10 Surprising Features Of Finland’s Education System

We hear all the time about Finland’s education model. How everyone should replicate it. How it’s actually flawed. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s intriguing. But why is that? Probably because of some of the following unique characteristics originally outlined by Business Insider. Below are 10 of the tidbits I found a bit more interesting and wanted to pass along to Edudemic readers (hey that’s you!):

See also: Why Do We Focus On Finland? A Must-Have Guidebook

Finland has the same number of teachers as New York City but nearly half the amount of students. Finland has about 600,000 students while NYC has close to 1.1 million.

Every single teacher in Finland needs to have a master’s degree. That degree is fully subsidized by the state, too.

Students in Finland don’t start school until they’re 7 years old.

Elinag / Shutterstock.com

The only mandatory test is taken when students are 16 years old.


There aren’t any separate classrooms for accelerated learning or special education. All students are taught in the same classroom.

finland classroom


Compared to the U.S., Finland spends about 30% less per student.

finland money schools

About two-thirds of students in Finland attend college. That’s the highest rate in all of Europe.

Sipoo Upper Secondary School, IT College in Sipoo, Finland

Sipoo Upper Secondary School, IT College in Sipoo, Finland

Only the top 10% of graduates are eligible to become teachers.

The classroom size of science courses is limited to 16 students. This is so students can do actual in-person experiments in the lab.

Elementary school students in the U.S. get about half an hour of recess. Students in Finland get about 75 minutes.

students recess


  1. Pete Laberge

    October 24, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Yet, there is no comparison:

    The USA, for example has 1,000’s more students that Finland. The country is well over 100 times the size of Finland. There are thousands more schools. There are 50 states each with different educational needs. Doing this in the USA, might be possible, but more more expensive than it is in Finland.

    Canada for example, also has a few more students than Finland, And Canada is also MUCH bigger than Finland. And the population there is very much more spread out over a vaster region… As well there are 10 widely differing provinces, and also the “French and Native Facts”.

    The USA, could perhaps do it economically, but they would have to give up a few things:
    1. No more space program.
    2. Radically change their political system.
    3. Ditto their tax system.
    4. Ditto their banking system.
    5. Lose their military. (They’ll nevver agree to that!)
    6. Stop meddling in other nation’s affairs. (They also will nevver do that!)

    Canada would also have to make tax, banking, government, and other changes. The country would have to give up multiculturalism and bilingualism. Do that, and both Quebec and BC would exit Confederation. Possibly Alberta also. So them you would no longer have a Canada. You would have “Maritimes Confed”, La Nation de Quebec, The Land of Ontario, Western Land, and The Nation of BC. Five countries from one!

    England, and France could not do it for a number of reasons above, not to mention the fact that they are in poor financial shape. You could add Greece, Italy, Spain, and a few others to that list.

    Japan, well, they have their own ways of doing things, and it works for them.

    China: They have 4 Billion People, and also their own ways of doing things.

    Finland, is a rather unique case.

    • Mikael

      December 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      But Finland is bilingual like Canada (Swedish is mandatory for all). So I don’t see why Canada would have to give up bilingualism (or those other changes).

      Moreover, Finland is not that unique. The other Nordic countries are very similar to it. But Finland does better with its educational system.

      It is not a special case – there are reasons that can be replicated.

  2. Paul

    October 26, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Wow – way much better than 3rd world Australia!
    We need some education reform here really badly.
    Unfortunately down under is now in a vicious cycle of low standards perpetuating themselves (low standard teaching instructing the new generation of teachers).
    Add to that a poor current state – and soon to be National Curriculum.

  3. Bernadette

    October 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Interesting facts to compare to here in Australia. Paul commented that Aus needs an education reform and soon to be National Curriculum? All schools in Tassie are already using the National Curriculum and assessing with the bare skeleton of guidelines we have (yes that is another problem). Tassie has had year after year of education reform so not sure about this in regard to curriculum. It is true that many people getting into Education degrees need very low ‘points’ and this is reflected in the student teachers that come to schools for prac. Starting school at 7yrs? In some circumstances this would be fantastic but what about the majority of dysfunctional families where even when they are in your class and sent home readers, they never get read or returned for that fact! The government in Australia has encouraged people to ‘make babies’ and as a result Tasmania has the highest number of babies born (many to teenage mums). There is very little parenting skills and I dread to think what the children would be like if they started at 7yrs. Food for thought!

  4. Begoña

    October 27, 2012 at 5:43 am

    It is all a question of will power and a serious commitment to want to change things. Every single country in the world, regardless of its population, would be able to implement the Finish system if the concept of mediocrity and its presence in our society were eradicated and the concept of academic and professional excellence were implemented as part of our social fabric. Everything else–budgets, re-distribution of resources, money issues in general–would just fall into place as a result of the former. Instead, we have systems based on certificates, diplomas, mediocre teachers, mediocre students, and governments that are more interested in creating money makers than interesting citizens who would contribute to changing the world around

  5. Will

    October 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Here are some interesting findings about Education that are actually concluded by empirical research that refute a lot of the characteristics in this article that would suggest the US (or other countries for that matter) should replicate the education model in Finland.

    Before I even get to points found by research the biggest issue with assuming other countries should model education systems after another country is that when trying to generalize results of any outcome, in any area of research or study, in order to do so you need to have a good counter-factual. That means that if you are trying to generalize the results of Finland’s education system you should only generalize the results to places that are very similar to Finland. Is Finland anything like NY City? No. Not even close. Is it anything like Australia? No, not really. Generalizing results from Finland to other countries (or cities) that are not similar is dangerous and misleading

    Empirical Finding #1: Socioeconomic factors are the #1 predictor of student outcomes. That means that regardless of the educational inputs that Finland has decided to implement, the outcomes of their students will be different than a place like NY City, where a large portion of the students come from impoverished backgrounds.

    Empirical Finding #2: The notion that smaller class sizes = better student outcomes is only weakly established by research. some research finds that it doesn’t help at all. The empirical studies that do show that it helps, shows only moderate improvements.

    Empirical Finding #3: Degrees and or Certifications are not good predictors of teacher quality. Masters degree ≠ better teacher.

    Empirical Finding #4: student achievement gaps between different cohorts of students (stratified by race, socioeconomic factors, etc) exist before students even start school. Research suggests that policies that focus on early childhood development are likely to be more helpful then any educational policy aimed at increasing student outcomes while already in school. Students in Finland may be able to to start school at the age of 7 and still achieve high outcomes because they come from more privileged more homogeneous backgrounds than students in other areas.

    And these are just a few. Anyone who want to know about the state of knowledge about education policy should read and buy this book. http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Research-Education-Finance-Policy/dp/0805861459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351619300&sr=8-1&keywords=economics+of+education+research+handbook

  6. Ken

    October 31, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Interesting debate. Worthwhile school reforms are unlikely to come from replication or standardising curriculum. The McKinsey.com report, How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better, is a useful analytical tool to understand the contextual features of a school or system and what type of interventions might be useful, Hargreaves and Fullan’s book Professional Capital provides a compelling argument for reconfiguring the teaching profession and Mark Treadwell (http://www.marktreadwell.com) provides sound reasoning for why we need reform. These readings give us insights into the why, what and the how of school reform. Mind you I don’t see to many politicians or educational policy decision makers joining the dots except Finland and Singapore.

  7. Zach Henry

    January 18, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    how many years of school do u have to take in finland