland’s schooling system:

Values: Finland has a nation as a value of equity and cooperation (Morgan, 2014). The United States holds a view of individualism and the idea that if you want to be successful you have to look at for number one. Another big component of Finland's values is that is is shared by all citizens. A principal at a local school in Finland said ““We are lucky that our (political) parties are thinking very much the same way about education” (Richardson, 2013). This cohesiveness of views helps the country all view education in the same way, and the politicians let the educators make the decisions for education. “In the early 1990s, the country [Finland] eliminated national approval of textbooks and annual school inspections. They think national curriculum - just 128 pages - offers guidance but relies on teachers to flesh it out” (Richardson, 2013). This trust among parents, politicians and all citizens with teachers helps teachers to be able to practice their autonomy of what they learned and to focus on teaching the students what is important instead of being afraid of getting fired. A teacher in the U.S. has the stresses of their administration, parents, and the state that if they stray from the curriculum or receives low test scores from their students this results in low evaluation scores and possible termination. This is no formal teacher evaluation method in Finland, but one principal says

“Actually, we have 25 to 30 inspectors in schools every day. If students are not happy, they go home and tell their mothers, and the mothers call the principal. That’s a fine inspection system. Even formal induction programs for novice teachers are absent. When you get your first job, nobody ever enters your classroom to see how you’re doing. There is no tutor, no mentor. You just start working (Richardson, 2013).”

This trust and cooperation among teachers, administration, and parents in Finland is a huge asset and one reason why their schooling is more successful than America’s system today.

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Size: The United States is 29 times bigger than Finland. There is approximately 5 million people living in Finland, where 320 million people live in the U.S. (My Life Elsewhere, 2016). It is much easier to regulate the licensure and schooling system in Finland because there are less schools. With fewer schools it is easier to have all schools attain and achieve the same standards by comparing to one another. In the U.S. it is impossible to try to set a national standard because the diversity among each state (Morgan, 2014).

Next Steps? What can we do?


First and foremost, if the U.S. wants to begin to implement Finland’s educational views and improve the United States education system, we must all be on board as a nation to change. “Finland’s system is a holistic and systematic approach, only implementing a few aspects would create chaos” (Morgan, 2014). Finland in the 1990s re-evaluated their education system and as a country made the current system they practice today. Below are some changes that Finland as made with some tips of what we could do within our own schools and classrooms.





  • Early Childhood Education/Intervention: Finland values early childhood education before formal schooling through preschools and daycare services and as a result they are top notch. “... Finland offers early childhood care, health services, and measures that identify learning problems prior to the start of schooling” (Morgan, 2014). They want to address the needs of students at a young age in order to pave the path for a successful schooling career that they can be successful in. The U.S. is starting to put a lot of emphasis on preschool education through programs like Head Start and IFSP plans for students who need services before they enter formal schooling and help the family improve their student’s learning abilities. If we made preschool teaching more of a prestigious, well-paid job, where you had to have an early childhood education degree to teach, the preschool systems would begin to improve. A tip would be to not be afraid to go into Preschool teaching because it really is such an important time in a child’s development and we need more qualified people teaching in these schools.

  • Special Education: The special education system in Finland is not as stigmatized as it is in the U.S. Many students go to the special education teacher for help when they are behind in a subject, and the special education teacher works with them intensively during that subject’s time block until they are ready to go back into their regular classroom. Strong early intervention programs are valued in Finland and help them attain this idea that all students can achieve the same standards, they just might need a different path of how to get there (Morgan, 2014). That is something that U.S. teachers can easily begin to implement. Set high and realistic expectations for all your students, offer them many scaffolding supports to achieve these expectations, and always support your student’s needs depending on how they are performing. If a teacher can help students better succeed in the classroom through early and appropriate intervention, then a student’s attitude and achievement will improve. 7455860-finland-school-pic.jpg

  • Teacher Autonomy: Teachers need the freedom to apply standards in different ways, and the autonomy to teach with innovative teaching strategies. Finland’s teacher preparation program is a 5 year master degree where applicants have to study their field and child development heavily in order to develop their own pedagogy and teaching practices (Morgan, 2014). Teachers also have time during the day to reflect and continue to research other theories and ideas to further improve their teaching (Morgan, 2014). Though we cannot change the teacher accreditation program, we can as teachers learn to stretch our curriculum to expose null and hidden curriculums in order to help all students be successful. Learn to walk that fine line of manipulating the standards to backup the activities you do and collaborate with other teachers with new and innovative ways of teaching. That is another huge asset of Finland’s teachers is they work together and collaborate on lessons in order to come up with the best methods and material possible (Morgan, 2014).

  • Equity for students and families: In Finland, teacher’s strive to give every student an equal opportunity to succeed with their many intervention strategies and pedagogical practices. One major flaw in the U.S.’s educational system is tracking in school. We track students into academic proficiency and therefore create hierarchies in our schools. In your own classroom, strive to make heterogeneous groups of students to expose all students to different opinions and cultures, and to help them learn to work with all types of people. Every student can contribute something to a group, and they gain lots of information and strategies from their peers when they work in heterogenous groups that show a wide range of strengths. This idea of equal opportunity for students also needs to apply to families, in that you as the teacher do not hold biases towards a family type, culture, etc. Some families work long hours and can’t be as involved in their children’s life, but this should not stop them from being a part of their child’s education. Teachers can learn ways to include families into the curriculum in ways like letting them tell their heritage stories to their class, offering to bring in items and teachers visiting the homes to update the parents on their child’s progress. Finnish-hands-flag.jpg

Even though, changing the entire education system in the U.S. would take a united effort of the whole nation, the research and tips that are provided above can help any teacher begin to create an environment that is open, rich, and challenging, which closely aligns with Finland’s successful method of schooling. This research is to help educate those about why Finland’s education system is so successful, and what steps we can take in order to improve the U.S.’s schooling process.


Work Cited:

Morgan, H. (2014). Review of research: The Education system in finland: A Success story other countries can emulate. Childhood Education. Vol 90:6, 453-457. Retrieved from


My Life Elsewhere (2016). Retrieved from (


Richardson, J. (2013). The Finnish Way. Global Voices: Finland, Vol. 94, 76-77. Retrieved from


Other Sources:


Sahlberg, P. (2013). Teachers as Leaders in Finland. Educational Leadership. Retrieved from



Teikari, K. (n.d.) Perspective from Finland: Educational Voices. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin: International Journal for Professional Educators.