Directorate for Education and Skills

Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Finland


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  Last update 20 November 2013
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‌‌Finland’s educational context

‌‌Students: Finland has been and continues to be one of OECD’s top PISA performers since 2000, with students performing in the top ranks in reading, science and mathematics between 2000 and 2009, and low impact of students’ background on educational performance. Adults in Finland have also ranked among the top skilled across participating countries in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), with younger adults scoring higher than all adults in Finland and young adults in other countries. Finland has nine years of basic education (comprehensive school) with a strong focus on equity and on preventing low achievement, and offers flexibility at upper secondary level between general and vocational education and training options that lead to tertiary education. Completion rates in upper secondary and tertiary are higher than the OECD average. In the context of the economic crisis, unemployment rates for 25-64 year-olds increased but remained below the OECD average.

Institutions: Finnish society and its education system place great importance on their schools and day-care facilities and trust the proficiency of their school leaders, teachers and educational staff, with no national standardised tests or high-stakes evaluation. Teaching is a highly appreciated profession, and teachers are required to have a master's degree that includes research and practice-based studies. Compared to workers with a tertiary education, their salary is slightly above the OECD average. They have pedagogical autonomy to teach and assess students' learning, which requires capacity and professional development for both teaching and evaluation responsibilities.

Governance and funding: In a decentralised approach, the Finnish Government defines and sets educational priorities, while schools and day-care centres are principally maintained and supported by municipalities (local authorities), which have significant responsibility for organisation of education, funding, curriculum and hiring personnel. A national Education and Research Development Plan outlines education policy priorities every four years, and the government and the Ministry of Education and Culture prepare and implement education policy. Social and political agreement on the value of education has provided stability on the structure and key features of the education system.

‌‌Key policy issues

Finland's high education performance is supported by system-level policies that encourage quality and equity. These can be continued and complemented with further focus on reducing recent inequities in specific groups: large performance gaps are seen between boys and girls and between native students and students with immigrant background. In addition, demographic changes imply a smaller proportion of younger people in Finland, and there have been some mismatches between supply and demand of study places and labour market needs.

‌‌Recent policy responses

Finland’s preventive approach to school failure has been successful. It combines early recognition by teachers of low performance with holistic support that involves both school and social welfare staff. Teacher quality has also been developed through strong initial teacher education to a master's level with practical experience.

Further reforms have been introduced. The transfer of early childhood education and care services from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Education and Culture (2013) represents a major shift in perspective. Education and Research 2011-2016: A development plan aims to increase participation of students with immigrant background in preparatory education to improve their opportunity to finish upper secondary education, Curriculum reform is being developed from pre-primary through upper secondary education, to be implemented from 2016. Efforts are being made to ensure post-basic qualification completion and employment for youth, including the introduction of the Youth Guarantee programme (2013).

To provide clear criteria, raise quality and facilitate evaluation, Quality Criteria for Basic Education (2010) was developed, and evaluation activities will be merged into a new Education Evaluation Centre from 2014.

A general reform of the Finnish municipality structure has been prepared to secure high quality and equitable education services and consolidate local self-government.

Finland achieved higher-than-average reading scores in PISA 2009 (536 mean score compared to the OECD average of 493), and the impact of socio-economic status on attainment (8%) was lower than the OECD average of 14% (see interactive chart below).


Secondary and tertiary education attainment is at the OECD average or higher: 90% of 25-34 year-olds have attained at least secondary education (compared to the OECD average of 82%), and 39% have attained tertiary education (compared to the OECD average of 39%) (see interactive chart below).


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