Reflection about Finland’s education system

Kastellin Monitoimitalo school in Oulu
Koen Timmers

Educator - Author - Keynote speaker - Global Teacher Prize 2017 finalist

Some weeks ago I travelled to Finland to visit some schools and present about Project Kakuma. I was instantly overwhelmed by Finland’s education system. Finland has one of the highest ranked school systems in the world. They did this by overhauling their entire system. I was curious what to expect while visiting the Kastellin Monitoimitalo school in Oulu, Finland. When I arrived in Oulu I noticed there is free internet all over the city. Not used of that in any Belgian city…

While talking to Paula Vorne – a Finnish educator - she explained to me that teachers must be qualified to a level of at least Master of Education (for working with grades 1-6). Teachers working with grades 7–9 must have a Master’s degree in their subject, as well as high level qualifications in education. I was simply overwhelmed! Teacher training courses are also very popular and difficult to qualify for. Paula’s head teacher also told me that head teachers are among the rest of the teachers and not above. This results in an improved situation to discuss and settle things. There isn’t even inspection of Finnish schools which exclude writing useless reports and striving to get the paperwork all done before the inspection arrives. Time which can be used for other things.

While I entered the school I noticed 90% of the students on their socks. What happened to their shoes? Apparently students leave their shoes in separate rooms. There are learning spaces all over the school building where students are actually learning. And what’s with the skis at the doorway? Well apparently cross country skiing and ice skating are part of the curriculum. But that’s not all. All students – both boys and girls learn to sew and to use a hammer: handicraft and construction are part of the curriculum. Some classrooms were equipped with laser cutters and 3D printers.

Time for a meal. All pupils - regardless of age –are also provided with a free school meal every school day. And yes I know what you are thinking: it was really tasty! Finland strives for healthy students. Textbooks and education in general are free as well.

I wanted to know more and stumbled upon this website: http://finland.fi/life-society/the-truth-about-finnish-schools/

Students get a maximum of 20h of school a week in 1st and 2nd grade. 3rd and 4th grade have 23h, 5th and 6th about 25h and in secondary school they have about 30h. Each school lesson is 45 minutes because the brain has to relax. Finnish kids have about 10 weeks of summer holiday as well as holidays in autumn, Christmas break and winter usually in February. Finnish students do better by going to school less.

There are no nationwide examinations or grading tests. In Finland almost all youngsters (99.7%) complete the syllabus of basic education and graduate from comprehensive school. Students get nearly no homework. They have more time to play and … to be kids.

Teaching will no longer happen just inside four walls but it will depend on how schools want to realise this. They understand that classrooms aren’t required for being able to study and learn. There will be room for a phenomenon-based approach. Finnish education system also understands that teachers aren’t exclusively instructors. They can also be a mentor while guiding students during unpaced and independent learning. The new curriculum – which also includes coding - does challenge teachers to change their pedagogical methods. And this will also take time. The greatest challenge is the change in their role. Teachers will no longer be information providers, and pupils will no longer be passive listeners.  Teachers can flip the classroom, can stimulate their students to collaborate. There’s room for the foundations of constructivism and connectivism. Since I did research about unpaced and collaborative learning, I can only cheer to this fact.

Last but not learst: Finland is one of the 10 countries who implemented Deep Learning (http://npdl.global/ - Michael Fullan)

Reflection to my own teaching

Some parts of Finnish education system are just impossible. The fact of the free meals, limited amount of school hours a week, teachers having a master degree, no inspection and head teachers among the teacher crew are things Belgian teachers can only dream of. The government needs to make the right decisions.

I already shifted partly (not exclusively!) to collaborative and unpaced learning. Teachers are pedagogical engineers who have to decide which pedagogical approach suits for the best during certain situations. This involves instructing, reading, collaborative learning, creating a personal learning network, unpaced learning, flipping the classroom, etc.  

Belgian curriculum unfortunately still doesn’t include coding. Students are still learning about computers (computer science) rather than learning with computers (during Math, Geography, Biology, languages, etc).

I also understood teaching doesn’t have to longer happen just inside four walls. I teach my students partly remote in my kitchen, car or in nature.

Conclusion

 So as a wrap up:

  • Teachers have to have a master’s degree
  • Teacher training courses are difficult
  • The head teacher is among the teacher crew
  • No inspection of schools
  • Learning spaces
  • Students leave shoes in separate room
  • Cross country skiing and ice skating are part of the curriculum
  • Handicraft and construction are part of the curriculum
  • Every student – regardless of age – gets a free meal
  • Nearly no homework
  • 2Oh of school a week and 10 weeks of summer holiday
  • Teachers do more than instructing. They will also guide their students while collaborative learning
  • New curriculum including coding

By striving for healthy students and well educated teachers Finland, shifting to new pedagogies and curriculum, allowing students to play and discover and offering students education for free achieved the Global education rank #1.

Michael Moore’s movie “Where to Invade next” is a must-see. It focusses on Finnish education system.

by PLN Education