People in Finland believe that human interaction is the most important aspect of learning; therefore, face-to-face communications are more important than relying on technical devices. This is an exceptional perspective compared to other countries, especially the U.S., and may be one reason that Finnish schools have a more relaxed atmosphere in their classrooms than is found in many other countries; yet, their schools achieve great results.
In an elementary school I visited, for example, more than half of the students were immigrants from such countries as Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia, and Ethiopia. Even with such a diverse group, the teachers’ focus is on supporting and guiding students. This is in contrast to the more common approaches of comparing and ranking students.
Elementary teachers (grades 1-6, ages 7-13) are qualified to teach 13 subjects. Every elementary teacher is a member of a team that meets at least weekly. Teachers work together to try to catch the weak students. This is deep in Finnish thinking, and as such, few students need to repeat a year.
After nine years in required basic education (until 16 years of age), students can continue either to secondary education or to vocational training. Ninety-six percent continue studies immediately after compulsory education, with half choosing vocational education.
Secondary education is designed to last three years but students may complete the required work in 2 to 4 years. Students take at least four courses but can take up to eight. Remarkably, the dropout rate is only 3%. Secondary teachers typically teach grades 7-12 (ages 13-19), are qualified to teach in both a major or minor subject, and typically teach at least one of each, e.g., math and physics.
The high school curriculum is non-graded. In the high school I visited, each course is six weeks of 75 minutes per class and meets three times per week. This results in less movement in hallways and school is calmer, in contrast to students attending five classes of 45 minutes.
There are no mandated nationally approved texts or other materials. Teachers find what they believe is best for their students. The system relies on the proficiency of teachers in their efforts to meet objectives. Additionally, there is a strong focus on self-evaluation. To put it simply, teachers in Finland are autonomous, academic professionals who plan, implement, and assess their own and their students’ success.