Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

Finland-World's Best Readers


New videos examining Finland’s educational system: Updated February 2015

1. The Finland Phenomenon: Inside The World’s Most Surprising School System: 15 minutes

Hosted by Tony Wagner, Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard University and author of The Global Achievement Gap

2. Finnish Lessons: What the World Can Learn from Educational Change in Finland: 1:27

What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, discussed Finland's approach to education at the Harvard Graduate School Askwith Forum on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Published on May 2, 2013

3. Dan Rather Reports - Finland Education: 8 minutes

This segment summarizes the heart of what Finnish education is doing differently. Published on Jul 19, 2012

4. US and Finnish Educational Reform Trajectories: a comparison: 15 minutes

An examination of the education reforms of the last six decades in Finland and the United States. Published on May 19, 2013

Education in Finland

Finland, once poorly ranked educationally with a pompous bureaucratic system that provided low-quality education and large inequalities, now boasts the best readers in the world. Below are various interesting and stimulating facts about their educational system – several, with major meaningful and philosophical modifications, might be considered for application anywhere.


The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in reading, math, and science includes approximately 40 industrialized countries

According to the 2000 through 2009 PISAs results, Finns are the best readers in the world

Spending is $5000.00 a year per student

100% literacy rate, 99.7% national graduation rate

Differences in family socioeconomic status among Finnish students had little impact on the country’s results, showing that an education system can provide equal opportunities for education while instilling good reading skills in all students

First grade starts at age 7 and ends at 15, a nine-year basic education system called Comprehensive school, compulsory education for 9 years

The idea is that before then they learn best when they’re playing & by the time they finally get to school, they are keen to start school.

At first, reading lags behind peers in other countries, but catch up almost immediately, and then students excel.

At 16, students choose to attend either a 3-year Academic/Upper Secondary School or a Vocational/Trade school, about 50% into each program

Day care after age one, most women work

Preschool optional for 6-year olds, but most attend

Class size average high 20s

After every 45-minute lesson, children have recess for 15 minutes, others allowed to practice their music, and they file into classrooms, sling electric guitars across their chests, or grab drumsticks and lam

No gifted program

Finland has a completely transparent alphabet code and most parents teach their children to read pre-school, as it’s easy to do

Children grow up watching TV with subtitles, they are reading while they watch TV

National curriculums with goals and subject areas, but teachers are free to teach the way they want

Same curriculum for all students, maybe why scores vary so little from school to school

Liberal approach to curriculum, teachers allowed to choose their own textbooks and to customize customized their lesson plans

In the past, Finland had prescribed curriculum guides running over 700 pages, now the national math curriculum is under 10 pages

No high stakes testing, only for college admission

Teachers and schools are not evaluated based on student scores on standardized tests

According to the World Economic Forum, Finland’s schools are first in the world in enrollment and quality

In Finland, teaching is a highly esteemed profession, highly competitive, and forty applicants for one job opening

All teachers must have Master’s degrees

College is free

Becoming a teacher is highly competitive, only 10% to 15% of college graduates are accepted into a 3-year teachers training program

Teachers must take a free 3-year graduate school preparation program with a stipend for living expenses-you don’t go into debt to become a teacher

Teachers spend nearly half of their time in high-level professional development, collaborative planning, and working with parents

Success is attributed in large part to their demographics, highest standard of living in the world, largely homogeneous population, and a strong national culture

U. S. has a great disparity in income and extremely diverse population

No standardized testing with little homework

Must students learn two languages, law requires Swedish

Hot and health school lunches are free

Little homework and Homework clubs

Few private schools, tuition is strictly prohibited, and they must admit all who apply. All students have the same entitlements and existing private schools are mostly faith-based or Steiner schools

During the first years in Comprehensive school, only verbal assessments are used with no formal grades. The start of numerical grades is decided locally.

Report cards twice/year, autumn and spring

Grades are 4 to 10. When a student receives a grade of 4 at the end of the spring term, they must show that they have improved in the subject using a separate exam at the end of summer

If a student receives multiple grades of 4, they must retake the year if decided by headmaster after interviewing parent and student

Numerical grades not given until high school and no class rank

No standardized testing

If learning problem is noted, diagnosis testing of student is used early and frequently, and if necessary, intensive intervention is provided

For all teachers, one afternoon per week is provided for professional development

Groups of teachers visit each other’s classes to observe their colleagues at work

School funding is high for middle school years when children are in danger of dropping out

Students are not sorted into different groups or schools but into different types of learners who learn together

Instruction carter to the needs of the different types of learners in terms of their skills and interests

High achieving students serve as role models for their less advance classmates

Preschool is relatively new-last 10 years: it is non-academic and no clear academic targets are set

In preschool, socialization into school culture and learning to work together with other children is the central rule

The preschool program emphasized “self-reflection” and socializing, not academics

Finland is a homogenous nation, more homogenous than the U. S.

U. S. has most diverse population in the world

All schools receive the same per-pupil funding; U. S. model is more complex

Finland invest in teacher education, not on external evaluations & standardized testing as most industrialized nations have done

Small collection of broadly defined standards, and local implementation is allowed

Teachers are unionized

The number of low readers is smaller than elsewhere in the world

Differences in family socioeconomic status among Finnish students had little impact on country’s results

Finnish education system provides equal opportunities for education while instilling good reading skills in all of its students

Students are not divided into ability groups in any subject area

No school inspection teams or system that controls what schools teach

432 local municipalities organize the schools

Finland has a culture of learning; it is a reading nation

85% of Finnish families subscribe to a daily newspaper-only Norwegians and Japanese subscribe at a higher rate

Typical Finnish family starts the day at the breakfast table by reading the morning paper & commenting on the day’s news

The number of books published is high given the size of the population

Each Finn borrows 21 library books per year

Approximately half of Finnish TV broadcasts are in a foreign language, mostly in English, but Swedish, German. and French programs are popular

TV has Finnish subtitles rather than dubbing, so children need to read even when watching TV

Children learn to read quickly, their favorite TV shows are much more motivating than any assigned reading in class

Finland has been the poster child for school improvement since it rapidly climbed to the top of the international ranking after it emerges from the Soviet Union’s shadow

Finland now ranks first among all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)-roughly the so-called developed nations

Finland’s philosophy with education is that everyone has something to contribute & those who struggle in certain subjects should not be left behind

Students are kept in the same classes, regardless of their ability in that particular subject

Belief that no child is left behind

Much support for students with learning differences

Finland is now piloting a program on how to support those pupils who are gifted in certain areas

Finland pupils spend the fewest number of hours in school than ay other country in the industrialized world

Teachers have regular contact with parents

Pupils’ study in a relaxed & informal atmosphere

Low levels of immigration

Education system success is built on the idea of less can be more

In U.S. schools, it is very important to read on schedule, the timetable dictated by the school district. If you fall behind, student will be unable to keep up with the rest of the curriculum

Students are not labeled a “failure” or as someone who should repeat a grade or a person with some sort of mental handicap

Learning to read is the key to all of the rest of learning

First, you “learn to read” and then you “read to learn”

In the U.S., without knowing how to read, a student can’t learn much of the rest of the curriculum because so much of it is presented through the written word

Shorter school day and school year than nearly every other nation in the industrialized world

School starts at 8 am and ends between noon & 2 o’clock

Free hot lunch is provided

When students are let out, they are allowed to go and pay or attend after school programs such as dance, music, and art

Parents pick up the children at 4 pm

Population is made up of Finns, Swedish Finns (speak another language), and Laplanders – Samis, only 15,000 mostly in the far north of Finland

Not a lot of minorities

Economic level is high; there is little or no poverty

The education system is modeled on the theories of the French philosopher Celestin Freinet, “learn by doing,” he was a realist

Preschools taught by teachers with BA degrees and are part of the Finnish government

Teachers in the primary and secondary schools have Master’s degrees

Only 10% to 15% are accepted who apply to the University

They have a shorter day, shorter school year, and do a better job

In the U. S. today, all of the woes of the system is the fault of the classroom teacher

Get rid of all of the poor teachers & our education system will improve

Anyone can run a school; let business do it

U. S. belief is that “if you can’t do, teach.”

In my day, we only needed a blackboard, a book, and a wrap of the ruler over one’s hands when we didn’t pay attention

Finland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe; a majority of it is covered with forest and lakes. It boosts great natural beauty, world-renowned saunas, and is home to the phone giant Nokia



“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.