View Full Version : The education system in Finland.

11-12-04, 16:45
I notice that the Finnish eduation system has come out top internationally. I am interested in finding out more about how young people are educated in Finland. Would anybody in Finland like to arrange a chat meeting, or answer some questions that I have? (I have looked up some excellent websites, but I have lots of questions that remain unanswered...)

11-12-04, 19:08
Several of the members of this forum have children in school still and live in Finland thus having the practical view on the education system. We also have members from many sectors of todays day-to-day life listening.

I cannot promise that all your answers will be answered but you are welcome to try! Many of us can be found on AIM also whenever we are online.

11-12-04, 19:35
Thanks for the info Hasse. I'll post on here and see how it goes.

If I may, I will post a small list of questions....

1. In comprehensive school, I believe that students are taught by the same teacher until aged 13 or so. Do they stay together as a class for the last 3 years? Do specialist teachers visit their classroom if so. Or does the class go to the teacher in the last 3 years?

2. Do students have any choice in what they study at comprehensive school?

3. What role do examinations and grades play? I understand that nearly all comprehensive school leavers come away with identical passes, so how do advanced secondary schools select students? Is selection important for most advanced secondary schools, or just for a few specialist ones? Do some advanced secondary schools end up with the weakest students and are therfore looked down on by students?

Thanks in advance for any answers!

11-12-04, 19:49
You can find information on the finnish school system on:


You can´t get answers to all your questions but there is a lot of information.


11-12-04, 19:55
All children permanently resident in Finland are subject to compulsory education for a period of ten years starting in the year of their seventh birthday. Compulsory education ends when the pupil reaches the age of 17 or when he or she has completed the comprehensive school syllabus, whichever occurs first. Compulsory education does not entail an obligation to attend school, but pupils may also acquire the equivalent knowledge and skills in some other way. In practice, however, almost all Finns go to nine-year comprehensive school...

The rest of the article can be viewed at the original link (http://www.edu.fi/english/pageLast.asp?path=500,4699,4847)

11-12-04, 19:58
Upper secondary school is a school providing general education for students who are usually about 16-19 years of age. Upper secondary school ends with the completion of the matriculation examination. This will yield eligibility for all forms of higher education. In 2000, about 37,000 new students started their upper secondary school studies...

The original article can be viewed at this link (http://www.edu.fi/english/page.asp?path=500,4699,4840,4845)

11-12-04, 19:59
Initial vocational education is provided in vocational institutions and in the form of apprenticeship training in virtually all fields. The completion of an initial vocational qualification takes 2-3 years, and instruction is given in multi-field or specialised vocational institutions. A three-year vocational qualification yields eligibility for all forms of higher education. In 2000, there were about 59,000 new students.

The original article can be viewed at this link (http://www.edu.fi/english/page.asp?path=500,4699,4840,4843)

12-12-04, 09:01
Thanks hromar. That sounds like the stuff from the official websites I have read. But I have more questions!! :-)

What happens in compulsory education? Are pupils grouped according to academic ability? Is there any choice in what they study? Do pupils get marks and grades for each subject?

I have read that a big sports specialist school 16-19 ('upper secondary') selects which students they want - many students apply but only a few get chosen. Is this common?

12-12-04, 12:11
Hi! I´m replying as a mother of three sons, 13 to 19 years, not as a teaching professional.

When my sons went to school, they had the same teacher for the first two years. They studied in a small school, located in our small suburb, and could walk to school. For the third grade, they went to a bigger school, 5 km from home and had the same teacher up to sixth grade. They had other teachers for some classes ( physical education, music, foreign languages and possibly crafts ). It is common for teachers to ´change classes´ as some are better able to teach some subject than the others. The teachers of comprehensive schools in their studies also specialize in some subjects ( f.ex. my sister is specialized in music and accordingly teaches music for several classes ). The class is studying together for most subjects, only divided in physical education and foreign languages. Sometimes the class formed smaller groups, studying at different times.

When starting third class, the child starts studying a foreign language. Most common is English but some schools, esp. in bigger cities, offer other possibilities like German, French or Russian. It is possible to start another foreign language in fifth grade if there are enough students to form a group. My sons started with German in third grade and English in fifth grade.

When starting 7th grade the boys changed schools again. This time they had a choice of a few schools that have slightly different curriculums. The basics are the same everywhere but some schools have advanced teaching in f.ex. music, sports, maths, languages etc. My 15-year wanted to study more maths than the basics. He had a test and was accepted in a special class with advanced maths, physics and biology. In his class everyone has this same advanced curriculum and are academically above standard. In addition to this, he has chosen some voluntary subjects ( everyone has to choose a couple ), his choices were home economy and arts.
My 13-year, going to the same school, has the basic curriculum and can choose more voluntary subjects than his big brother. The class has all kinds of students, and is not grouped according to academic achievements. Both the boys are studying three languages, German, English and Swedish, starting in 7th grade for everyone.

The class is studying together for most subjects but, because of different choices, forms smaller groups, occasionally with students from other classes, for voluntary subjects and languages. The class goes to the teacher, having lots of exercise when changing classes during breaks :-)

The boys had some examinations starting from first grade. The exams were graded from 4 to 10, as is the system in Finland. The students usually have a certificate before Xmas and in spring. During the first few years the certificate did not have any numbers, just a written comment on their advancement in the basic subjects. After that, they are graded from 4 to 10, 4 meaning that even the lowest standards have not been met. If this certificate is what you mean by pass, they are most definitely not identical!

Not being a pro in this area, I believe that by advanced secondary school you mean a gymnasium, lukio in Finnish. This is a school started after compulsory education, giving eligilibity for university studies. Smaller communities only have one gymnasium but in towns there are several. They select students according to records received from compulsory school. The students can apply for a few schools ( three, if I remember correctly ). The schools start their selection from students having highest grades and when the classes are full, the rest are not admitted. In bigger cities there are schools with high reputation that can only accept students with grades averaging 9. This is also common in special schools like sports gymnasiums. With average grades under 7,5 it is usually not possible to go to gymnasium. The official opinion is that there are not schools with weaker students but, as parents, we disagree.

If not interested in gymnasium or not meeting the admission criteria, the students can choose vocational education.

My eldest is in gymnasium. He is studying in another city because of his deafness. He has gone to a special school in our own city for his compulsory education, with teaching in sign language but the same curriculum as normal schools, only without music and with sign-language studies. He started with English as first foreign language in 3rd grade and German and Swedish is 7th grade. After compulsory school he was also accepted to a local gymnasium where he could have used an interprenter but wanted to start in a school with all-sign-language environment. He will be taking his matriculation examination 2006 and, I hope, going to university after that.

Hope this helps to answer your questions...

Kaj Granlund
12-12-04, 12:28
1) the pupils are not mainly grouped according to academic ability. But they might at some extent be able to select the “level” of how deep they pound into the subject via additional courses. The education focuses on giving a broad base for the coming studies and life, not creating specialists at this level. Yes there are marks and grades.
2) No there are not many of those special schools. Some sports, music and international degree schools. But also in these schools they follow the mainlines of the education system, the special interest is additional. A very special type of education is the teaching in the minority language in the municipality. The kids start at a special language kindergarten in a different language than their own, continuing upwards with education in the other language until they graduate. A very good system of creating practical multilingualists. More about this at http://www.uwasa.fi/hut/svenska/centret/english.html

12-12-04, 14:59
Like Merja I´m replying as a father of two daughters, 18 to 20 years, not as a teaching professional.

Our youngest daughter is on the "upper secondary level", ie. what we call "gymnasium". Our older daughter is in university. Both attended Swedish language schools in Vanda and Helsingfors in the capitol region.

From a parent's angle seen the total education tube can be divided into three more or less obligatory parts:

1) the first six years of compulsory education, the "lågstadiet"
2) the following three years of colpulsory education, the "högstadiet"
3) upper secondary school "gymnasium"

As a result of this tube both girls hopefully have their white caps and their matriculation exams. (The younger daughter have three more exams in the Spring).

The "Lågstadiet"

The school was situated at approx. 3 km distance.

Tried to interview my younger daughter about the differences between pupils on this level. There didn't seem to be that big differences. The languages taught in lågstadiet was Swedish (mother tongue), Finnish (the second national language) and English (first foreign). Other schools in the region had the possibility for other first foreign languages.

The "Högstadiet"

The children started in a different school complex, at some 3 km distance from our home.

The differences between pupils start to become visible in the Högstadiet. They had the possibility to choose the "short" or "long" mathematics. The so called B2 language was chosen, ie. French in the case of both my daughters. Additionally they chose between the different more practical subjects (home economy, arts, music, ...)

The certificate after Högstadiet gave an indication to which gymnasiums the children could apply.

The "Gymnasiet"

Here in the greater Helsingfors region the pupils choose two preferred gymnasiums. If the certificate average after the Högstadiet is within the limits of the first preferred gymnasium this will be the school the next 2-4 years. If the pupil doesn't have good enough average grades for the preferred gymnasium he/she will be inserted into the sorted list for the second preferred gymnasium. If the grades aren't enough for this gymnasium either then the road towards the gymnasium is cut off - for this year. Many then take the 10th year in the Högstadium and prepare for better grades.

Our daughters switched to another gymnasium in the greater Helsingfors area. The school is on a 10-12 km distance from our home. They could have continued in the same school building as where the Högstadium was but for some reasons they wanted to switch. The school "Lärkan" they chose has perhaps other specialities than the old one since Lärkan is a bigger school with perhaps some better finances and resources.

The beginning of the gymnasium era started with a huge planning. The child had to choose the obligatory courses and the extra courses and practically plan for her three years ahead. In order to get the matriculation exam and the certificate for the gymnasium studies they have to have a number of obligatory courses and a number of extra courses and good enough marks in the matriculation exam (Studentexamen). The planning looks like higher mathematics for a parent... Back in the old days we ourselves had to choose only from three different basic lines of education: mathermatics, language or "real" (ie. natural sciences in general).

Both our girls chose their B3 foreign language (German). The three year of school was divided into six periods per year with an exam week after each period. The organisation in classes etc. is very flexible, since there is hardly any pupils having exactly the same planned courses.

At the end of the Gymnasium the pupils attend their final exams. Until now the exams have been maths, own language, second national language, real (natural sciences etc,), first foreign language, B2 language, B3 language. Most pupils write six subjects.

As the result of a huge, mostly language political feud (read: anti Swedish language feud) the system will be changed from next year. If I remember right the pupils after that will have less obligatory subjects ie. only maths or real, their own language and the first foreign language in the matriculation exam. And as the second national language is defined as "foreign" this means that there will be bigger differences between different pupils, schools and even language groups in the future. The main political incentive with the reform was for the bigger part of the Finnish speaking population to get rid of the necessity to be able to show skills in both national languages (ie. also Swedish for the Finnish speaking pupils). This even though both languages are to be handled equally according to constitution. God knows how the day-to-day services in both languages can be accomplished in practical life in the future, in this language political climate. Hope for the best.

The outcome of the reform I personally think will be that pupils in the Swedish gymnasiums will write Swedish, Maths/Real, Finnish as obligatory subjects. On the Finnish side I would guess that Finnish, Mats/Real and English/German will be the obligatory ones in the most cases. Time will show.

12-12-04, 15:57
Since some of the material in this thread was copy pasted from the www.edu.fi website I erased most of the messages leaving a short intro and entered the link to the original page in question. This in order not to offend the copyright clauses of edu.fi

Kaj Granlund
13-12-04, 00:00
As the father of 5 children, and a wife who is teacher in a "lågstadie" school.

In adition to Hasse:
the third level is splitted into two different possibilities a) the gymnasium (more intellectual, the matricular exam) b) schools aiming more at practical professions, carpenters, mechanics, trade, art a.s.o.
In the new matricular exam there is just one compulsory subject (your native language, finnish or swedish) and in addition to that three subjects from maths, real 1 (Humanistic subjects: phsycology, religion, history, philosophy, civics; real 2 (chemistry, physics), foreign languages mainly english, germany, french, sometimes russian or rarly spanish.
I agree with Hasse that this new exam might be very unfruitful. And probably makes it easier for the swedish speakings to get a job as so many workplaces demand people who can use both finnish and swedish, and as most of the swedishspeakings have some kind of finnsh skills and many of the finnsh won't have that, you might understand where that leads.
But they will still have to read the subjects at the upper secondary schools although they won't include some of the subjects in their exam. And they will have the school marks for these other subjects too. But they aren't included in the national matricular exam.

14-12-04, 11:08
Thank you so much everyone for your replies - they have really helped me to get a feel for what is happening in Finland regarding education.

I wonder if I could ask a few more questions about school 7-16

1) What if older children don't like academic subjects like maths, physics? Or what if they are very weak academically? Do they have a happy time still?

2) Do the students ever call the teachers by their first name?

3) Is there much homework? Do the students worry about their grades? Do they revise for many weeks before the exams? When do they get exams?

questions, questions! (Sorry!)

Kaj Granlund
14-12-04, 12:26
Why be sorry? Just ask!
1) There will always be pupils with different abilities and skills. If the pupils have severe problems caused by some severe brain dysfunction: There will be special schools for those. Or they might even be integrated with an personal assistent .But if that problem is lighter: this has to be examined by a legal psychologist. Once verified, that pupil can have an individual education plan in those subjects, and his personal “problems” are regarded in setting the marks. With many like this in a class the techer might get an assistent in the class to help those children. Usually the teachers recognize these problems but often the parents might be the real problem as they want their child to be “just like others” and refuse to take the child to the psychologist. Which in turn causes the child more problems in the education as the teachers are not then allowed to regard these problems in setting the marks. There are also “specialized teachers” who can take some of the education with these children, but also with children that aren’t dysfunctioned but have problems in maths or reading problems. If the school is small they won’t have one such teacher of their own but have one in common with 2- 4 other small schools. A small school has 2-5 teachers. If the school is bigger there might be possibilities to have a special group in that subject for these kids. Looking at the system I think that in theory the finnish system says that you shouldn’t demand more than the child really is able to achieve. But the problem might be that some teachers or parents refuse to see the problems and that there isn’t always enough money for the specialized teaching.
So some children might be happy with this and some won't.
2) I think there are few schools (if any at all) where they call their teachers by their familyname.
3) Oh, grades--- some worry and some don’t. At 16 there isn’t a special “exam” they just get their grades and finish school. But the grade will influence if they will be accepted for the next level. The nationwide tests for the matriculation exam ( abt. 18) will take place during a couple of weeks in March – April. With the “writings” every second day that is a very intense period and prepared with a lot of revicing. (That depends too, our son opened 1,5 books and our daughter had a very settled scheme for her preparations. She being the more academic still got almost the same marks as he...So a lot also has to do with your mind) And they finally get their exam the first Saturday in June with big celebrations at school and at home

16-12-04, 10:19
Cheers Kaj!

Do many students find the work boring?

Is there much bad behaviour with older students, say 13-16?

Do students think they are worked too hard?

Do many students want to go to academic gymnasium but have to go to a vocational one instead because of poor grades?

I think these will be my last questions...

16-12-04, 19:16

I am not Kaj but will answer your questions anyway. Perhaps Kaj will add his comments later.

There are always some students that find school boring :-) I do, however, think that most find it ok, some subjects are dull but many are interesting and I believe that every student likes something, at least physical education, music or home economics which is a great favourite in the school my sons are going to. Almost everyone has home economics as a voluntary subject, especially boys.

I´m not sure what you mean by bad behaviour... smoking? disturbing the class? drugs? Some rebellious behavior is, I think, normal in the age group 13-16. I have no hard data, only my experiences as a mother, a member of a family with several teachers and my work earlier as a school physician and today in a rehab clinic to go by, however.

Most of the kids are doing great. Some have temporary problems that can be solved in class or by co-operating with parents. There is a small group that is doing very bad indeed, using alcohol and even drugs from an early age, with problems at home and at school. There are special classes for these kids in all bigger communities but, unfortunately, some are not responding to any attempts to help them.

I don´t believe the students think they are worked too hard. There is not too much homework, most is done at school. In gymnasium some of the students, especially the most ambitious, are sometimes stressed but they can choose many of the courses they study and use four years for their studies if they want to.

Most students are pretty well aware of their possibilities to get to a gymnasium. If the grades are not good enough, they can study for the 10th year and try again. It is also possible to reach academic studies by going through vocational training. It is a slower route but many, esp. boys, find their interests later and decide to go to a polytechnic and possibly university after that, after a vocational school.

BTW, asked my 15-year how they call their teachers. He told that about half are called by their first name, the other half are just called ´teacher´ and one male teacher is called by his family name.

Merja ( not at all bored with your questions )

16-12-04, 20:03
Thanks Merja. (And for your previous post which I forgot to thank you for! Sorry!) This is all useful information - the sort of stuff that you can't get on official government websites!

It seems that in Finalnd you don't try too hard and it works better. Here, in the UK, we try too hard and far too many students hate school, and teachers do too.

I'm interested in the grades at age 13-16. I understand they are from 4-10. Which years have them? Are they based on exams only, or work done over the whole year? How many exams a year are there? Which grades count for gymnasium - only the final year?

Kaj Granlund
16-12-04, 20:24
I think I can agree with Merja. So there is not much to add. One think that in my region has become popular is to combine the gymnasium with a vocational exam. That is possible but will take in average 4 years. This means the students knoww thay have a profession after 4 years but as they have grown up they might find it interesting to have an academic grade too.
If you ask the studetns some might say it is boring but I think it is just much a way of their approach to seem cool. Most of the children like their school, maybe not always their teachers (who did?).
I think that calling a teacher by the familyname is not so much a sign of respect, they just have to call them in some way. Or what do you think Merja? Maybe there is a small difference between the areas too, but I doubt that is too big.
Bad behavior like pennalism is not so common. every school has to have it's own plan for preventing and handeling those problems as they turn up. In many palces there is also a systmen with what is called a "friend-pupil" starting with the preschool children getting an older pupil about 11 years old as a personal friend in the school they are to enter, and usually this continues all the way up when entering from one level to another. The task of the older taking care of the younger is to prevent that soembody is excluded from the school community.

Kaj Granlund
16-12-04, 20:40
The grades are from 4-10. If my understanding is correct that can be different. But here they are given tree times every year. The evaluation in every subject is made by the teacher on the base of school tests and the activity of the student in the classroom during the period. A student that is interested and tries but doesn’t succeed in the tests, can have a better grade than the on that succeeds in the tests but is nonchalant during the lessons. And this is know to the students. Every subject has it own tests/exams as a settled amount of the subject is done. As an example: our son had his last history exam in the subject of the WW II (Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin) That was the part they had to read and to have the exam in. Every grade in a subject might consist of two-tree different exams. So one could say they take it in small parts.

The gymnasium is from 16-18.

Gunnar Damström
26-12-04, 20:39
How much does it cost to put a student through college in Finland? Let's say the student aims to obtain a degree in alternatively engineering, economics or medicine?

Gunnar Damstrom

26-12-04, 20:55
In princip the studies are free. The students pays an annual fee of 83 € Åbo akademi (2004-05) including 31 € for medical care.

All litterature is available on the libraries, usully not enough copies so the students have to buy at least some books ( I think I bought 4-5 books during my studies).

Other cost are normal living, rooms and food.

26-12-04, 22:12
Just as hromar wrote, the studies are basically free. The small annual payment covers membership of university students association and medical care.
The cost of studies depends on the degree you are studying for. Most of the books can be found in libraries but f.ex. in medicine you have to buy quite a lot of books that are needed later in the work.
Most of the cost, however, is from living. The states pays financial support for students in secondary and higher education, the amounts vary according to the situation of the student between 20 and 260 euros per month, the biggest support goes to students over 20 years of age and living alone or having children, the lowest to students under 18 living with their parents. Some of the students are also eligible for a housing supplement for rent. You can also have a state guaranteed loan from a bank but these days most students work in their summer holidays and/or in the evenings and weekends. It is not common for parents to save money for the studies of their children but many give some financial support.

Kaj Granlund
26-12-04, 22:13
for 16-18 there are no annual fees, but there will be costs for the litterature and transports to the schools. We've never counted (which might indicate it isn't a hugh cost) although the third of our children is passing that level now. Think it might make 4-10 books a year á about 20-30€. A free warm lunch is included at the schools

Gunnar Damström
30-12-04, 05:11
Since it's free, doesn't everybody get a college degree?


Kaj Granlund
30-12-04, 11:18
No, not everybody cause the gymnasium is more "intellectual" and those that haven't got those skills or interests usually go to the schools that give the teachig for practical professions, like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, mercantile...

30-12-04, 17:52
The ratio of students going to gymnasium respectively other education is for the whole country about 65:35.

In Helsinki area the ratio is higher, about 80:20.

We must remember that
a) a 3-year long vocational education gives entry to higer education

b) not all going to gymnasium continue to higher education