Some states think that they can improve their children’s futures by having them start school as soon as possible, sometimes as early as three or four years old. In Finland, formal education doesn’t start until children are seven years old. Before that, state-funded day cares and preschools focus exclusively on play and letting young children learn how to socialise with each other. The forest school model allows children to get plenty of playtime outside to enjoy Finland’s beautiful wildlife.
Primary and secondary school
The main nine-year bulk of a Finnish student’s education is considerably stress-free compared to their neighbouring countries. Finland has no religious, single-gender, or private schools (aside from a few private international schools, but even then, the fees are only a few hundred Euros per year), so every student is on a level playing field. This does mean that taxes are higher, but they do at least go into preparing a new generation of skilled workers.
Finnish schools also have significantly less homework and fewer tests, so students can spend most of their free time socialising or focusing on their extracurricular activities. While schools still start at the unreasonably early hour of 8am, which studies have proven to be detrimental to teenagers, classes are generally done by 2pm, so students at least have the rest of the day free. These school hours also include more break times; at least 15 minutes for every 45 minutes of classes.
This positive attitude extends to higher education, which is also free for Finnish students (although a recent change to the law means that international students now have to pay tuition fees). Their living expenses are paid for by social security, meaning students can enter the workforce fully trained with zero debt. Even university living conditions are better, with students staying in small private apartments rather than shared dormitories, and they can even bring their pets along to live with them!
This system makes Finland one of the best nations in the world to work as a teacher – a profession that is underpaid and quite stressful in many other countries. Teaching is a highly respected profession in Finland, paid incredibly well, and shorter school hours mean less stress. Standards for teaching are also very high, generally requiring a master’s degree as a bare minimum requirement, compared to a bachelor’s degree in other parts of the world. Even ESL teachers in Finland generally require a master’s degree, while in some countries the only requirement is being a native English speaker.
Why this system is important
Finland’s quality education system has been in place for a while now, but it is becoming more important than ever. A declining birth rate in Finland means there will likely be a labour crisis at some point in the future, which will increase the demand for skilled workers. A small country such as Finland also has stiffer competition for job places in niche industries, with more Finns needing to move abroad to find work. A quality, debt-free education puts them ahead in a competitive job market and helps them to prepare for a potentially unsteady future.