Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn

Current Structure

  • Students start at the age of 7 and attend Unified Comprehensive Basic School until age 16. At that time they take the only national test, the National Matriculation Examination, which is used to help determine if students go on to Upper Secondary School or Upper Vocational School (with 1/6th of the time spent in on-the-job training) for the next three years. The exam is offered twice a year and retakes are allowed.Many teachers and the author feel that even this one exam has the negative impacts of teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, and stress.
  • Students can transfer between these schools and take courses in both if they wish. After that there are trade schools and universities for further education. Students not ready for upper secondary schools (5%) can attend a voluntary 10th grade of basic school or leave school. In 2008, 93% completed one of the upper secondary schools. Secondary schools have replaced semesters with five or six periods per year. The system is not based on fixed grades and allows greater choice. This allows students to finish at their own pace. At all levels, the focus is on a more flexible, open and interaction-rich learning environment, where an active role for students comes first.
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3 Responses to “Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn”

  1. DgBorn says:

    This is a nice summary.

    However, there’s a minor flaw in the description of the current structure of the Finnish education system. There is no standardized test at age 16; the national matriculation exam is the final test of the upper secondary school (called lukio, somewhat equivalent to the American high school, even though more advanced topics such as differential calculus are taught).

    Also, the test can be taken in three parts and students are free to choice which tests they will take, and will they take them in the spring or in the autumn.

    Those who choose the vocational education never take any standardized tests, and the choice between upper secondary school and vocational school is not entirely, or not even largely nowadays, determined by academic success: many successful students also opt for vocational education.

  2. Leah says:

    An amazing summary and thank you DgBorn for clearing that up. Actually, I also heard that the NME is also taken at 16.

    The overall picture I get is that things are much more customized in Finland- principals and administrators work with teachers to make them better at what they do best and teachers customize the student experience for each student helping them to achieve more in their strengths.

    I wonder if things are also different from an employer perspective. I feel like employers are one of the key driving factors to get all of our students in the US to college and some employers won’t value a vocational or trade school like they will a top University. I wonder if the culture is different in Finland.

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