What makes the Finnish school system different from the US?

Business Insider Nordic recently published an article ‘7 reasons Finland’s education system puts the US model to shame‘ that covers a comparison between the two’s basic education systems. Similar articles have been previously written as well, for instance by The GuardianFinland has an education system the US should envy – and learn from‘ and Business Insider4 reasons Finland’s schools are better‘. Naturally, it’s never as simple as these articles would have you to believe.

So let’s examine the differences between American and Finnish basic education systems. I’ll go through 7 claims that were presented in the Business Insider Nordic’s comparison article.

1. Competition isn’t as important as cooperation

Partly true. Finland has basically no private schools for basic education. And pretty much the only standardized test is matriculation exam that we have in senior high school at age 18/19.
But after 1998’s school district reform parents have been able to sort of ‘choose’ in which school does their child initially go (parental choice). According to some educational experts that has been one of the reasons leading to rising inequality and competition between Finnish schools. As a consequence, parents try to get their child to a school that has a better reputation. Additionally, some schools compete by offering courses in less-spoken languages than English, such as German, in order to attract pupils (though it’s also a question of resources as not every additional course is viable in small schools).

2. Teaching is one of the most-respected professions

Might well be, but difficult to measure. At least class teacher education is one of the most popular subjects in Finnish universities. In the University of Turku almost as much as people applied for it than for medicine.
Further, all eligible teachers have a Master’s Degree, aside from kindergarten teachers who have a Bachelor’s Degree. Teachers are paid average wages in Finnish scale, but high on global scale (around 3000 euros depending on the school level, plus e.g. service increments based on how many years one has been a teacher).

3. Finland listens to the research

Depends, difficult to measure. There are various types of ‘research’, it’s not a one kind of entity and surely some research institutions have agendas that stem from different ideologies. Also for sure political decision-making affects to a degree. So it’s all relative how well things compare to other countries. Yet, I’d conclude by saying that some things are decided based on thorough research, others not.

4. Finland isn’t afraid to experiment

Holds true in some aspects, I’d say. At least in the teacher training we are encouraged to try out different teaching styles and not just copy existing teaching models. Also basic education curriculum gives much freedom for teaching methods. Though some teachers might be fed up with their work and have lost their interest to experiment so in the end it’s highly individual how experimenting plays out.

5. Playtime is sacred

True. As it’s stated in the article, Finnish law requires teachers to give students 15 minutes of play for every 45 minutes of school lessons. There are studies that suggest 15 minute recesses improve learning (study found here). And in general the attitude that ‘kids should stay as kids as long as possible’ is evident in the society.

6. Kids have very little homework

True, one of the lowest amount globally. It’s also verified in OECD study: In average Finnish pupils (in all schools) spend 2.8 hours per week doing homework, while e.g. in Australia it’s 6.0, in USA 4.9 and in Vietnam 5.8. On top of that Finnish pupils enjoy long, 10-11 week summer holidays, which enforces the idea of appreciating leisure.

7. Preschool is high-quality and universal

Partly verifiablePreschool and daycare are both universal until age 7. Quality is subjective though, for some it works better than others.

Finally, I’ll be making an article on things that Finland could learn from the US education system so stay tuned 🙂