Guest Post by Ingvar Stål: Education in Finland, Part 1

This post is based on my correspondence with Dr. Ingvar Stål, Senior lecturer in physics, chemistry, and science at the Botby Junior High School. Dr. Stål and I began corresponding three years ago and I wrote about his work in designing inquiry-based and optional science courses at Botby Junior High. Dr. Stål has designed a science curriculum at his school and you can read about his work at the Botby school website.

After reading the post What the U.S. can’t learn from Finland about ed reform?, I asked Dr. Stål to comment on the article. What follows are insights into education in Finland from one of the leading science educator’s in Finland. His approach to science teaching has been highlighted not only at teacher development programs in Finland, but at research conferences, and when visiting groups of educators from other countries, especially in Europe visit Botby Junior High. Much of what you will read about in this post is based on his presentation to a group of 55 teachers from Estonia earlier this month, and recent papers on teaching sciences in Finnish compulsory schools, and research on humanistic and scientific inquiry.

Teachers in the U.S. will be very interested in how Finland tests its students, especially in grades 1 – 9.  Comparing education between different countries needs to take into consideration the foundation of the country upon which its educational system rests.  In Finland, for example, all children, by law, have access to childcare, health care and pre-school.  All citizens have a right to education, grades 1 – college, free of charge.  All schools in Finland are funded on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources, regardless of the school’s location.  None of these is true for U.S. students.  Yet, at the same time, it is valuable to find out what the is nature of schooling in other countries, and compare that to our own system.

Here is the first of two posts on Education in Finland.  This one will focus on education in general in Finland; the second will focus on science education, and pedagogy.  Much of the discussion of this post is based on this paper by Dr. Stål

By Dr. Ingvar Stål

Overview of the Finnish Educational System

Eduction authorities must secure equal opportunities for every resident in Finland to get education also after compulsory schooling and right to pre-primary and basic education according to the Basic Education Act (1998). The Finnish government underlines that the Finnish educational system is geared to promote the competitiveness of the Finnish welfare society. Finland, as a member of EU, support the overall lines of Finnish education and science policy with the EU Lisbon strategy.

Nowadays the Finnish Educational system is the result of several changes and reforms. The content of curriculum and the goals in education changes approximately every 10 years, but the Finnish Educational system remains traditional (see figure 1).

The Basic Education Act contains the main goal with the Compulsory Education in Finland:

The objective of basic education is to support pupils’ growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of society, and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary in life. The instruction shall promote equality in society and the pupils’ abilities to participate in education and to otherwise develop themselves during their lives (Basic Education Act, 1998).

Basic Education

Basic education in Finland is provided for children between the ages of 7 to 16. The basic education is compulsory and free of charge, what is more it is forbidden to charge students. All students during their compulsory studies receive books, notebooks, pencils and all needed material so that their studies remains free, it is even an obligation for the school to provide students with study materials. As a
rule, all children are to be educated in the school closest to where they live, but parents may chose other schools if possible.

Basic education consists of Elementary School (grades 1 – 6) and Lower Secondary School (grades 7 – 9).  The curriculum of elementary school consists of “mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish), mathematics, foreign language, nature, geography, religion (or ethics, visual arts, physical education, music and craft. In elementary school, there are no examinations.  In the fifth grade, however, student are introduced to the mark-system.
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