Students in Finland conduct a scientific experiment. Source: Finnish Education and Science Ministry.
This was highlighted when Finland reached first or second rankings in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2003 and 2006.
"Finland has reached number 1 or number 2, with very high rankings in reading literacy, mathematics and science. If one could make a calculation of the total, comparing different fields, Finland would be number 1. The country received very high marks in this international comparison of students," Finnish Ambassador to Thailand Sirpa Maenpaa told The Nation recently.
"Furthermore, the results that come from Finland are uniform. They do not come from some top students, but from the performance of all of the students," she said.
PISA is a triennial worldwide test of the scholastic performance of 15yearold school children, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Developed in 1997, the first PISA assessment was carried out in 2000. The tests are administered every three years. Countries other than OECD members have also joined the assessment.
Thailand is among the nonOECD countries. Out of a total of 57 countries, its scientific literacy was number 46, mathematical literacy number 44 and reading literacy number 41.
Maenpaa said many educators around the world were eager to know how Finland had improved its education so effectively, and thousands had learned from its educational experiences.
All Finnish teachers are required to be master'sdegree graduates, no matter whether they teach primary or secondary students.
The Finnish education system has been decentralised to municipalities and even to individual teachers. It is therefore very important that the teachers, normally holding a master's degree from a university, are quite autonomous so they can decide how to teach the students.
"Education is valued very highly in Finnish society," Maenpaa said. "We have invested in a highquality basic education that we try to provide to all students, whether they are doing well or not so well at school. It is not so much that we are encouraging the top students. We are supporting even the weaker ones."
According to Finland's Education Ministry, 6 per cent of gross domestic product goes to education. The country provides free education.
"We have compulsory primary school for nine years. All schools and all universities are financed by local and central governments, which means by our taxes. Books for the compulsory basic education are also free. We have school meals in order to ensure that students have sufficient energy to study," she said.
The ambassador said there were also a very small number of private schools in Finland that also received government subsidies.
"Providing free education is valued very highly in Finland because it is human investment and a factor for equality between people. It is also considered the main gateway for upward mobility in society. Even if you are not born rich, through education you can climb your way up in society," Maenpaa said.
About 96 per cent of Finnish students have a very strong interest in continuing with secondary and higherlevel education after the compulsory primary school. The country has a strong network of universities.
Outside the schools, the country has strong municipal libraries in every suburb that provide practical benefits for children's studies, while business enterprises contribute innovations to promote students' learning.
Another special aspect that encourages reading in the home environment is that when children watch international movies on TV, they have to learn to read quickly enough to follow subtitles in Finnish, while the soundtrack carries the original language. Other European countries don't use subtitles as much because movies are dubbed into their own languages.
Interested people will have a chance to learn more about the successful Finnish educational system from the directorgeneral of the Department of Education and Science Policy at Finland's Education and Science Ministry, Sakari Karjalainen. He will speak on the topic "How Finland Stays on Top" at the Educa 2009 conference, to be held between October 15 and October 17 at Bitec, Bang Na.
Facts about the Finnish education system
Dropouts during compulsory primary education, less than 0.5 per cent.
Class repetition, only 2 per cent.
Small betweenschool differences.
190 school days per year, 4 to 7 hours per day.
Moderate amounts of homework, no private lessons after school.
Finnish students work fewer hours per week. Students from some Asian countries also get high PISA results, but as a result of high student workloads.