Education system in Finland

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“The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has released a recent survey that places Finland at the #1 position for best school system in the world.” ( This was based on a survey of 15 year olds in reading, maths and science. The Finnish system is different to many other countries in that compulsory education doesn’t start until 7 years old with, at most, one year of pre-school education. There is a national core curriculum, but timetabling and delivery are left up to schools and teachers. There is no selection at any stage prior to higher education and, according to a Finnish Education Ministry Spokesman quoted in the Guardian, “the guiding principle of Finnish education is student-centred democracy.” (,5500,1042479,00.html). There is no formal testing or national exams until matriculation.

Although teachers are not highly paid, being a teacher is a highly respected occupation. To be a teacher in Finland you must have at least a masters degree.

Stages in the Educational System

Age in years Phase
0 to 6 No formalised (institutionalised) education.
6 to 7 Pre-School Mainly provided by social services in day centres – only 10% is provided by the education authorities. “There is an ongoing discussion about offering pre-school education to all six year olds.” (
7 to 16 Primary School (peruskoulu) Children are normally class based from years one to six, and subject based for the remaining three years - although this is left up to schools.

Schools are usually open for 190 days a year. There are nineteen lessons a week for years 1 & 2, twenty three for years 3 & 4, twenty four for years 5 & 6 and a minimum of thirty for the last three years. There are usually 60 minutes in a lesson, consisting of 45 minutes instruction and 15 minutes break.

According to a Finnish headteacher, half the children who start formal schooling can already read (,5500,1042479,00.html). If they can’t, they are given remedial help within the normal school. This is a pattern that is repeated for children with special needs throughout the school.

16 to 19 Secondary (lukio) Post 16 education is not compulsory and some students may choose not to participate – however only some 3% so choose. Students follow a three year, general education, with subjects defined by law. This ends up with the matriculation certificate (Ylioppilastutkinto/Studentexamen) which is required for entry to post 19 education.
Vocational Secondary This is given in multi-field and specialised institutes, as well as in apprentice training. It also gives accessibility to all forms of Higher Education.
19 + Polytechnics and Universities 60 – 70% of Finns attend one of the two forms of higher education. Universities give a more theoretical, academic education while polytechnics are more practical. No fees are charged for attending higher education, although this facility may be revoked if performance is poor.
Adults Folk High Schools and Adult Education Centres

These provide a range of cultural and educational opportunities for adults. Most of these do not lead to formal qualifications but a few provide access to universities. The Folk High Schools are mainly privately run, adult, boarding schools.

Useful links

The Finnish entry in Eurybase
Eurybase provides detailed information on the education systems in each country within the EU. (Visited 10-July-05)

Gasta Education
A directory search of articles on the Education System in Finland (Visited 27-July-05)

Wikipedia – Education in Finland
This entry within the Wikipedia provides an overview of the education system in Finland, including sections on: school years, costs, history, and external links. (Visited 10-July-05)