Finnish Lessons – What We Can Learn

Special Education Isn’t So Special

  • Up to half of the students who complete compulsory education at the age of 16 have received some kind of special education service at some point in their schooling. For any given year the number is one third with 8% receiving full-time service either in a regular school or a special institution. Early intervention is stressed with many children diagnosed before they enter school. Preschool is free and 98% of the population attends.
  • The fraction of students served by special education staff gradually decreases throughout primary school and goes up a bit during secondary school. This notion of prevention is opposite to most other nations who try to repair students after problems show up. This results in a gradual increase in the number served as students move from grade to grade. It should be noted that structural elements that cause failure like grade retention have been removed.
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2 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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