The Educational System
of Finland




version get ready sought after
pair amazing read/read/read
option grade (2) find/found/found
decide minimum spend/spent/spent (2)
task excursion teach/taught/taught
cent hieroglyph run/ran/run (2)
jar find out go/went/gone
select equal (2) curriculum
free (2) clean up eat/ate/eaten
plenty suburbs after themselves
rink raucous chapter (2)
in pairs facilities see/saw/seen
skate evaluate investment
obvious mean (2) raise/rose/risen
tip (2) arrange opportunity
treat sit/sat/sat published
couch share (3) background
accept standard post-graduate
vast pool (2) seek/sought/sought
choice compare qualification
anxiety interfere homogeneous
trust applicant build/built/built
ancient bean bag begin/began/begun






It’s eight am on a cold morning in the suburbs of Helsinki. And these primary school children are getting ready for class.

This morning’s lesson: ancient history.

Kaija-Leena Alatalo, Teacher: “Well they are reading in pairs some texts about Egyptian ancient life. They are reading, and then I’m going to ask something: what did they find out from the book.”

This is a school system that for years has been among the world’s best.

And yet these kids will spend half as much time in a classroom as Australian children.

Aija Rinkinen, Ministerial Advisor, Educational Affairs: “When you go to the first grade, when you are seven years old, the amount of school hours is twenty. It’s the minimum, and then the hours increase the older you get.
But it’s still less than in many countries in Europe or in the world.”

In Finland, it’s individual teachers who decide how the curriculum is taught, including how much technology should feature in their classrooms.

Mintu Latimarki, Student: “We’re working on a pyramid project, for example. We’re now writing our names on paper with hieroglyphs. And then we’ll be doing some tasks from classroom.”

Eleven-year-old Mintu Latimarki, asks to leave class to work at the school’s own student-run cafe.
Kaija-Leena Alatalo, Teacher: “You can go. Yeah, that’s okay.”

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Journalist: “Hello. One cake for the the cameraman, one cake for me, and two coffees. How much is it?”
Mintu Latimarki, Student: “Two euros and sixty cents.”
Journalist: “Is there a tip jar? Do you receive tips?”
Mintu Latimarki, Student: “No.”
Journalist: “No tips? Okay.”

In Finland, school lunches, like books and excursions, are free. The kids select what they want, sit down with their friends and teachers to eat, before they clean up after themselves.

The children rug up again to play outside. Some play a raucous version of soccer, some play basketball, while others wait for the hockey rink to open.

There are plenty of options for bad weather days too.

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The facilities in this school are just amazing: outside we saw and ice-skating rink and in here where the kids can play at lunchtime; there’s a ping-pong table, a pool table and in here, for the cold winter days, they’ve got a room full of bean bags and couches and there’s even a play station in the corner.

Journalist: “It seems like it’s such a rich school; you must get more money than other schools.”
Vesa Ayras, Principal: “No, we don’t. It’s the same money for everyone, actually.”

In Finland, schools are not allowed to raise private funds or to charge fees from parents. All schools are equitably funded from taxation.

Vesa Ayras, Principal: “And in our system, everything is free for the students. We don’t collect any money from the parents.”

Aija Rinkinen, Teacher: “We want our schools to be equal and have equal opportunities to arrange our education. So therefore, the financial system needs to be equal and treat all the schools equally.”

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Mintu Latimarki’s older brother, Levi, is in Year Seven. And this afternoon, he’s got mathematics.

Oona Arnez, Teacher: “We are on the last chapter before the exam.”

There are regular exams in Finland, but the results of these tests are published a shared.

Vesa Ayras, Principal: “We have national tests. But the big difference is we don’t compare schools: that is not a good school, this is a bad school. We just use the information that we evaluate ourselves.”

But perhaps the single, biggest difference in Finnish education is the standard of teaching.

Levi’s math teacher, Oona Arnez, speaks five languages and has post graduate qualifications.

Oona Arnez, Teacher: “So every one of us have to have a Master’s degree to be teachers. So for example, me, I’m a math and chemistry and physics teacher.”

In Finland, a career as a teacher is highly sought after.

Oona Arnez, Teacher: “To enter the education department in university, it’s really hard. They accept something like ten percent of applicants to study teaching.

If you really want to be a teacher, it can’t be your second or third or I don’t know what kind of option. It has to be your FIRST choice.

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Paivi Latomaki, Mother: “I believe that they know what is best for our children. I’m not a teacher; I don’t have that qualification or background. So we don’t interfere with their work.”

In Finland, there is little anxiety about finding the right school for your child.

Paivi Latomaki, Mother: “We trust that they have very good schools, so we don’t need to do any research.
Father: “I think that is not a question in Finland.

Finland is a vastly different country with a tiny homogeneous society. But its educational success must surely offer some lessons for Australia.

Vesa Ayras, Principal: “I would like to say to try to build the system that you trust the people.”

And its investment in teachers seems an obvious place to begin.

Oona Arnez, Teacher: “The society respects the teachers and it means also the parents respect the teachers and they don’t question the teachers. And in Finland, that’s a really huge thing.”

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Classroom. In Finland, students only study Finnish and European history. True or false?

Whiteboard, Blackboard. Do teachers only lecture and students only sit quietly and take notes?

Marker pens, Chalk. Do Finnish students spent lots of time in school? Do they spend more time in class than most other countries?

Desks and Chairs. The Finnish schooling system is very centralized; all schools in Finland must strictly follow a curriculum set in the Department of Education in Helsinki. Is this right or wrong?

Posters, Diagrams. Do students only study at school?

Textbooks. Are schools in Finland underfunded and lack facilities and resources? Are schools in Helsinki of higher quality and have better resources?

Notebooks, Pens and Pencils. In Finland, test scores are used to name and shame “failing” schools and to recognize “excellent” schools. Is this correct or incorrect?

Homework. Is admission to the Educational Department of a university easy or very competitive? Is teaching a prestigious career in Finland?

Quiz, Test, Exam. Parents always want to know what is happening in their children’s school. Yes or no? Are they very concerned about their children’s schooling?
School Projects. Was your schooling similar to that in Finland? My school was exactly the same. It was similar. Some aspects were the similar others were different. My school was different. It was totally different.

Mathematics, Math. My friends and I enjoyed our school and think it was very effective. Yes, no, both, in the middle?

Science, Physics, Chemistry. If you could improve schools and the educational system, what would you do?

Literature. Which countries or educational systems are the worse in the world?

Physical Education. What might happen in the future?

Woodworking, Mechanics Shop. What could or should governments, teachers and schools do?


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