Finnish education has been a national success story. We are used to hearing how well our youths and adults perform in international comparisons of learning outcomes. The characteristics of the Finnish education system, such as trust, teachers’ solid professional skills and continuous development, have also been praised. Our education system has a robust foundation, but it must be developed further in the increasingly digitalised, changing world.
When international guests familiarise themselves with the Finnish education system, they come across a rather commonplace term which is, nevertheless, essential for education. The term is trust. In Finland, teachers are trusted to teach in accordance with the national core curricula. The learning outcomes are evaluated, of course, but the evaluation is carried out in a sample-based manner by the national authority. In addition, teaching and education providers self-evaluate their activities. This ensures that the evaluation is strongly linked to the development of education.
A prerequisite for trust is good teachers. In Finland, teachers hold a Master’s degree, and the profession is highly appreciated and popular. Good teacher education lays the foundation for development-oriented instruction that emphasises the autonomous position of teachers; they have the freedom to extensively plan and decide how to implement and arrange education in accordance with the curriculum.
Uniform education system supports equality
In Finland, education and training providers, too, operate quite independently. Frameworks are provided at the national level by the national core curricula and qualification requirements, but their application can be decided independently at the local level. On the other hand, the organisation of education requires a developmental approach, and it is supported at the national level. Interaction between the central government and local operators is not based on a hierarchy or the issuance of orders, but on dialogue, cooperation and networks.
Educational thinking has been characterised by a strong mindset of placing emphasis on equality and non-discrimination. Education is free of charge and the learning paths of pupils and students are supported in various ways. In addition, the Finnish education system is highly uniform, and it enables flexible transfers between different forms of education. Furthermore, the fact that there are no educational dead ends in Finland creates a solid foundation for lifelong learning.
Education as a systemic entity
From the perspective of education, Finland’s situation is good, or even excellent, in numerous respects. However, we also face challenges. PISA results show a downward trend in our learning outcomes. In addition, the level of education has ceased to rise, which is reflected in the relatively low numbers of university graduates. Cuts in the funding of education have posed additional challenges for the education field. Moreover, children and youths show symptoms of problems related to well-being and coping with everyday life.
Although these challenges may appear as separate issues, solutions to them must be sought from a systematic perspective. Learning and well-being as well as the willingness and motivation to develop oneself are strongly interrelated. Everyday work and development activities are becoming more and more communal in the modern school world, and various actors need to direct their operation through increasingly interactive methods.
Such methods involve, for example, the utilisation of co-creation models and coaching- and development-oriented management. This improves the ability of schools and educational institutions to respond to the changing requirements of learning, support and well-being.
From education system towards learning system
The transformation and digitalisation of work is also a major challenge of the educational system and lifelong learning. We need to consider how to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities for acquiring competence in the increasingly digitalised world.
Digitalisation also changes the ways in which competence is acquired. In the future, competence will be gathered from an increasing number of sources, such as work, everyday life, hobbies and online environments. Digital solutions offer novel opportunities for identifying and recognising competence.
In this respect, we should consider what kind of role traditional, formal education will play in the broad system of competence development in a world of continuous learning. One role of the future education system may be to act as an enabling platform which could, for example, bring together various operators and create the necessary framework for the co-creation of learning and competence.
The Finnish education system faces challenges but also many opportunities. When the foundation is built on solid ground, we do not have to take long leaps to move forward. The path of learning and education development is a journey shared by various actors. This allows us to provide the preconditions for everyone to have the opportunity to increase their potential in learning, competence and life.
is Director General at the Finnish National Agency for Education. He is a former Minister of Transport and Communications, Minister of Education and a Member of the Parliament of Finland. He has also worked as a director in the Finnish broadcasting company Yle.