It is no secret that the educational system most of the world’s students currently go through was built with bias. If you look at statistics and the situation of Third World countries, it is apparent that education is treated as a privilege. If you are rich, you can go to a good school, graduate, and have the opportunity to become richer. If you are poor, you have little to no chance at receiving education, as even with public schools, finances remain key to your success. Most children abandon the pursuit of education due to the difficulties that come in the form of hunger, scarcity of educational materials, to name a few. Most grading systems are also biased, as systematic approaches refuse to recognize that each individual learns differently and exhibits different strengths and beyond the discernment of examinations and grades. Even with all these problems, one country apparently has figured it out and has been providing their youths with what they need for many years now – a just educational system.
Finland has built a comprehensive education structure, designed to offer all its citizens free education with no dead ends. This approach was inspired by philosophers like John Dewey and America’s researches on education. Heralded as one of, if not the best education systems in the world, it continues to outperform the education system of the United States in reading, mathematics, and science. They do not believe in standardized tests, and their school days are made shorter. How does it work? Their entire educational structure centers around core principles – first, they believe in equal access to education, as their law clearly dictates that education is a constitutional right. The other principle postulates that an individual should be allowed to choose their path, which in doing so can never lead to a "dead end". How do these principles come into play, you ask? Here’s how:
Early childhood education
Finland's early education works around concepts of learning through play. As a new Finnish parent, you are to receive a state-sponsored maternity leave, maternity grant, and a baby care box that can double as a bed, effectively designed to help you enjoy the first precious months of raising your child. As the months unfold, you begin thinking about your child’s education – but there is no hint of worry in that, unlike most mothers around the world. Finnish children are not required to attend school until the age of 6, where their pre-primary education will begin. The first 5 years are spent playing and bonding with their families, with the aspect of teaching coming directly from their parents.
The childhood education is a program that adopts a “learning through play” concept, which promotes a balanced growth according to the Finnish National Agency for Education. There will be a fee, however, but that fee is heavily subsidized. Parents only pay around 14% of the entire total bill, and the percentage depends entirely on the household’s income and number of children. The program is highly successful, as Finland’s enrollment rate for children of ages 3 to 5 is at a whopping 80%.
When the child turns 7, basic education begins. Unlike most of the world, Finland does not separate its basic education into categories of elementary and junior high. It offers a single-structure education instead, which ensues for 9 straight years, and 190 school days a year. The Finish National Agency for Education’s goal is to support a student’s growth towards humanity and ethics, and to encourage the child to become a responsible member of society, as well as provide them with knowledge and skills needed in life. Policymakers give plenty of room for teachers and administrators to revise and revamp curricula as needed, so that they always get to provide and meet the needs of their students. This includes what tests to give, evaluation of student progress, identifying their needs, and the capacity to set both daily and weekly timetables.
From an outsider’s perspective, such huge autonomy can sound intimidating, as who knows what their school could be teaching? Perhaps your child of 7 is being taught about the regression of humankind during the Great Depression, and how can their innocent minds ever cope? Maybe, but these concerns are almost nonexistent among Finnish parents. Teachers are highly respected, and teaching as a profession is regarded as almost elite. Most teachers are master’s degree holders, and even basic education teachers are required to hold them. Around 80% of basic education teachers also participate in continuous advancement and development of profession.
Self-evaluation and improvement for both schools and their teachers are also promoted, and while Finland does not utilize national standardized tests, they do implement national evaluations of learning outcomes. These evaluations are mostly sample-based, however, as opposed to being comprehensive. None of them are also tied to any school funding, nor utilized for school rankings. The evaluation is designed to assess the school’s qualifications, which are handed to the administrators for developmental purposes.
The best part about all of these? School meals come free. Guidance and counselling are also part of the curriculum, which ensures that a child’s development is holistic – mentally, emotionally and physically. What more could a Finnish parent ever ask for?
After completing basic education, the child will be given the choice to pursue upper-secondary education. While not considered a requirement, over 90% of students choose to continue. Because of Finland’s promise and devotion to an education with no dead ends, the remaining 10% can choose to return to their education later without any costs.
The upper-secondary education is split into two paths, general and vocational, and both of these take around 3 years. General education comes in the form of course work, but students are given the freedom to choose their study schedules. At the end, students must take the national matriculation exam, which is Finland’s sole standardized exam. The scores are then utilized as part of their college applications, which is similar to that of America’s college application system.
Vocational education, on the other hand, is more job-centered. It incorporates apprenticeships with school learning. It is estimated that 40% of students begin their vocational education right after finishing basic education, and the path finishes with a competence-based qualification after completion of the individual study plan.
The good part about these is that students are not stuck in these paths. Because Finland is devoted to education and promotes decision-making, the two have been made permeable so that students can freely choose or discover hidden talents or interests, as well as create career paths that combine the two.
Higher education and beyond
As students complete and excel in their upper-secondary education, most parents elsewhere are probably worried that finances may not be sufficient for higher education. Finnish parents won’t be, of course, as higher education also comes free. Equal access to education is a constitutional right, and Finland sincerely upholds that. Students only need to pay for transportation, books, and other necessary school supplies. If even that cannot be possible, student financial aid is readily made available.
Divided into two types, Finnish colleges are no exception. Your child can choose to either go to a university, or a university of applied sciences. Universities mainly focus on scientific research, while universities of applied sciences teach practical applications. In just a span of four years, students can receive their bachelor’s degree, which is comprised of studying, additional electives, and a project. Master’s degrees usually take five to six years, and should one wish to continue, rules state that they must be admitted immediately after completing university.
Should your child choose to pursue a vocational path, they are to continue their education at a university as well, particularly a university of applied science. But then again, Finland’s educational structures are highly adaptable, which means a child can choose to take both paths and combine them.
Beyond education, and come their adult lives, Finland remains to be supportive. Statistics show that Finland boasts of a robust adult education, which promotes social equity and an ever competent labor force. Companies are given opportunities to purchase in for staff development, and it is integral that labor training be provided for the unemployed. Although it comes with a cost, adult education still remains subsidized, with costs depending entirely on personal circumstances.
That said, it is no wonder why Finland remains to be the talk of the town, and why everyone cannot help but compare their rather inferior education system to theirs. But the big question remains: how is Finland able to provide such kind of education for all its citizens, one that is universal and comprehensive? The answer is simple, really, and can be applied to every single country right now: everybody is on board. Beyond the government’s devoted efforts to treating education as a basic right, the Finnish hold education sacred and have taken the time to build a system that works best for everyone. This system is not biased, and does not treat students like robots with systemized grading systems and a single main path. They have built a system of their own, and one that adheres completely to only the best education research. Ironically, 80% of this research come from the U.S., so what are we doing wrong?
There is no need to copy Finland’s almost perfect education system. Treating education with utmost importance, that’s the key.
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