The Granite Tower
Infinite Challenges toward Ideal Education
Chae Jisu  |
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승인 2016.03.01  16:41:32
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Finland manages to remain among the top rankings in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), while boldly breaking conventional rules of effective education; it offers the most recess, lightest homework load, and has no national standardized test. The education system is eye-catching for outside observers, especially for Korea, a recognized rival nation in the field of education. The philosophy and methodologies are definitely worth a study.


Finland is well-known for its high performance in PISA. Contrastingly to the results of PISA, students in Finland have the least hours of mandatory and autonomous studying hours in a week, and furthermore the least private education among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries—0.6 hours a week, which is one-sixth of the OECD average. Behind the scenes of performing well despite the least studying hours in public and private institutions is a mystery and an ideal for many countries eager to enhance the quality of education.


Embracing Varying Capacities of Students


The core philosophy of Finnish education is to leave no one behind. The strong belief in the right to education to which all students are entitled regardless of their backgrounds drives the Finnish national board of education to make every possible effort to protect the right. The board does it by ensuring the provision of adequate opportunities to learn according to the students’ individual capacities.

Unlike Korea, where students and parents have a strong reluctance toward make-up classes held separately from the original curriculum, the Finnish are open to the assistance of one-on-one tutoring classes provided to help them catch up with the curriculum. The tutoring classes are regarded as effective, as they lead the participants to tangible improvements.

Furthermore, some Finnish schools operate the three-party conversation autonomously, in which the teacher, student and parent gather to discuss the individual learning pace of a student. In Latokartanon Persuskoulu, a general school in Finland, the three parties routinely gather to discuss a student’s educational process. When a goal is set in the three-party conversation, the teacher and parent cooperate to provide assistance for the student to achieve the goal. 

▲ Finnish schools provide students after school tutoring programs. Provided by
▲ Highly trained and respected Finnish teachers. Provided by
▲ Finnish students are encouraged to cluster rather than study at aligned desks. Provided by

The tutoring classes and the three-party conversations enable teachers to assist students in fulfilling the qualifications of each step one by one. “If a student fails to proceed in the middle and high school level, the student is then advised to search for other paths in which the student is able to display his or her talents, while the case is the opposite in Korea,” commented Professor Dr. DaeBong Kwon (Education). “Whether or not the students are fully understanding the curriculum as they advance to the next level is not fully recognized by the system in Korea. Thus, students end up forming a line to get into universities,” he added.

“Whatever it takes,” is the moto that drives the teachers of Finland. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive a kind of special assistance during the first nine years of education. Many schools are small enough for teachers to keep an eye of each student. If one method fails on a student, teachers try another one. They are consistently in search of new, creative, and fitting methods.  


High Standards, Much Autonomy


Another eye-catching facet of Finnish education is that the education board requires high qualification standards for teachers. A master’s degree is mandatory in order to become a teacher in Finland; even elementary school teachers have master’s degrees. This is a distinct feature, since not many countries require master’s degrees for teachers—even in Korea, one can be a teacher if he or she graduates college of education and passes the teacher certification examination; a master’s degree is not a requirement.

The well-educated teachers of Finland are trusted by the nation; the teachers are given much autonomy. Though there is a national curriculum set by government, autonomously designed local curriculums also exist in Finland. Teachers are not only trusted based on their high level of education, but also on the never failing solid results performed in PISA.


The Non-stopping Innovation


Despite the outstanding results displayed by Finnish students during the last decade, Finland continues to apply changes in its education system. The latest reformation in Finnish education that will be implemented in 2016 consists of three major parts. First, students will be taught on the basis of phenomena, rather than mere theories. The education board has not set specific guidelines for the teachers; the teachers are given full autonomy regarding the way they conduct their classes.

Second, teachers are required to engage students in building the curriculum. “Some educators disagree with this idea,” continued Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Graduate School of Education, Harvard University) in an interview with the Washington Post, “while other teachers believe the replacement of traditional teaching methods that cling to conventional subjects can lead to a fundamental innovation in schools.” 

Third, the reformation encourages more cooperation. The Independent reported that students would be asked to cluster around with their classmates to learn from cooperation from 2016, instead of sitting on aligned desks. 

Many experts in education question the need of such a reformation, considering the positive results Finland has been presenting. Yet, Irmeli Halinen, the head of the basic education unit of Finnish national board of education provided an explanation. “Reformation is inevitable in order to confront globalization advanced technology has brought,” she continued, “The society requires people of different abilities, and the education system must transform accordingly to the changes in expectations.” 


Adoption of Finnish Education―Possible?


The infinite challenges made by the Finnish education board to get closer to an education utopia are impressive. What stands out is that Finland manages to maintain a high rate of happiness index while performing well in the academic sector—it manages to catch two hares at once, unlike in Korea where students show great academic performance while the happiness index is extremely low.

What if the Finnish system were adopted in Korea? Though no one can provide a firm answer, experts claim that people must examine Finnish education in the context of Finnish society without looking at the education sector separately. “If we are going to alter the education system of Korea like the one in Finland, we must bring a change to the education process as a whole, including all primary, secondary, and college education,” Kwon continued, “Furthermore, there must be a change in the paradigm, in order to bring a change in the current unsustainable social structure.”


▲ Professor Dr. Dae-Bong Kwon (Department of Education) speaks about adopting the Finnish system in Korea. Provided By Professor Dr. Dae-Bong Kwon.


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