Finland - Educational System—overview
Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceFinland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education
The Ministry of Education oversees education as schooling and as culture. Within education, the Minister of Education and Sciences oversees the schools and universities including the divisions of general education, vocational education, polytechnic, university, adult education and training, and science policy.
Compulsory Education: Basic education is required of all pupils between the ages of 7 and 16. It is free, and students can chose the school they wish to attend, including several private schools. However, most students attend a public school in their local community. If it is not possible for pupils to attend school for medical or other reasons, the municipality in which the pupil resides must provide alternate instruction that is equivalent to that of the regular school. Free transportation is provided for students who live five kilometers or more from school.
Teaching groups in basic education are organized according to forms or years. A teacher stays with one group of pupils for the year during the first six years of basic education. In the highest three forms, pupils are taught by subject area (i.e., mathematics, history, language).
Age Limits: Comprehensive, compulsory education is nine years in duration. Pupils begin school during the year that they turn 7 and end when they turn 17 or when they complete their comprehensive school syllabus, whichever comes first.
Enrollment: There were 591,700 pupils enrolled in 4,203 schools in 1998. These pupils were taught by 39,751 teachers (about a 15 to 1 pupil to teacher ratio). School sizes range from fewer than 10 to over 900 pupils. The male/female population in the comprehensive schools approximately parallels the population of the country with 48.8 percent of the school population being girls.
Academic Year: The academic year begins in late August and ends in late June. The school year is divided into autumn and spring terms, totaling 190 school days.
Language of Instruction: There are three languages of instruction in Finland: Finnish (Suomea), Swedish (Sverge), and Lapp (Sámi). Each school has its own language of instruction, and native speakers attend the school consistent with their language. The national matriculation examinations are also set up to honor the three language groups within Finland.
Examination: National matriculation examinations take place twice a year in the spring and autumn and are held in all upper secondary schools. The first national matriculation examination took place in 1852 under the Grand Duchy of Russia. Today it is a school leaving examination intended to test what was taught in the upper secondary schools. There are no national examinations required to get into basic education schools or lower secondary schools.
Candidates must take four compulsory tests: the mother tongue test, the second official language test, the foreign language test, and either the mathematics test or the general studies test. Each test is arranged at two different levels according to difficulty. While the tests are organized according to the curriculum the pupil takes, the student may chose either level of the examination regardless of their preparation. The head of the upper secondary school will check to see whether the candidate fulfills the requirements laid down to participate in the examination and tests that are part of it. Three of the four required subject tests can be taken at the lower level and passed, but at least one must be taken and passed at an upper level. Students who do not pass a test may retake it in the examination period immediately following the compulsory examination that he or she failed.
The original purpose of the examination was to determine admission to the University of Helsinki. Today, the purpose of the examination is to determine if pupils have the knowledge and skills of the upper secondary school curriculum. If a student passes the examination, they may continue to university studies. The test is in two parts, compulsory and optional. The grades and points for the examinations are as follows: laudatur (7), eximia cum laude approbatur (6), magna cum laude approbatur (5), cum laude approbatur (4), lubenter approbatur (3), approbatur (2), and improbatur (0).
Private Schools: The only private schools in Finland are preprimary (for children between three and six years of age). There were 12,000 private preprimary schools and 105,200 municipal preprimary schools in 1998. Another 7,400 preprimary schools are located within comprehensive schools.
Religious Schools: Religion is a part of the curriculum in Finnish schools. All students take classes in Lutheran or Orthodox studies with the exception of those students who are not affiliated with those two major religious groups. Those students who practice other religions or who profess no religion are required to take a life philosophy course to replace religious instruction.
Instructional Technology (Computers): In 1995 the government issued a plan called Education, Training, and Research in an Information Society. The purpose of this effort was to promote national competitiveness and employment and to explore ways to provide wide access to these technologies by identifying the means for giving citizens basic skills in using information and communication technologies (Ministry of Education 1999). The Ministry of Education funded this project, which was monitored and evaluated by the Information Strategies Group of the ministry and the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development. Most of the grants in this project went to equipment acquisition and network building in educational establishments, universities, libraries, and archives.
The goal for Finnish education with regards to technology and development are ambitious. "Education, Training and Research in Information Society: A National Strategy for 2000-2004" states:
By the year 2004, Finland will be a leading interactive knowledge society. Success will be based on citizens' equal opportunities to study and develop their own intellectual capacity and extensively utilize information resources and educational services. A high-quality, ethically and economically sustainable mode of operation in network-based teaching and research will have been established (Ministry of Education 2001).
Textbooks—Publication & Adoption: Textbooks are adopted on a national basis through the National Board of Education with consultation with experts and classroom and subject matter teachers.
Audiovisuals: Finnish schools are very current in terms of the use of audiovisual material and have a major project underway to make Finland among the leaders in Internet use in classrooms and in the larger society.
Curriculum—Development: Curriculum development is overseen and directed by the National Board of Education within the Ministry of Education. Curriculum development for comprehensive schools is usually a part of a national strategy. Curriculum formulation and implementation is based on long-term commitments and comprehensive planning, often including more that one ministry. The curriculum is locally implemented based on teacher training and supported by research and evaluation.
Foreign Influences on Educational System: Sweden and Russia have traditionally influenced Finnish education. Since about the middle of the twentieth century, Finnish education has looked to best practices all around the world with special attention paid to the Baltic states (especially after the demise of the Soviet Union). There are various Baltic country efforts concerning education including a project of environmental education. In the information society national strategy, specific references are made to policies and initiatives in the United States, Japan, and the European Union, with special reference to Denmark and Sweden. In many matters relating to research and education, Finland has been very active in learning from and providing leadership within the European Union.
Role of Education in Development: Finland has a developmental plan for education and university research set up in five year cycles. "Education and research form a vital part of the Finnish strategy for promoting citizens' well-being, cultural wealth, sustainable development, and economic success" (Ministry of Education 2001). Finnish education is guided by a commitment to high quality equal opportunities for school and universitybased education as well as a commitment to lifelong learning. Educational research is guided by a commitment to research ethics and a balance between basic and applied research. The education ministry sees this approach as leading to economic development. The development plan looks to provide basic security in education, lifelong learning, a mutual relationship between education and employment, the globalization of everyday life, diverse language programs, information accessing strategies, and quality through evaluation.