How Finland’s education system caught the world's attention

by Patricia Hipwell October 31, 2018

How Finland’s education system caught the world's attention

Finland is a Nordic welfare society where equality and trust are key concepts. Taxes are high. As one lecturer told Catherine and me on our recent tour of Finland, “We don’t have many rich people – taxes take care of that!” Finns try to take care of everyone. That same person also said that the do-gooders will find you!

There are many ways in which quality of life is measured and Finland scores highly when these indicators are applied to the country. It is the most stable and safest country in the world and has the best governance. It was previously ranked as the least corrupt society but that ranking has slipped to third. The welfare of mothers and children is the second best in the world. Finns borrow more books from the library than any other peoples and the country has the best overall education system. On a lighter note, Finns have more saunas (a Finnish word), drink more coffee and milk per capita than anywhere else.

One of the vocational education schools we visited offers courses in aged care and the care of disabled people. This sauna is wheelchair accessible and students learn how to assist clients in the sauna. Saunas are an integral part of Finnish life. We were told that all new residences must, by law, have a sauna. Apparently, Trump and Putin shared one during their recent summit in Helsinki! Perhaps you didn’t need to know that!



Finland has come to the attention of the rest of the world, particularly the world of education, because of its excellent results in the PISA tests over many years. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations intended to evaluate educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school students’ performance on mathematics, science, and reading. It was first administered in 2000 and has been repeated every three years. Its aim is to provide comparable data with a view to enabling countries to improve their education policies and outcomes. It measures problem solving and cognition.

In the 2003 tests, Finland topped the world. The natural reserve and reticence of the Finns led them to suppose that there had been some sort of mistake! While Finland has lost some ground on these tests in recent years to Asian nations, its performance is still impressive. Doing well on the PISA tests is not the goal of education in Finland rather a by-product of a quality education system. The fact that their results are slipping does not appear to worry the Finns. Finland still has the best PISA results compared with the money it spends on education – if you like, ‘bang for buck’. Our mission was to find out why this small, relatively insignificant European country is leading the world in the provision of education. 

 
FINLAND’S RESULTS (PISA) SINCE 2003 

 

2003

2006

2009

2012

2015

READING

1

2

3

6

4

MATHEMATICS

2

2

6

12

12

SCIENCE

1

1

2

5

5

PROBLEM SOLVING

2

 

 

9

 

 
 

 





Patricia Hipwell
Patricia Hipwell

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