How Does Finland's Education Become The Best In The World? Skip to main content

How Does Finland's Education Become The Best In The World?

I am sure that many of you noticed that many of today’s kids cannot do the math without a calculator like many of us older people. Many also can’t read, talk or write as well either. Not all, but a lot more than before. I get comments every day about this problem. We used to be among the best in high school education four decades ago. We are now 34th in math in the world. Our children have been dumbed down for decades by an antiquated education system, that tracks neither the money spent per school, nor the educational results that they accomplish for our tax money, per month or quarter.

We as a country are among the four HIGHEST SPENDERS on education, delivering the 34th in education results. Wouldn’t it make sense to study Finland, who has the best education results? With our annual county primary and secondary school budget of $370 million this year, spend a couple of thousand on each, and have a team of principals evaluate what we could use. Why are we not learning from the best, who by the way are doing the job less expensively than we do? Wouldn’t it make better sense to spend a few thousand dollars there than spending two or three times the normal amount of millions in high schools that are going nowhere with ACT scores in ten years?
Finland is the top country in the OECD-PISA tests which is the international authority for high school level testing according to the US Department of Education. It happens to be a beautiful place also.

Education in Finland starts with preschool at age 6. The preschool emphasis is on fun and THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING. Preschool is followed by nine years of compulsory basic education. From 9th or 10th grade one can go to the Upper Secondary school (like senior high school) or a 3 -year vocational school, but the curriculum is so heavy in either of these that one can cross from one to the other, or finish one and then go to the other for emphasis on trade skills. Either branch can lead to a university for a masters or PhD degree or to a Polytechnic College that focuses on trade skills with the possibility of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Although the great majority of Finns finish their education by age 25, later than most other nations, education is looked upon as a life-long process in any job. People are generally much more educated in any trade or professional jobs than they are in other countries. They do an excellent job in having the highest work force readiness of any nation.

Please review at least the top URL I am presenting from Finland in English. For more details, go to:,4699

National testing, school ranking lists and inspection systems do not exist in Finland.

Being a teacher in Finland, as in most industrialized countries, is the most highly respected position. Medical doctors come second. I do not think that this is a cultural difference. The education system is set up such that they earn people’s respect every day by the way they are centrally managed in the country to the highest standard in the world and by the level of authority that is given to the teachers. Teachers are also very well trained. Keeping both teacher competence and school quality the best is a national mandate in Finland.

Could we get there? Of course we could, if we had an educational plan driving it on the same level as the top five countries do in the world. Unfortunately the Knox County Board of Education has tougher tasks to do. Like approving payment of bills for anything you can think of. Or arguing for many 2-3 hour sessions about what the school calendar should be. I was there, I saw it and could not believe it. Stuff that is more important to them than the quality of education we deliver for $370 million of our hard-earned tax money.

The Finnish education system has the top university graduate students with a master’s degree volunteering for becoming a teacher, and to teach in the field in which they earned their degree. There are assistant teachers of course with lesser qualification under lower grades and in pre-school.

Could we get there? Absolutely, if there was a large enough incentive plan for teachers to get a masters degree and beyond.

All parents understand that education is very important for their children and would never second-guess a teacher’s decision in Finland. If the child did something bad in school, you can bet that both the teacher and the parent would be in total agreement for the punishment. Therefore it rarely happens, because parents and teachers are always in agreement, and the teachers have a very good relationship with the students.

Could we get there? Absolutely, if the kids came home with better math results, and if all of us parents realized how vital it is to back the teachers in front of our kids. Like it or not, their future depends on the teachers. We parents cannot teach our children all the courses they need.

In Finland, the children have enormous respect for teachers, but call them by their first names. Teachers and the children eat lunch together, which is free to all children. How about that? I think that this is also the result of parents and teachers working totally in harmony to educate the child.

In Finland the children are not graded before the fifth grade. The teachers decide how they are progressing. They are later tested, but their grades are not told the parents or the child during the following few years of education. This method appears to build high confidence and self esteem. The kids have a high graduation rate, scholastically achieving more than we do. So parents have no worries about how well the children will be taken care of by the teachers. There is no reason for it. Remember again that the teacher is a university graduate with a master’s degree. Only the teachers know how the child is doing. The teachers meet weekly to discuss what problems any of the children have and make decisions on the spot about what type of class and teacher could be the best for their advancement toward a high school diploma. This could be a specific special education class. This is a very interesting approach that obviously works very well. We could try it. Charter schools, here we go if public schools cannot do it.

Finland has a national education policy and national testing. Morals and ethics are in the curriculum. This is a big difference between their system and ours. The teachers make all decisions about how their class will be run, how the education material will be presented and what books are to be used. They keep up with the best worldwide. There are two official languages in Finland: Finnish and Swedish. People typically speak four languages in Finland. One is Finnish, then English, Swedish, and one of German, French or Russian at minimum. They have some ethnic problems with immigrants, gypsies and some northern Lapp tribes; but they keep those cultures and languages alive as well.

Could we delegate more authority to teachers? Absolutely, depending how their continuing education is progressing.

All areas in the school are decorated. There may be a fireplace where they eat or wait for classes to start. The focus is on what the students would like, to make the school a very pleasant place to be, for students as well as for teachers. Disrespectful or property damaging behavior is unimaginable in this environment. If it happens, I imagine it is dealt with lightning fast with repercussions at home as well, but I heard that teachers do not tell on the students to parents.

Children are actually given very little homework to do. Teachers work about 40% less class hours than US teachers do. Both of these surprised me, but it stands to reason that a happier, friendlier and more effective school environment that does the job well, with less teaching hours and less homework, makes for happier teachers and children. It is the principal that makes this happen.

The principal is more like a general manager although he/she comes from an educational background. He/she makes sure that his/her school is operating at its optimum, including all teachers and supporting services including medical, dental and special ed-related functions. It is noteworthy that special ed kids are diagnosed by any teacher, the case is discussed immediately in their weekly meeting, diagnosis is confirmed and the child is placed into the right classroom possibly not in the same school, with the most qualified teacher for his/her problem. The communication environment is completely open among students, teachers and principals. This area is very different from the US model, and more than 50 countries are studying how they accomplish the results they accomplish.

Could studying them help us? Absolutely. It would do us a lot of good I believe.
Very important: The Finns realize that when their teachers excel and are satisfied, and so are their students. Teachers in Finland are well paid. An elementary school teacher makes $45-50/hour. A high school teacher makes $75-80/hour. The typical per class load is 18-20 students.

The biggest difference I found between the USA and Finland is the average teaching hours spent per year per teacher. This figure is a little more than 1,100 hours for US teachers, and it is 570 hours for teachers in Finland, and just as a second example it is about the same for Japanese teachers as it is for Finnish teachers.

The USA teacher works the longest hours in the world (, yet we are the 34th in the world in math and Finland is on top. We are clearly not using our teachers as smartly as the top-performing countries. Wouldn’t it make sense for the Knox County school system to send a couple of principals on a fact finding mission to Finland and other top performers when our performance is so low?

Finland’s cost of education per student is about 12% less than the Knox County average, and a lot less than our lowest performing high schools, or Oak Ridge or Maryville. Clearly there is something very important we could learn from these people if we sent a couple of principals there for a few weeks.

I don’t understand why I have to be the one bringing this to the attention of the Knox County school system. If they tell you that they knew about this all along, like they told me when I discovered that we sunk to 34th place in math, just ask them two questions: How long they have known this, and What have they done about it? We deserve a much better school system than what we have. That is certain. And so is the reason why we do not have it: our board of education and school system shows no interest in learning from the best and have continued a poor performance record to date with our children.

I think that we could certainly take one or more beneficial ideas away from the Finnish method for much better results in our schools. Their per-student expenses are a little lower than ours, yet the cost of living is higher. Charter schools would be best equipped to adopt some Finnish methods because they would be independent of KCS Central. Charter Schools determine their own curriculum and budget, producing better results. The principal calls the shots. Not a central school district organization.

Knox County Board of Education and Jim McIntyre, I hope that you read this article, and will look at the Finnish Education system for some ideas that could make our education results much better. We may not be able to use all ideas, but we could use some almost immediately and we could use others later that may require some changes first. After all, they are the best performing country in the world, TN is the 40th in the USA which is a low 34th in the world. If we cannot learn from them, we will not learn from anyone.
I hope that you all will find this article interesting and useful. As to my comments about our school system management, the Board of Education and KCS Central, I am telling you what I found to be the truth. They enforced this situation that our children are in. Where does the buck stop? Who is really responsible? Is it Joe's Pizza Parlor? I don't think so. Is it the Knox County Board of Education? BINGO!!! They knew that the academic results were “heading south” for a long time by their own admission when I published my findings. Did they tell the public? No they did not. Did they do something to reverse it? No they did not. Did they instead approve more and more hundred’s of millions of our tax dollars to be spent without good academic results? Yes, every year.
I hope that Jim McIntyre, our new superintendent of schools will change all this, without asking for more tax money first.
Sources: School Matters


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