The Secrets of Successful Learning: Lessons from Finland


Miami University | Performance Pyramid

By: Laura Gracia-Rodriguez & Brooke Luther 


The Secrets of Successful Learning: Lessons from Finland




 It is depicted in the Constitution that all kids have the right to equal education. “Public education is the pathway to opportunity in America. So we need to invest and strengthen our public universities today, and for generations to come”- Michelle Obama. Schools are closing because of budget cuts and the lack of caring and loving teaching professionals. The impact of these events is proving to be catastrophic. The United States needs to undergo an Extreme Makeover School Edition. But how can educators produce such a drastic change? The answer is, drastic changes cannot happen overnight. The first step that can propel our pupils to success is taking inspiration from a Scandinavian education superpower like Finland.  




Budget Cuts:









Many schools are cutting budgets due to lack of revenue at federal levels that the state and local revenues cannot make up the difference. They have to create budget cuts because the funds just are not there. The federal government makes cuts in their education budget as well. 





Some areas of Budget Cuts: 

Arts programmes

Supplies for classroom

Budget cuts in individual pupil expenditures within schools

School transportation


Teacher support 


Grants and loans




Looking at the history of our presidential education budgets.



This is a table that shows the budgets of school funding (broken down into topics) by presidents starting from 1981 all the way to 2019.


This shows some of our current president’s most substantial budget cuts to education. 


Finland School System Overview





The Finnish school systems have very similar standards to those in the United States. All pupils have equal access to high-quality education. In Finland, education is free at all levels from pre-primary to higher education. Pupils who are in Preprimary and Basic Education textbooks, daily meal and transportation for pupils living further away from the school are free for the parents. Upper Secondary level pupils and those who are in higher education are responsible for the purchase of their own books. At Upper secondary level the pupils have the right to a free meal and in higher education meals are subsidised by the state. Adult education is the only form of education that may require payment.  






The Ministry of education manage all public education in Finland. Some responsibilities include: developing a national core curriculum, and the accreditation of teacher programmes. Underneath the national level is the Regional State Agencies, and Centres for Economic Development. These agencies supervise basic education for grades 1-9 (over 2,000 schools).  For upper-level schools, such as Upper Secondary, the Ministry of Education and Culture provide licences to local authorities, municipal authorities, and registered associations to oversee schools. 





Private schools in Finland are granted the same government standards as public schools. All schools are managed by teachers and staff. Principals are responsible for managing the school staff, ensuring the well-being and success of the pupils, and managing the school budget, although they do this generally in collaboration with the teachers. 




State Funding



In Finland school is divided between federal and municipal governments. The federal government assumes 60% of the finances, and the municipal government is responsible for 40%.  The amount of money that is allotted to the individual schools depends on the number of that attend those schools.  The Ministry of Education also allocates funds for pupils who have lived in  Finland less than four years. This ministry also gives to low- income families, single parent homes, and parent families with unemployed or uneducated parents.



School year & Organization of the Day 



The school year contains 190 days that begin between mid-August and the beginning of June. Schools are open five days a week. The minimum number of lessons per week varies from nineteen to thirty, depending on the level and number of electives. Daily and weekly schedules are determined within individual schools. There is local autonomy concerning extra holidays. 



The school day typically begins between eight and nine o'clock in the morning and finishes between one or two in the afternoon. For a fifth-grade classroom, each lesson can span between forty-five minutes. 




Finland school follow a flexible schedule. This means that instead of following a daily schedule, they follow a weekly schedule. It is very unlikely pupils will go to the same class. Below is an example of a first grader’s school schedule: 

To make things easier, refer to the written schedule (Right)


                       Lesson 1: 45 min (8:30–9:15)                       


           Recess/Break #1: 15 min (9:15–9:30) 

                    Lesson 2: 45 min (9:30–10:15)

  •               Recess/Break #2: 15 min (10:15–10:30)
  •                Lesson 3: 45 min (10:30–11:15)


Lunch and Recess/Break #3: ~30 min. (11:15–11:45)


  • *Lesson 4: 45 min (11:45–12:30)pupils who arrived earlier for lesson 1 leave after this lesson

*End of day for some /younger pupils: 12:30 OR Recess/ Break #4: 15 min (12:30–12:45)

  • *Lesson 5: 45 min (12:45–1:30)pupils who arrived later for lesson 2 leave after this lesson
  • Lunch and Recess/Break #5: 15 min. (1:30–1:45)
  • Lesson 6: 45 min (1:45–2:30)





State Mandated Tests:



There are no national tests for pupils in basic education in Finland. A replacement of standardized tests are assessments created by the classroom teachers. These assessments are in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives written into the curriculum. Also, the final certificate given at the end of year 9, is given by teachers.

National tests first appear when pupils begin general upper secondary education, which comprises four compulsory tests: mother tongue and, according to each candidate’s choice, three of the following: the second national language, a foreign language, mathematics or one subject in general studies, such as humanities and natural sciences. 


Equal Education


 In Finland, educational guidance is an essential aspect. Special Education is very mainstream in Finland. If pupils are unable to cope with mainstream education in spite of intensified support they must be given special support. The main purpose of this is to provide pupils with broadly based and systematic help so that they can complete compulsory education and be eligible for upper secondary education. 






Building Schools for the Future


Many Finnish schools accept that digital technology is the most quintessential tool for thinking and learning. It extends our minds. We cannot discuss project-based learning without technology. Technology is the means for making learning processes visible for reflection and evaluation, documenting learning, processing information and exploring for information. It should be as natural a part of learning and teaching as paper and pen.


In their current school culture, the digital world is integrated with learning processes in pedagogically meaningful ways, such as enriching the learning processes and facilitating new pedagogical solutions. Learning happens by the processing of information and by problem-solving. Technology should be integrated systematically and used as an everyday activity in schools.


Electronic learning materials replace conventionally traditional classrooms give way to multi-modal working environments, in which pupils no longer sit in rows. Learning environments extend from the school building to other organizations in the surrounding community. Education is no longer organized into fixed classes but can happen in workshops, in projects and on-the-job in vocational education.


Parental Engagement



Making family engagement a policy priority, an obligation.



The Finnish education system parental engagement is a priority. According to the Day Care Act, “the objectives of daycare are to support parents in raising their children and to promote children’s personal and balanced development together with their parents.” The Basic Education Act, Section 3.1, mentions that “those providing education (including pre-primary education) shall co-operate with children’s parents”. 


Lessons from Finland

The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

Subsidized Preschool Education:

Finnish children begin their formal education at age seven. It does not matter what school pupils attend, it is expected that pupils will be taught the same curriculum. Schools will derive similar lesson plans during primary school all the way to high school.

Removal of Standardized Tests:

When Standardized Tests are eliminated competition is eliminated. This means that those teachers are allowed to draft their own tests, not issue standardized ones to reflect the progress of their pupils. The only “standardized examination” pupils undergo happens at the end of high school when they take an exam called National Matriculation Examination





The logic behind the removal of Standardized Tests is the ability for teachers to evaluate pupils on their own terms. Teachers are the ones grading the test, not a machine. 


Teachers are the ones who understand where a pupil is coming from; this gives them the ability to use complex thinking skills to grade answers accurately. Being able to fill in the right bubbles or not isn’t a good judge of where a pupil is currently at in their learning journey.



Smaller Class Sizes:



Finland’s teachers harbour a closer rapport among their pupils due to the country’s smaller school sizes. Because of this, teachers know the pupils who go to their school and are invested in not only in their progression in their education but also in life. Teachers may seek out pupils who are falling behind and giving them extra help.




 Teachers who implement some, or even all of these strategies will not experience immediate success.  But nevertheless, we should look to Finland as a role model for their  education systems. It is important to understand that although education is a vital aspect of society, it is also important to build emotional strength and lead pupils through life lessons that are not taught through textbooks and rapid memorization.



Find out more Information:




On School Scheduling (Finland):




On The Government of Finland:




How Schools in The United States are Funded:



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