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Finland: First in Class

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Finland: First in Class

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This week Learning World is looking at Finland, which is recognised worldwide for its top ranking education model. Foreign delegations frequently visit the country to try and discover the secret of its success. We spent a day at a school in the capital Helsinki to find out more about the philosophy behind the Finnish system.

Finland has the shortest formal teaching hours in Europe and the best educational results. Finnish children stay with the same class and the same teacher for at least six years – which makes school like an extension of home.

In Finland, competition to become a teacher is so fierce that all teachers have a Masters’ degree.

Heljä Misukka, the Secretary of State for Education, told euronews: “What is also maybe quite special in Finland is that teachers are quite autonomous in what they do, so they can, for example, choose the materials they like or the pedagogy they use. They have a lot of freedom in their work.”

Children learn by playing and experimenting in groups, like in the science class. Playtime is an important part of learning. There are lots of breaks and even in winter children are encouraged to play outdoors. The children are trusted – even in the canteen, they are allowed to help themselves. There are no dinner ladies.

The accent is on music, sport and the arts. And the school that euronews visited is not an exception – let me tell you it is a typical Finnish school and the results they get are replicated all over the country.

However, Charles Leadbeater, a global education analyst told us , that it is not a case of one size fits all.

“Finland is an enormously impressive place, but there are other aspects to Finland that might not be so great and there are certain aspects of Finnish society that always make it difficult to learn from. The small scale, it’s very consensual and its culturally homogeneous, and what we shouldn’t think is that it is the only model that we should follow; it’s one very effective model in teaching, learning and schooling, but it’s not necessarily the only, or in some cases the best, model to improve education.”

He concluded: “I think parts of the Finnish system are really good – they get very good people into teaching – they only take 10% of people who apply to become teachers – And as a result the ethos in Finnish schools is very open to people using their time creatively to get better results with students.”

In Abu Dhabi they are building schools modelled on Finnish ones. We visited a school in Abu Dhabi. It has separate areas for boys and girls. It also has prayer facilities. For the next school in Abu Dhabi, they want a whole package from Finland including teacher training, technology and materials, and supplying services.

Since everyone wants a slice of Finland’s success, why not sell the elements of their education system?

Juha Seppänen, a business consultant, said: “We can change the world, make it more democratic, maybe with fewer wars, maybe less hunger, and if we can do that with education, let’s then do it through education, and exporting the educational values and education itself.”

Next week we will be looking at the role of education in forming future leaders. And you can find all our Learning World reports online – at

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