Educating our children with the skills for the future via equality and cooperation

Researchers have known for decades that rising education levels positively influence a host of social factors: income, health, voting rates and even the likelihood that a person will stay out of prison. We all know education matters. Then why do we still not seem to be able to make education fun, and the school a place where today's youth wants to be?


In Finland they must have asked themselves the same question, as they are currently drastically reforming their – already successful - education system. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland's classrooms. Reading, science and mathematics are important in the Finnish education system, but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and even sowing and cooking. They no longer teach by subject, but by topic: a teenager studying a vocational course might take 'cafeteria services' lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages, writing skills and communication skills.


A few remarkable points about the Finnish system:

  1. Finland does not give their kids standardized tests.
  2. Individual schools have curriculum autonomy; individual teachers have classroom autonomy.
  3. It is not mandatory to give students grades until they are in the 8th grade.
  4. Education emphasis is "equal opportunity to all".
  5. Finnish schools don't assign homework, because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.
  6. Finnish schools have sports, but no sports teams. Competition is not valued.
  7. The focus is on the individual child. If a child is falling behind, the highly trained teaching staff recognizes this need and immediately creates a plan to address the child's individual needs. Likewise, if a child is soaring ahead and bored, the staff is trained and prepared to appropriately address this as well.


Finnish education often seems paradoxical to outside observers because it appears to break a lot of the rules. Finnish children don’t begin school until age 7. They have more recess, shorter school hours than many other children do, there are no gifted programs and almost no private schools. Yet over the past decade Finland tops the list of developed countries with the best education systems. 


"We created a school system based on equality to make sure we can develop everyone’s potential. 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", according to the Minister of Education.

The main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location.


According to the OECD, Finland ranks at the top in education and skills, and above average in finding employment, while the crime rate is lower than the OECD average. Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation. Or, as Nelson Mandela said in 2003 "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world". 


Elske van der Horst

August 2015


Sources: The AtlanticThe Daily Riff, The IndependentUSA TodayOECD.

Elske  |  2015 08 23  |  Permalink  |  Share

3 reactions

Shelley Lopez  |  2015 08 24

We had neighbors who were from Finland, they have a son who at the time was 2 years old. He was the most advanced 2 year old I have ever seen. And extremely intelligent.. Whatever they are doing is working.

Shelley Lopez  |  2015 08 24

We had neighbors who were from Finland, they have a son who at the time was 2 years old. He was the most advanced 2 year old I have ever seen. And extremely intelligent.. Whatever they are doing is working.

Michel Linthorst  |  2015 08 23

Wouldn't it be great if this could be achieved? Keep up the good work, I applaud you!


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