The Finnish Phenomenon in Education

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–A report on the educational trip to Finland
Durga Chandrasekar and Rita Wilson

An educational visit to Finland from October 2-4, 2017 was organised by S Chand & Co in association with the Centre for Continuing Education-University of Helsinki. The objective of the visit was to explore the Finnish Phenomenon in Education and School Leadership and to gain insight into the Finnish Education system. A report.


The educational trip to Finland consisted of thirty-seven strong delegation from India,including school owners, leaders, administrators. Here’a a peek into the trip:

2nd October 2017:
Visit to University of Helsinki

a) Presentation by Anna Rantapero Laine, Head of Business Area, University of Helsinki, Centre for Continuing Education

The delegation was welcomed by Anna. She apprised us of some facts about the University of Helsinki – the student and faculty strength, the different courses offered, the eligibility for each. She also spoke about the different programmes offered by the university to educationists from other countries. Of special interest was the ‘Train the Trainers(mentors)’ and the ‘Univisits’(customised professional visits by faculty from University of Helsinki to educational institutions in India).

She also dwelt on the PISA evaluation where Finland is rated very high and attributed the educational system-professional, trained teachers, self-motivated learning, research based education, optimum class strength and involvement of community in the learning process as the main factors for the success. Innovative teaching, inquiry based learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving were some of the features mentioned by her.

b) Presentation by Dr. Heidi Krzywacki, Associate Professor, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

The topic of her presentation was Education system and Teacher education in Finland. Major highlights of her presentation included:

  • The Finnish education policy is common, consistent and a long-term policy – national educational reforms take place every ten years.
  • School education is compulsory and free – free books, learning material, meals and transport.
  • Two languages are learnt by all– Swedish and Finnish; Russian is the other language offered in schools.
  • Each school can have its own special curriculum to draw students from the community from a wider area.
  • Special needs students are placed at different levels. The teaching methods, group size and content are organised appropriately.
  • The broad outline of the aim and content of the national curriculum is given to the teachers who choose their own teaching/learning material, design and organise their own assessment. Teachers are also involved in the curriculum process along with the school and local authorities.
  • There is emphasis on self-assessment by children and formative assessment by teachers.
  • A unique aspect is the culture of trust- there is no inspection of schools, no monitoring of teachers, no national examination.Monitoring is only sample based.
  • Finnish Education system is based on following principles:
    0 to 6 years–Early Childhood Education and Care – ECEC. This is not part of the school programme.
    7 to 15 years– Basic school education- comprehensive schools (9 years).
    One-year additional education is voluntary.
  • Students are offered activities to develop their argumentative, decision making, justification skills. All activities are multidisciplinary.

c) Presentation by Teijo Kolijonen, Counsellor of Education, Finnish National Agency for Education


Teijo spoke on the tasks of the National Board of Education, the Finnish Educational system, challenges during times of changes, the new curricula and future trends. Some of the important points he highlighted were:

  • There is two-tier national administration in education– the ministry of education and culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education which work together.
  • Education is developed in partnership with national authorities, local authorities, teachers’ union, social partners, parents, students, research institutions and relevant stakeholders.
  • There are no dead-ends in the education system– after 9 years of basic education (7 years to 15 years)–the child can go in for secondary education or vocational education. There is no age limit to gain entry into any of the education courses.
  • Pre-primary education upto the age of 6–four hours a day– promotes the child’s requisite growth, development and learning through play and joy of learning.
  • The new national core curricula in a nutshell has the following features:
    – Enhancing pupil participation.
    – Learning outside the classroom.
    – Transversal competencies in all subjects.
    – Use of ICT.
    – Multidisciplinary learning modules.
    – Diversity in learning assessment.
    – There is emphasis on phenomenon-based learning. The purpose is to prepare students for changes in the surrounding world, to learn skills and information which are directly applicable to life and to motivate students to understand the purpose of learning.

Talking more about the phenomenon based learning, Teijo shared that:

  • Real world phenomena should be the starting point (pupils ask questions or pose problems)– local, national, global aspects.
  • Duration, extent and methods can vary; there is a holistic approach – all subjects to be integrated.
  • l The basic concept (subject wise) should be taught first, then project, then deeper concepts.
  • There should be versatile use of different learning environments, including use of digitisation.
  • Learning experiences should be contextual, meaningful and authentic.
  • There should be differentiated, individual learning paths– different learning experiences like art, language, sports,etc (multiple intelligence).
  • Teaching should be learner-centred, and collaborative peer learning.

He then explained in detail about the main characteristics of the syllabus, distribution of hours for different subjects, the matriculation examination (held after 10 years of basic education at age 16). The highlights are as follows:

  • The teaching profession– most teachers are required to have a master’s degree; very small percentage of candidates who apply are taken in by teacher training institutions.Hence the quality of teachers in schools is excellent; teachers also feel their role is valued.
  • One of the main aspects of Finnish education compared to international education is that instruction time is low; more time is spent by students on research and socio-economic effect on education is moderate.

3rd October 2017: Visit to Saunalahti School, Espoo
(grades 0-8)

a) We got an opportunity to go around the school and observed the following:

  • Every space in the school is a learning space.
  • Values like gratitude, joy, community belongingness, caring etc are displayed in all the classes on charts and even in places like canteen, notice boards and corridors.
  • Student learning in pairs/groups is encouraged, so also giving feedback to each other.
  • The strengths of each student are identified and displayed on a chart in the class.
  • ‘Combo classes’ – classes of some students of class 1 and 2 are held together – those who have same interests/abilities.
  • Parent meeting is held for 30 minutes per child– a personal learning plan is discussed with each parent which includes strengths of the child and 2 or 3 goals, either subject or habit to be inculcated/improved. In the next meeting, the goals are evaluated and new ones are set. There is also a meeting to evaluate the support given to the child by the school and the parent.
  • Before a lesson is begun, teachers inform students of the skills/strengths they will require for the topic.
  • The term ‘student welfare’ for facilities provided for students was very appealing.
  • The different wings/areas of the school were painted in different colours for easy identification by students /parents (as students move around for different subjects to different areas).
  • Teachers discuss responsible behaviour with students and put up their thoughts (like our class rules).

b) Presentation by Dr Jari Salminen, Associate Professor, University of Helsinki, Department of Teacher Education

Dr Jari spoke about the tradition of Finnish education; how it developed over the years and influenced by being on the borders of Sweden and Russia.

He explained the history behind the success of Finnish education system – how the people were earlier farmers and how educational reforms over the years have contributed to the growth of literacy in the country.

The University has two teacher training schools.Kindergarten teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and primary and middle school teachers (called class teachers and subject teachers) must have a master’s degree. Besides this, they must undergo teacher training for one year (in pedagogical practices) and teaching practice (in service) compulsorily for a year.

4th October 2017 – Visit to Kasavuori School
(Grades 7 to 9)

The school emphasises seven basic skills :

a) Thinking skills and learning how to learn.
b) Lifelong learners –Learning everywhere,cultural skills, communication skills, collaboration and expression.
c) Taking care of oneself– everyday life skills.
d) Multi-literacy.
e) Using ICT to promote ICT literacy.
f) Basic Working life skills, which lead to entrepreneurial skills.
g) Participation,active citizenship and building sustainable future.

This is implemented across all subjects. Learning environment is made friendly. There is emphasis on ‘Home Economics’, which gives life skills required at home. It makes teaching/learning meaningful for students. Besides, there is democracy for all decisions taken in class, which is done by voting by students.

Some points highlighted by the Principal were:

1. Teacher perspectives are taken into consideration for implementation of all practices.

2. School is divided into units like student welfare unit (safety, hygiene, canteen, etc), student management unit (discipline), pedagogical units (teaching learning process-academic), student participation units (for programmes/activities etc). There are heads for each unit and they meet twice a week.

3. Class teachers are given the same set of students for three years.

4. The support system – extra class for weak students after school, teacher assistant in class, special needs teacher, etc.

5. Students are permitted to meet the counsellor on their own.

6. There is student representation in the management team. All management meetings– Principal and Heads– are attended by the student representatives for first half hour where student issues are discussed, decisions taken with inputs from the student representatives. The meeting then continues after the student representatives leave.

7. Students are encouraged to go to work in any place, once a month and get paid.This money is then donated to a school for the underprivileged.

8. There is an operational model followed by the school which is based on jointly agreed values among students, teachers, parents and the community.

Visit to Viherkallio School-Lecture on GoodPractices of School Governance and Administration, Modern Techniques in School Management by Mikko Leppanen, Principal

Here are the takeaways from this visit:

1. The Principal was very proud of his school and the way he administers its working (his operational model) and felt it was recognised as one of the most successful schools in Finland.

2. There is shared leadership among the heads, teachers and community, based on agreements.

3. The core focus of school satisfaction comes from the cosy atmosphere, ICT literacy and its extensive usage, safety, reliable adults and students as individuals who understand themselves and how they learn.

4. The school is bright all around– corridors, canteen, external façade, etc are painted in different colours.

5. 21st century skills – like interaction, cooperation, self-evaluation, self-knowledge, etc – are inculcated through drama.

6. While knowledge building is important, knowing how to handle knowledge is more important.

7. ICT skills and attitude towards ICT is a tool for measuring performance of teachers.

8. The aim is to develop a PLC (professional learning community). He emphasised that in his school teachers learn from each other, students work in pairs– there is a working pair agreement.

9. The school safety covers all aspects– physical, psychological, pedagogical and social.

10. There is a circle of trust – there is no monitoring of teachers or students.

11. The working atmosphere is very cordial with work distribution, shared responsibilities, learning together, time to get ideas.

12. The staff is divided into topic teams –the planning team, welfare team, curriculum team, special needs team, sustainable development team, etc. They are also divided as per the classes they handle.

13. Meetings are fixed in advance at definite times on definite days of the week with the Principal, the Deputy Head, etc for updating from different teams.Eg 1-2pm on Mondays and 2-4pm on Thursdays.

14. There is a written working culture that includes the wishes and agreements of all the stakeholders. There is a healthy environment to learn and grow.

15. The school believes that there is a world of possibilities for students and therefore looks for innovation and growth.

At the end of the day, we returned to the University of Helsinki.

Reflection and discussion

There was a session of reflection and discussion on the following areas:

1. Differences and similarities in education in Finland and India on the basis of

a) Teachers’ role
b) Students’ role
c) Education system
d) Learning environment
e) School leadership

2. Concrete take away from the programme/visit on the basis of
a) What can be applied in your organisation straight away?
b) What can be taken up later?
c) What measures need to be taken for the changes to actually take place?

The members of the delegation were then presented with certificates.

Besides a lot of serious work, our hosts had organised a number of fun activities for all the delegates, namely a city tour comprising visits to the most interesting parts of the city, an evening cruise, visit to the Eureka Science Centre, etc besides all the bonhomie amongst the new friends.

Trust & responsibility: pillars of successThe emphasis on trust and responsibility is amazing. When children are taught trust and responsibility and they see their teachers practising the same, how can the growth of a country not be positive and secure?Moreover, where there is trust, there is peace. Where there is responsibility, there is ownership. I think that these are the most important magic words that become the backbone of the society which I learnt from my Fiinish experience.

–Lakshmi Sharat
Director Academics, Kerala Public School, Jamshedpur

Global Best Practices in School education

The trip to Finland from October 1-5, 2017 was an amazing experience. A group of over 35 delegates from India visited the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Helsinki and got to explore the ‘Finnish phenomenon in education and school leadership,’which is the reason for success ofeducation in Finland.

We also got to visit three schools and understand their academic as well as administrative practices. My takeaway from the trip (besides the camaraderie and networking among the team) is the evident passion among the teaching fraternity,research based learning, the culture of trust, phenomenon based (multidisciplinary) learning, involvement of community in education and a curriculum focussed on building skills and values.

A good learning experience with practices that can be adapted to the framework of our schools!

–Durga Chandrasekar
Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary School, Chennai