11 Reasons Why Finnish Schools Are Different?

Every country has a unique feature in their school system that the others can learn from, even from first world countries who have excellent and eminent policies.  I am from Finland and went through Finnish schools.  We now live in Australia, and my eldest son started school here a year ago.  I am often asked which schools are better between these two.  So, for today, I’ll happily discuss this and give you first-hand information on the similarities and differences in the educational systems between Australia and Finland.

To give us a structured discussion, I outlined the comparison in eight different topics:

Age to start schooling

In Australia, kids start school typically, between five to seven years old depending on which state you are living.  In Finland, on the other hand, all kids start schooling when they turn seven years old, which is a year late than the average age in Australia.  Research shows that kids tend to be more mature when they stay at home longer. That’s why parents in Australia keep their children longer at home if they can before sending them to school, which I think is a good practice.

Pre-school level

Kids start on a Kindergarten level in Australia while in Finland, they have to enter a compulsory pre-school education before starting basic education at seven years old. Parents may opt to enrol their kids on a part-time basis, which can mean one, two or three days in a week of schooling or go full-time five days a week.  Pre-school in Finland is highly subsidized by the government, which is a huge advantage for parents in reducing the educational expenses of their family.

School hours

The school hours in Australia starts at 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  There’s quite a big difference in Finland. Kids there spend 20 hours per week in school which ranges from 9:00 am till 1:00 pm or from 10:00 am till 3:00 pm depending on the availability of the teachers, the students, the subjects of the curriculum and the class coverage.  Students won’t have to spend 30 hours until you’re on year six, which is about thirteen or fourteen years old.

Afterschool care

Afterschool care is available both in Australia and Finland.  Parents find this helpful especially when they are working.  The facilities are strategically located near the school.

Compulsory 15-minute breaks

Finland imposes an obligatory 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of learning time.  This policy is backed up by research saying that children’s concentration span is no longer than half of their age.  Depending on the school and teacher, the breaks may vary starting after 75 or 90 minutes of class.  Breaks are called crunch and sip in Australia, and it’s usually every after 45 minutes.

Susann the Nordic Mum sitting holding a mug

These 15-minute breaks happen with students in Finland’s higher classes as well.  When in year 6 or year 7 or higher, the classes take longer hours like 70 or 90 minutes, but the students still take the 15-minute breaks after.  It is quite different in Australia when the crunch and sip happen after every one and half an hour.  For example, when the class starts at 9:00 am, and breaks are held at 10:30 am.  Then another break at noon for lunch and another time out in the afternoon before the class ends at 3:00 pm.

Food and Transport.

Going to school is often shared transportation in Australia.  The kids walk to school with other kids or, the parents or grandparents drop them off to school.  While in Finland, students take advantage of free public transport, especially for those living far away from the schools.  The state or the educational sector organize and plan the transportation of each student, not the parents.  Most kids enjoy cycling their way to their schools regardless if it’s winter or summer.

School meals are free in Finland served by the canteens, which has a vast array of vegetarian options.  Nutritionists plan meals, and together with the cooks, they prepare the food within the schools’ premises.  School kitchens are big enough to cater to students and teachers to eat together in the sitting area.  Students are taught to say thanks before and after eating, clean their areas after eating and take the used dishes back to the booth.  In Australia, parents run the canteens and prepare meals.  There are special days when you can order special food as well.

Books and other educational materials.

Books and the basic educational materials like papers, pencils and erasers are free in Finland.  The parents shoulder supplemental materials like pencil cases, backpacks and sports gears.  The same goes in Australia, where a list of materials is given to parents.  They need to buy those items, including the mentioned supplemental materials.

Some additional facts:

    1. Generally, Finnish and Australian students get homework. Australian Kindergarten kids don’t get homework until they are on their year one.
    2. Finnish students don’t wear uniforms, and there are public schools only.
    3. Depending on the school, there are no real policies in Finland in terms of personal preferences like hair color, etc.
    4. Computers and iPads are essential learning tools in Finland. There are curriculum activities implemented to be aware of the correct and safe usage of the internet.

Learning Through Play.

This concept implies that through play, children will learn different skills and they are free from any pressure and enjoy being kids.  The pre-school in Australia and Finland are similar for me, and kids enjoy the learning through play model.

Teachers as Major Contributors in the Educational System

Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world.  And teachers play a significant part in it.  Here are three main facts:

    1. It’s challenging to become a teacher in Finland.

To become a teacher in Finland is more difficult than to become a doctor or a lawyer.  You are required to enrol in a university, get a Master’s degree and applying to the Faculty of Education is harder than getting to the Faculty of Law or Medicine.

    1. Teachers are well respected.

Aside from attaining high education, teachers are pillars of society. They play a significant role in helping parents to bring up their kids, which deserves our high respect.

    1. Great pay.

Teachers in Finland enjoy great pay as compared to their colleagues in other countries.  On top of the salary, they have three months of paid leaves every year.

“Teachers in Finland, are respected of pillars of the society.

Just like the doctors, the lawyers, the police and nurses, they are there to support the society.

They’re there to support the parents bringing up their kids. Hence, they should be respected.”

 Susanna Heiskanen

Sports in Empowering Kids

Sports are hugely important in Australia.  This is the reason why they excel at it and even bagged Olympic medals.  Everybody is encouraged to join sports at a young age in schools.  This activity would be a great addition to Finland’s curriculum.

That ends my list.  Both Australia and Finland have certain great features in their educational systems.  To say that the other is better or worse is up for you to decide.  I hope I provided much information to help you gather some facts.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this episode, and I hope you do too.

If you want to listen and read more about education and kids here is a link to my talk about PISA results and early childhood science education and its importance.

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