Virtues and Social Health

Фотография: Весела Банова

Can contemporary children go to school with joy?

Can they read with interest?

Can they love and take interest in nature?

Can they grow up and be educated without being evaluated and tested in front of the class?

Can they learn a few languages without constantly writing homework?

Can parents and teachers believe in children and genuinely trust each other?

If you’d like to learn some possible answers, take some time to inquire into the Finnish education system.

After the end of World War II, in the beginning of the 50ies of the 20th century, Finland was a poor country of fishermen, economically backward relative to other European countries. It is not a country rich in natural resources. The only exception is wood material. So, the Finnish decided to invest in their human resources.

The reform of the Finnish education system is the work and effort of all Finns. It began 45 years ago as the central part of the plan for the economic rebuilding of the country. Apparently, Finns shared a common value: investing in their children’s education. The first categorical result testifying to the success of the educational reform comes in 2000, when the standardized PISA test for 15-year-olds in over 40 countries identifies Finnish children as the best readers in the world. In the following years, Finnish children begin to excel in math and the physical sciences. By 2007, Finland ranks first among 57 countries in science education, and in 2009 its literacy rate is second only to Shanghai. In math, Finnish children rank in 6th place among half a million children all over the world.

From the point of view of education as we know it from our childhood and that of our parents, there are a few curious facts, which constitute substantive characteristics of contemporary Finnish education:

  • There are no public and private schools in Finland, and no difference in the material base and the quality of education among schools. The aim is to make all schools equally good.
  • The Finnish educational system does not have inspectors because there is no formal assessment of children, and respectively, no assessment of teachers. Comparisons among children are avoided.
  • Children move freely during lessons. Finnish teachers have noticed that children learn from one another, and hear and receive information much better when they do not have to stay at their desk.
  • Children and young people receive very little, if any homework. It is a conscious value in Finland to give young people free time to engage in what they love and to socialize with each other.
  • There is no such thing as testing a child in front of other students in class, and students do not have to reproduce the material.
  • Children and young people in Finland do not hate school, and do not complain of boredom; nor do they suffer from anxiety and stress before each next exam. They do not experience embarrassment in front of the class, and do not have to exert their will to sit quietly at their desks and make no noise.

An interesting question is what are the guiding principles of the Finnish educational system? Here is a summary of its 7 principles.

  1. Equality: there are no elite and mediocre schools – all have the same equipment and are proportionately financed. Each subject is studied equally in depth and no subject is prioritized. Teachers have freedom to teach the material as they see fit. They cannot ask students about their parents’ occupations and social status. Students are not divided into classes depending on their capabilities or career preferences. Teachers and students have equal rights: this is the principle of “respecting the student” – i.e. as early as first grade, students learn their rights, including the right to complain to a social worker. This encourages Finnish parents to see the child as a separate person who cannot be insulted or disrespected. Teachers are extremely well-paid and their profession is highly respected; however, they only sign one-year contracts, which then can be renewed.
  2. Free education: Not only is Finnish education 100% free, but it also provides free breakfasts and lunches, excursions, museum visits, extracurricular activities, transportation (if the school is further than 2 km from home), free textbooks and stationary, laptops and tablets. Additional collection of funds from parents is forbidden.
  3. Individualized approach: teachers prepare an individual educational plan for each child. That includes textbook content used, exercises, the number of assignments and time allotted to each, and overall material taught. There are two additional options:
  • Assisting education for more slowly advancing students. Since there are no private lessons in Finland, teachers voluntarily set aside additional time during or after class for students who need it.
  • Corrective education, associated with persisting problems in a student’s learning process. That is carried out in small groups or individually.
  1. Practicality: students will either be prepared for tests or for life. Finns choose the second. There are no tests in Finnish schools, and teachers can only apply tests if they see fit. There is only one mandatory standard test after high school; but teachers do not report on results and children do not prepare for the test. The schools teach only the knowledge that life may require; everything in excess of that is avoided. Finnish children know from a young age what is a contract, a portfolio, a bank card, etc. They know how to estimate income tax or tax on inheritance.
  2. Trust: that includes trust in the teachers and in children. No teacher supervision, no inspectors. There is a national curriculum, but it includes only general directions, and each teacher chooses a suitable method. In class, students choose what they would like to do. For example, if the lesson includes an educational film, but the individual student is not interested in it, they can read a book instead. It is believed that students can judge what is most helpful to them.
  3. Study is voluntary: students study if they want to. Teachers strive to attract the attention of the students but if a child has no interest or capacity to study, it is directed toward a useful practical field without having to experience the stress of low grades. Finns believe that one of the tasks of high school is to establish if a young person should continue their education in college or if they would benefit more from a professional school. Both choices are equally valued. The Finnish educational approach is gentle and delicate but it does not leave opportunities to avoid work, because it is well supervised. Every missed lesson is made up for. And something quite interesting: if the student is not doing the teacher’s assignments, no one will threaten him or call the parents. The student will simply not pass to the next grade. To repeat a grade in Finland is not a shame, especially after 9th
  4. Independence: Finns believe that school has to teach children the most important skill – independent and successful life. Hence, the school teaches young people to think and to acquire knowledge independently. The teacher does not download information on topics – students can find all that in books. What is valued is not the ability to memorize but to use sources, references, internet, computers in order to solve the problem at hand.

You can read more about Finnish education at