The Finnish Education Perspective

Author | Paul Nix | Sweden

I grew up in California, during my own childhood I got to see some of the best and worst of the North American educational system. I paid attention because I was raised by an exceptional educator. Mostly, I was fortunate and persistent, and have been able to make up for many of the deficiencies in my education.

As an adult and an engineer living in Finland I have been working in the edtech field in an attempt to learn why it works so well. Working with Finnish educators and students, importing innovations back into the United States, watching the results that teachers and students have in adopting these components, all of this has been on my mind consistently, for years now. These are my insights.

#1 The Finnish system works, not because it is a silver bullet, but because they have invested in it at a systemic level and continue to do so.

What we see is largely the result of social programs that support parents and students, no matter their background. Students eat a warm nutritious lunch every day at school, their parents get good wages and are encouraged to unplug at home, not only that teachers are respected, paid well, and highly educated.

#2 Play and learning facilitation, from a young age.

When children start in the Finnish system play is recognized as a core component of their learning process. Up to approximately age seven they are encouraged to play, socialize, and explore as they are taken out into nature and regularly through museums, libraries, and their community. Teachers answer their questions and encourage their growth as they learn actively from their environments.

#3 Respect in and around the classroom.

Equality and social mobility are important concepts but they start young. None of us want to hear “When I was a child…” comparisons, however when I first looked at the Finnish educational system I noticed stark contrasts. Teachers aren’t addressed with honorifics, just usually their first name. The Finnish language doesn’t have gendered pronouns so instead of students being him or her they have always been hän. While racism still happens from time to time, it generally causes significant uproar and administration is active in addressing and preventing it.

The biggest difference for me is that you never see or consider hall passes. If a student needs the bathroom, or to eat a snack to maintain their blood sugar, or anything else, they don’t raise their hands, or take an embarrassing permit proving they are allowed to leave the class, they just do whatever they need to do. In my own childhood the idea that somehow a teacher is meant to rule their classroom like a dictator, was the default. I knew teachers were people but humanity was not the expected default. In Finland the teachers are respected, not because of status, but generally because they respect their students.

#4 Values, values, values!
Finns love nature, they are stoic and honest, and they expect fairness. These effects translate directly into a role in which citizens are empowered to improve their systems. They are continuing to invest in the things that matter to them sustainability among them.