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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Finland’s Formula for School Success (Education Everywhere Series)

Early intervention and sustained individual support for every student are keys to educating the whole child in Finnish schools. For more articles and videos about classrooms around the world, visit our global learning resource page.
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Finland’s Formula for School Success (Transcript)

Pasi: If you look at the 15-year-olds, or 16-year-old Finns who are leaving the basic school, most of them have been in special education throughout their schooling. Which means that special education is actually nothing special. So it's you are a special child or student if you haven't been, if you haven't ever used special services.

Pasi: We are putting a lot of emphasis on the early detection of any difficulties and problems that the students in our schools may have. And this is a very different policy to many other countries where these measures are designed in a way that they are implemented only when the problems have emerged and are too visible. But we don’t' think like this in Finland. I think we believe in this early intervention to make sure that those who are likely to be in trouble will be recognized early, and provided help and support as quickly as possible.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] Two times two times two, how is this value notated?

Student: [speaking Finnish] Two to the power of three.

Olli: We as subject teachers cooperate with the special teacher in cases where we see that an individual student has problems with their studies. It might be problems with concentrating on a theme. It might be reading and listening difficulties, especially in languages and math. What we do is that we contact the special teacher at the very early moment. We call it the first intervention. We talk with the special teacher, and try to arrange a time that she or he could be able to come and join me as a subject teacher to my classroom, and then focus on the problem.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] And now we are going to read through all the words which we know already.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] I have a feeling that the students come here because they want to, they like to come here. They are welcome here, they don’t feel that it is a punishment.

Olli: The special teacher is available for a couple of hours. And then she picks the student to a separate classroom and helps him or her there. And we also make an individual learning plan for that individual student. And by taking these measures, we try to guarantee that no one is lagging behind.

Outi: [speaking Finnish] Even in a smaller group she has difficulties concentrating on her work.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] Has she had these problems before?

Olli: The student welfare team gathers on a weekly basis, and subject teachers inform the group with different cases. They might be bullying, they might be skipping classes, they might be learning difficulties, it might behavioral problems, all kinds of things.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] No, I don’t think so, and that’s why I’m very worried, because I can see that she is very talented. For instance, in her English class, she’s working very hard, she’s writing stories.

Olli: And then these individual problems are dealt with case-by-case in this weekly meeting that every school in Finland has.

Teacher: [speaking Finnish] It seems like she has a problem with her looks. She feels that she is too big. I was trying to tell her that she was not too big, I wanted her to understand that.

Merja: Well, a student welfare group deals with any kinds of problems that we see in a school having to do with problems at home or at learning disabilities, multi-cultural problems. The main value of our student welfare group is to interrupt as soon as possible, problems involved.

Pasi: With this policy, we are trying to really make it easy for everybody to say, "Yes, I have some areas where I need help now. Is there anybody who can help?" rather than trying to hide these things. And in many cases, when you do this in the later years they will come and accumulate even more difficult problems. So I think with this, we have been able to positively affect both the- the equity of the system, and also the quality of the system.

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  • Producer / Director: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Robbie Stauder
  • Second Camera / Audio: Joseph Rivera
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Consulting Producer: Nicholas Bray
  • Video Programming Producer: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producer: Zachary Fink

Produced in partnership with the Pearson Foundation.

Education Everywhere Video Series

This series takes a look at high-achieving education systems and model schools around the world to see what makes them successful. This series is a co-production with the Pearson Foundation; visit their "Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education" page for more information.

Finland Fast Facts

  • Only 3.8% of Finland's population of 5.3 million is foreign-born, which makes for a relatively homogenous society in a small country.
  • Teachers in Finland are well-trained and highly respected, and recruited from the top 10% of graduates.
  • Because of the flexible national core curriculum that functions as a framework, Finnish teachers are able to design their own curriculum and choose their own textbooks.
  • Finnish schools are typically small in size, and the administrators share teaching responsibilities.
  • Finnish schools provide a broad array of services, including a hot meal for every student daily, health and dental care, and psychological guidance.
  • About 40% of students in Finnish secondary schools receive some kind of special intervention. School faculties include a "special teacher" who is assigned to identify student who need extra help and then provide it.
  • Upper secondary schools in Finland employ a modular structure that enables students to design their own learning programs based on their individual needs and interests.
  • Finland's graduation rate for upper secondary students was 93% in 2008.
  • On the last three Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests (given in 2003, 2006, and 2009), Finland has scored either first or second out of all OECD countries for all three measures: scientific literacy, math literacy, and reading literacy. (Source: Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture)

Watch more videos in the Education Everywhere series:

Or visit our global learning resource page for more resources.

Source: Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Results PDF report by the OECD, from the Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Finland page by the Pearson Foundation.

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