A common subject in this year’s back-to-school stories, as it has been for the past few years, is the ‘Finnish Miracle’. That is, the Finnish education system, made over by government in the 1970s and now considered a startling success, worldwide. To most reviewers, ‘success’ is attributed to the Finnish education system because of the top-level scores 15-year old Finnish students have tallied since 2000 on standardized, international  tests, including last year’s testing in math, science, and literacy.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, ‘Why my children were lucky to get accepted to a Finnish school in Qatar’, the author calls the Finnish system “one of the best in the world” and she correctly points out ways the Finnish system is strikingly different from the conventional schooling model of most North American, European, and Asian countries.

Characteristics of Finnish schooling may strike you as startling, too. Here are a few:

  • students don’t start school until they are 7, reflecting a Finnish belief in the importance of play and being with family,
  • students stay with their first teacher for 7 years from the time they begin schooling, reflecting support for the cultivation of deeper, longer-lasting relationships between students, educators and families,
  • schools days are only 3-4 hours long with little homework,
  • there is no standardized testing until students matriculate at 17 (*students are chosen at random to participate in the international testing)

In SelfDesign we’ve known these characteristics for years and we see much of the Finnish system reflected in ours, which Brent Cameron pioneered 30 years ago.  To us, the results arising from both approaches to nurturing learning go far beyond test scores and strike us as less “miraculous” than they reflect insights about how human learning – and particularly that of children and youth – might be optimized.

Written by Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Foundation