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Partner Organization: Finland-U.S. Educational Exchange Commission

Language Requirement: No requirement

Eligible Program Dates: January through June*

*Teachers going to Finland will start their programs in mid-January.  Program lengths can vary.

Educational System Overview

The Finnish education system is composed of a compulsory nine-year basic education, catering for all between the ages of 7 and 16 years, preceded by early childhood education and care and one year of pre-primary education. After basic education, students can continue their studies in upper secondary education by choosing either the general or vocational education track (or a combination of the two). The post-compulsory level is divided into general education and initial and further vocational education and training. At the moment, about 95.5% of school-leavers continue in additional voluntary basic education (2.5%), in upper secondary schools (54.5%) or in initial vocational education and training (38.5%).

Higher education is provided by universities and universities of applied sciences. Adult education is available at all levels. Most education in Finland is publically funded.  In basic education also school materials, school meals and commuting are provided free of charge. In upper secondary education students pay for their books and transport. In addition, there is a well-developed system of study grants and loans. Financial aid can be awarded for full-time study in upper secondary education and in higher education.

The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. The structure of the education system reflects these principles. The system is highly permeable, that is, there are no dead-ends preventing progression to higher levels of education. The focus in education is on learning rather than testing. There are no national tests for pupils in basic education in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum. The only national examination, the matriculation examination, is held at the end of general upper secondary education. Commonly admission to higher education is based on the results in the matriculation examination and entrance tests.

The administration in Finland is decentralized, which means that the education and training providers decide on how to apply the general goals and guidelines set at a national level. Most of the educational services are provided by municipalities or joint municipalities, especially in basic education and in upper secondary general schools. Municipal autonomy is a strongly respected principle in Finland that is based on the constitution. Besides municipal basic education schools, there are some state owned schools and some private schools. Only 2 % of the children in basic education study in private schools. These private schools work according to the same common, national guidelines as the municipal schools. They are also publicly funded.

Pre-primary education, basic education, upper secondary general education and vocational education are governed by objectives set in legislation and by national core curricula. Each municipality draws up a municipal curriculum based on the national core curriculum, while considering the needs of local children and families. Every school has its own curriculum, which it uses to develop its annual work plans for the school and for each teacher, as well as individual study plans for students when needed. Through this process, teachers learn to view the operations of their school as a whole and also commit to more than just their own class or subject. This develops their overall expertise, creating a better basis for inclusive practices. Students and their parents are also increasingly involved in school curriculum processes and their needs and opinions do influence school practices.

Unlike many other countries, the teaching profession is highly valued and a popular field of study in Finland. In the Finnish society, teachers are trusted experts, who are seen as agents of change in the development of the curriculum as well as the whole education system. Teachers have plenty of independence in planning their work, in implementing the national core curriculum, shaping their lessons and choosing their teaching methods and materials. Teachers are expected, not so much to transmit knowledge to students by ‘delivering’ the curriculum, but to guide the learning process and to strengthen their students’ “learning to learn” abilities and skills. They are also expected to cope with different kinds of learners and to provide adequate and on-time support to students with special needs.

Educational issues pertinent to Finland:

The Finnish Government decides on the national objectives for general and upper secondary education and on the allocation of the time to be used for instruction on different subjects. The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) operates under the Ministry of Education and Culture and implements national education policies, prepares the national core curricula and requirements for qualifications, develops education and teaching staff as well as provides various services for the education sector, such as publishing education materials.

The EDUFI completed the reform of the National Core Curricula for pre-primary education and for compulsory basic education in December 2014. The National Core Curriculum for Upper Secondary Schools was reformed in 2015 and the local curricula based on the new national core curriculum came into effect on 1 August 2016.  Local authorities are responsible for the local curriculum and schools in Finland. The schools have now started working according to the new curricula.  The timing provides Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching (DA) Program grantees a unique opportunity to learn about the new curriculum and future of schooling in Finland.

Defining competencies for global citizens has been an ongoing process during the curriculum revision process. Intercultural, political and societal competences as well as a sustainable life style are among areas that are getting more emphasis in the new curriculum. As challenges of the 21st century are borderless, internationalization of Finnish education at all levels of education is one of the priorities in Finland. DA Program grantees can support this goal in Finland by visiting classrooms, preparing lessons or special workshops for students, and interacting with Finnish students and teachers.

As Finland is becoming more and more multicultural, Finnish teachers can learn about best practices in immigrant education in the U.S. One of the objectives in Finland is helping students to appreciate cultural diversity as part of the richness of life and as a source of creativity. Other key areas that Finnish and Americans educators can work together on are the development of STEM education, introduction of more exploratory hands-on methods in science education, as well as use of new technology and learning environments in education. Finnish educators are also interested in innovative ideas in multi-disciplinary phenomenon-based learning, sustainable development and entrepreneurship education.

Finally, as the level of English language skills in Finland is fairly high, there is increasing demand to emphasize teaching English as a Second Language, as opposed to a foreign language. Many municipalities have already successfully experimented with content and language integrated learning (CLIL), thus teaching selected subjects such as U.S. history in English. There is also an increased need for authentic English language materials as well as for development of online English courses and teaching materials to complement the use of textbooks and Wikipedia and Google as web-based resources.

To learn more about the Finnish education system and developments in Finland, please visit the following websites:

The Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland: http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Koulutus/?lang=en

The Finnish National Agency for Education: