Educational system in Finland

Education in Finland

The educational system in Finland has come under positive scrutiny in the past decade due to its high comparative test scores and its high rate of primary school graduation. As of 2013, Finland has an extraordinarily high rate of 99.7% graduation among its primary or comprehensive school students. In the Education Index, which was published along with the UN’s Human Development Index in 2008, Finland was listed as tied for first in education around the world with Australia, Denmark, and New Zealand. After the Education Index’s publication, the Finnish Ministry of Education released a statement attributing the success of schools in Finland to “… uniform basic education for entire age groups, highly competent teachers, and the autonomy given to schools.”

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There are no tuition fees for education in Finland for primary, secondary or higher schooling and full-time students are served free meals throughout their educational career. Students also receive free books, free school trips, free school transportation and—in some cases—free housing, in the event that they live too far from school to travel to and from the building on a regular basis.

Currently, the education system in Finland can be broken down into four stages: an optional pre-school program, compulsory comprehensive or primary school, optional secondary education, and optional higher education. Finland offers a free, half-day preschool program for children starting at the age of 6—these programs are somewhat similar to American-style kindergarten programs, although in Finland these programs are free and may be offered at preschools or at daycare centers with the license to offer preschool programming. Admission to optional higher education is based solely on students final GPA in comprehensive and secondary school, their performance on a national graduation examination, and their performance on entrance examinations.

Compulsory Comprehensive School

Finland requires nine years of compulsory or primary education, beginning when a child is seven or eight years old and continuing until they are 15 or 16 years old. Classrooms are often very small; on average, there is one teacher to every 12 to 15 students; classrooms with up to 20 students are generally considered to be the maximum amount of students per single teacher ratio in Finland. The Finnish educational system has a particular emphasis on allowing for free time and playtime during the first few years of education, when children are still at a young age and not yet ready for a school workload that takes time away from their ability to play. Socializing, outdoor and indoor play, as well as limited homework—or even the absence of homework—are all common in the first few years of compulsory education.

Typically, for the first few years of comprehensiveschool, grading and testing is limited to verbal assessments rather than formal grading, such as number or letter systems. Number or letter systems are only implemented according to the regulations set by the local educational authorities or committees. While students are issued report cards, they are usually only issued twice a year—at the end of the autumn term and at the end of the spring term. Midterms, final exams and other high-stakes tests are uncommon in Finnish schools. Generally, the only high-stakes test that Finnish students are required to take is one at the end of their compulsory education which may help determine whether or not they graduate as well as what, if any, secondary education they are best suited for.

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The Finnish educational system places a high emphasis on artistic and personal pursuits for students, regardless of their age. Students are expected to learn two different languages throughout their compulsory education, in addition to the primary language of the school. Students can also expect to spend anywhere from four to eleven class periods during a given week participating in art, music, cooking, textile, carpentry or metalwork classes. Students are additionally actively encouraged to participate in extra-curricular programs related to their personal interests and artistic pursuits, such as music, theater, science teams, and other clubs.

Grading in Finland is typically done numerically on a scale from 4 to 10, with 4 being the lowest grade and 10 being the highest grade. If a student receives a grade of 4 on a subject at the end of their spring term, they must take a special examination at the end of the summer school term in order to show that they have significantly improved in that particular subject. A student who receives numerous failing grades without showing improvement may have to retake a school year, however this is relatively uncommon in Finland as teachers—and even principals—often take a personal and active interest in students who are not performing well in school. Students are only “held back” and required to take the year after extensive interviews with the student, their parents, teachers and the headmaster or principal of the school.

At the end of their compulsory comprehensive education, students in Finland take a comprehensive test to assess their abilities. This test may be used to determine what type of voluntary secondary school a student wishes to pursue.

Voluntary Secondary School

Students in Finland may choose to pursue a voluntary upper secondary education after their nine years of primary school. Although this secondary education is free, and offers both free lunch and free school health care, students attending secondary school must purchase their own books and materials. This voluntary secondary education begins at the ages of 16 or 17 and continues for about three to four years. It provides students with a secondary school certification either in a vocation or in academics. Finland’s secondary education can be broken down into two categories: vocational school and academic school. Vocational secondary schools offer occupational training and education to provide students with competence in certain vocations or to prepare them for a higher vocational institute. Academic secondary schools offer academic education in preparation for higher-level university studies, such as those related to education, science, medicine, and so on. Admission to an academic secondary school is based on a student’s GPA and, depending on the school, may require the student to take tests or give interviews. Students may even choose to attend both vocational and academic secondary schools at the same time.

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