CEIC MacroWatch – Europe & Central Asia: Finland was ranked 3rd in the overall results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. It is an international study conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students and evaluates education systems worldwide. The fact that Finland has been able to consistently achieve a rank within the top five since PISA’s inception in 2000 came rather as a surprise to the world, but not to the Finns themselves; the ranking is the result of decades of hard work and careful planning for the country’s education system.
Finland’s Population Education Structure & Operating Costs
Chart provided by: CEIC
Finland’s rivals in the top five are Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Ironically, all four of them are Asian communities whose education systems are more authoritative in nature and are focused more on examination results. The number of class hours in Finland, however, is among the lowest among the developed countries; homework is given in moderate quantities, and scaled grading is not introduced until the fifth year of school. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to conclude that the Asian education systems are inferior to the Finnish system. The population in Hong Kong is 7.1 million people, while 23 million people live in Shanghai alone—more than four times the population of Finland. Providing education to a large population of young people in Shanghai and at the same time emerging as the top performer in PISA is no easy feat and deserves full credit in its own right.
There are a few strategies that many would agree should be included in a good education system. Finland places the highest priority on the quality of the teachers in all levels of schooling: Every teacher in Finland must possess a master’s degree and all of them are selectively chosen to undergo their respective training programmes. This is why being a teacher is a well-paid profession and is highly respected in the society. In addition, the Finnish government has made all school levels free of charge to students as well as providing funding support for meals, housing, and health care to students who need them. With education made equally accessible to all of its residents, the data show that the number of Finns who obtained higher educational qualifications has increased steadily over the years.
Education expenditure therefore is relatively high (6.50% of GDP), although there are many countries that spend more than Finland. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that Finland owes much of its success to its education system in switching from an agrarian economy in the 1930s to a highly industrialized economy of the modern era.