Never Crossing the Finnish Line

Charley King

As educators in schools, it is quite possible to never experience the diversity of another educational establishment; least of all one in a different country. Busy schedules, pressing matters, cost and time are all contributors to why we sometimes find it hard to take a step back from our own little world and step into someone else’s.

I have been fortunate in my career to experience a wide range of different schools, learning environments and cultures. Not so long ago I took a trip to Qatar, where my eyes were well and truly opened to the radical stance some International schools take in the erudition of the children in their care.

My most interesting trip thus far took place only two weeks ago, when I visited Finland to take a look over some of their schools – and to also ask the question, ‘how is it that Finland remains so high in the academic league tables, and have done for so long?’

Helsinki really did not meet all my expectations, upon first impressions. Winter did not help – it was twice as cold as Moscow, very dark, dreary and uninviting. However, upon introduction to staff and Principals from some of the schools, I felt far more welcome and at ease.

There is clearly considerable investment into education and schools in Finland; not only that, but in every school, all areas and every facility/resource was being utilised by the staff and students. It made me immediately think of our recent investment into 4 table tennis tables, which remain in a cupboard all week and only come out for the activity on a Tuesday evening! There was also a certain buzz, excitement, desire and general ‘wanting’ to be at school.

I wanted to find out the secret of Finland’s education system, as it consistently comes out near the top of global academic standings. I asked two of the Principals that I met how this is achieved. Jukka Niiranen explained to me that there is no one reason for this, however, he felt it was a combination of: long playtimes (outside/inside),  investment into teachers who are highly qualified and well-paid (many with Masters), a commitment from the Government to education and the Finnish curriculum itself. I understand these points as a headmaster myself; however, I don’t profess to know the Finnish curriculum at all. It doesn’t, upon seeing it in action, seem very different to the International Baccalaureate; which also produces very high academic results across the globe.

One thing, more than anything else that stood out for me, was that the children enjoyed their learning and looked as though they wanted to succeed. On top of that, they also had great fun during their extensive outdoor breaks – taking risks! Our colleague, Olga, had great fun trying out their ice slide!

With a considerable amount of investment from the Finnish Government into resources, facilities and educational standards, it is no wonder that Finland receive such positive results. There is an unquestionable amount of money poured into early childhood education and the quality of resources available is extremely high. This was certainly evident from the EduShow we visited on the last day, and to one of the private Nursery units. 

Given enough time, to not just take a screenshot of Finnish education, but to really dig into the curriculum, teaching, learning and general ‘way’ in which they approach education, I would hope to come up with more substantive answers than the ones I left with. That said, I did leave in no doubt, of three things:

  1. Finland believes in education – and thus, they invest in it.
  2. Even though there are 191 term days a year, much of this is ‘at play’ and through that, they seem to learn more effectively than children from most other countries across the world!
  3. Education in Finland doesn’t stop at any one point – their philosophy is that you never ‘finnish’ one’s learning!

As a CIS Accreditation Officer, and ISI Inspector, I shall certainly now look for an opportunity to get back to Finland and continue my investigation into why they are so cool at educating their children. My huge thanks to the principals of the schools who allowed us around their schools.

Charley King

Head of Brookes Moscow & Saint Petersburg