What is an education for?

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7. Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world.

Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students.
…with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. “It’s fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class,” Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. “In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs.” 

In conjunction with the post below, a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson and our own schooling experience with the APPLE program, an alternative program, this is another validation. APPLE was a co-operative, non-competitive program, with parents involved often as volunteers in the classroom – the concept of teaching to the child, and in a multi-grade classroom, kids helping kids, was essential to philosophy. Alas, politicians possessed of ideas of slashing funding, lazy teachers, instilling competitive values, and tests to measure the widgets rammed a standardized curriculum onto Ontario. We’re slowly recovering.


  1. Another aspect of Finnish public schools that isn’t mentioned in this article, but is, I think, very important, is that kids are kept together as a class group over several years of schooling.

    That kind of social stability goes a long way to helping kids concentrate on learning rather than fitting in socially, and it’s very different than U.S. schools, which dissolve class groupings from year to year and, in the case of middle and high schools, from hour to hour.

  2. I want to emphasize that one of the strengths of the APPLE program were those split grades and multigrade groupings. They caused opportunities for mentoring and strengthened social bonds across ages.

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