Why Finland Has Better Schools

by Emilija Balandyte
Class of 2016

Finland’s schools were not always as world renowned as they are today. In the 1970s, after 108 years under Russian rule and the wars that followed their liberation in 1917, Finland’s education system and economy were failing with large dropout rates and an unemployment rate of 20%. To combat these problems, the Finnish Parliament decided to reconstruct their education system, and began a program similar to America’s No Child Left Behind. Their system promised every student in their country an exceptional education regardless of their financial situations or neighborhood. Their goal was to give every single student a great education so that the next generations would have successful jobs, and therefore lead to a successful Finland.

So what changes were made to the schools? First, Finland got rid of standardized tests. Finland’s students take only one standardized test, the National Matriculation Examination, which is taken at the end of high school, and it doesn’t contain questions about subjects most students would agree are useless to future life, but instead asks questions like, “In what sense are happiness, good life and well-being ethical concepts?” and “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted that a socialist revolution would first happen in countries like Great Britain. What made Marx and Engels claim that and why did a socialist revolution happen in Russia?”. Clearly these are far more complex, which force the students to really think in order to answer them, not like the basic questions given on our standardized tests that can be easily answered if the material has been thoroughly memorized by the student.

Finland also shortened their school hours, and ensured that their students spent less time on academics outside of school. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), American students spend 6.1 hours on homework per week, and Finland’s students, who generally aren’t even assigned homework until their high school years, only spend 2.8 hours a week on homework. It seems as though a more relaxed environment leads to motivated students who grasp material easily. They learn all they need in the classroom, which is 5 hours of their day, and have lives outside of school. American students on the other hand, are struggling to focus in their classes, and they have an average of 5 minutes between classes while Finnish students have a 15 minute break every 45 minutes of learning.

Finnish students rank highly in the Program for International Student’s Assessment, while American students rank near the bottom or middle. American students are too stressed about memorizing material for their next major test that they can’t actually learn and retain the information. Finnish students are far less stressed, and are far more successful. Perhaps America can take a few of the Finnish tactics when it comes to reforming the education system.