Learning in the Finnish School system

Why is the Finnish School system so successful?

Finland has a reputation as one of the leading school systems in the world and they consistently ranked high in the PISA study, which compares national educational systems internationally. As we provide insights in Education our natural curiosity kicked in and we needed to understand more.

What is different?

For such a successful education system, many of our findings seem at odds with the ‘best practices’ and expected norms from the US and UK systems. Here are the top 10 differences:

1.     Kids start school at 7 years old.

Yep, that’s 2 years after the UK system, which makes us wonder why 2 fewer years of schooling has a positive effect on their learning?! There is, however, a well-established pre-school system (free universal daycare), which prepares kids for life-long learning through the development of 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, curiosity and communication skills.

2.     Compulsory education is not streamed or separated by levels

The 9 years of compulsory education are not streamed. There are no ‘talented and gifted’ programmes. The students take an active role in their own learning, as students learn in different ways. This demonstrates the fallacy of streaming students, as for example, auditory learners may thrive in some subjects due to their preferred learning style, not based on their potential. The UK Grammar school system and proposed plans to extend grammar schools is largely at odds with the successful Finnish system.

3.     There are no private schools

Why would there be if class sizes are typically limited to 20 kids and the state system is so successful?

4.     There is no fixed curriculum

The state provides guidelines but teachers are accorded a great deal of autonomy as to their methods of instruction and are even allowed to choose their own textbooks.

5.     Language Learning from the outset

From the outset, pupils are expected to learn two languages in addition to the language of the school (usually Finnish or Swedish). Television stations show foreign programs in the original languages with subtitles, so that in Finland children even read while watching TV

6.     Informal learning environment

The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, and the buildings are so clean that students often wear socks and no shoes. There is no uniform. Outdoor activities are stressed, even in the coldest weather; and homework is minimal to leave room for extra-curricular activities. I can sense that many 8-year-old kids in the UK would love to experience this!

7.     There are few tests and grades receive little attention

During the first years of comprehensive school, grading may be limited to verbal assessments rather than formal grades. The start of numerical grading is decided locally. Most commonly, pupils are issued with a report card twice a year: at the end of the autumn and spring terms. There are no high-stakes tests. Wow. No constant measuring of teacher and learner progress, that puts such strain on the UK education system and is cited as one of the main reasons for UK children’s poor mental health today. 

8.     Free school meals for all

In order to provide kids with 1/3rd of their daily nutritional needs, free school meals are provided to all students. There is no means-tested entitlement. Kids need food to live and learn, give it to them. This is beginning to read like a utopian-list written by a group of creative students who have been tasked with creating their ideal education pathway.

9.     Teachers are highly qualified and respected professionals

It is compulsory to have attained a master’s degree to qualify as a teacher, their pay is higher than the OECD average and applications for vacancies are so over-subscribed that only about 10% are successful. Teachers spend only 4 hours per day in class and take 2 hours per week for professional development. Teachers effectively have the same status as Doctors and Lawyers. Compare that with a typical UK teacher, where many are abandoning the rigours of teaching for more lucrative jobs, fewer hours and ultimately more respect.

10.  Classrooms have little technology

A big challenge of EdTech in the UK and USA is how unprepared teachers are for leading classes using technology that they don’t yet understand. Finland is currently addressing this in their own system, by training teachers in how best to use and apply technology to enhance their students' experience. This appears to be a step that has been missed in the application of technology in other countries.


The big question is how do you reform education in the UK to deliver the same benefits and success to learners – better qualified teachers, devolved curricula, informal learning experiences focussed on projects and topics rather than lessons and subjects. The reform process in Finland started over 40 years ago as a component of the government’s plan to reignite their economy, so don’t expect success to occur overnight or in isolation of other economic activity.

What job is VR/AR being hired to do in Education?

The ‘Jobs To Be Done’ framework is a useful method for understanding how effective solutions are at addressing real problems.

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) have been seen as emerging technologies that are about to hit their prime. This is despite them emerging over the past decade and seemingly having very strong benefits but significant barriers to entry (i.e. cost of headsets and content production).

Now that the barriers to ownership (via e.g. Google Cardboard) and smartphone apps are addressing the limitations, we are waiting for content producers to catch-up. It is also now impossible to attend a tech-based event without the presence of a VR-based content producer or team being in attendance.

I recently saw Google talk about their experiences in 'Inspiring learning and creativity with VR' - the article is a great summary.

The question I still struggle with, is whether AR/VR are just a technology fad, looking for a problem to address, or are AR/VR a solution that is simply growing into its own shoes? And, Is there enough research about to validate the benefits of AR/VR?

Interestingly, the discussions regarding VR-research that I’ve recently encountered have focussed on the challenges with motion sickness caused by VR experiences and the ability to engage with participants whilst they are actively immersed in VR. Try having a conversation with a researcher about the benefits of VR, whilst you’re experiencing jumping out of a place at 30,000 feet.

When it comes to the application of VR/AR to Education, I can see that ‘student engagement’ has to be one of the main Jobs that the technology is being hired to do. But, similar to on-line learning, is the experience of VR initially novel and then difficult to encourage repeat use and retained engagement? Recent stats have shown how online learning platforms and MOOCS struggle with retaining learner engagement, and I wonder if that will simply be the case with VR.

VR, where the learner is fully immersed in a virtual environment, enables the impossible. For most schools, due to budget constraints amongst other issues, taking the kids to see the Eiffel Tower at the age of 8 is unlikely to be a reality. They can now experience travel through VR. More excitingly, they could go sky-diving, or feed tigers or even sit inside and interact with a classic painting. The possibilities are incredibly exciting and only limited by imagination and the content creators ability to produce. But where do these VR experiences fit into the curriculum and are they likely to be limited to one-off novel experience – like a termly visit to a local heritage site? Do schools have sufficient hardware and software available for an entire class to be immersed in the experience, or is it limited to one learner at a time? What is the optimum to deliver the best learning experiences and skill development?

21st Century Skills are the natural place for new technologies to play a role – skills such as problem-solving, collaboration and creativity – appear to be a great fit.

We’re keeping a close eye on how AR/VR develops in the education space and will be sharing more findings as they emerge.

5 tips for effective sharing of market research evidence

87% of statistics are made up. Yep. 87%. Or so said Dilbert.

Unfortunately, evidence from research is often a critical tool used to mitigate risk when making decisions or to validate a hypothesis of which problem to solve or solution to develop. In fact, in a report published by the Market Research Society (2016), their own research found that 72% of participants claim their organisation uses insight to drive decision making. This is in a UK Market Research Industry where clients spend £4.8 Billion each year (PwC 'Business of Evidence' via MRS, 2016) gathering the right evidence.

So, when I see 'evidence' being presented like this at a conference, I want to crawl into a little hole and hide. This type of lazy presenting is damaging to the credibility of our industry:

So, how might this (un-named) presenter have improved the representation of critical research evidence? See my tips below:

1. Robust evidence as a foundation

A strong foundation requires a well-designed study, that limits respondent bias and has generated evidence that is robust (think representative sample sizes) and reliable (think from credible sources). ONLY once you have this foundation, can you begin to think about doing anything with the evidence.

2. Believable insights that can stand up to scrutiny

Is it a 'Dilbert stat'? i.e. does it sound made up? How does this compare to usual evidence from this respondent base or in this field of study? Can anomalies be supported? Is it accurate? Only once you've performed your checks and balances to ensure that the evidence is believable and can stand up to the scrutiny of the decision-making audience can you move forward.

3. Does the insight serve a purpose?

Which particular business outcome was being considered when the research was performed? How does this evidence contribute towards the understanding of that outcome and steps that should be now taken towards delivering it? The role of evidence is to validate a plan or to make you think or plan differently as a result. Evidence shouldn't be without purpose.

4. What story does the insight form part of?

'Storytelling' is often talked about as a method for sharing insights and evidence. I'm a big fan of this approach as it doesn't present evidence in isolation and takes the audience on a journey of understanding. There is a beginning, middle and end. A good story is well presented to the audience (i.e. shows values rather than leaving them to guess), it is understandable and digestible. It doesn't have to be a long story or report - even a 2-minute video can do the trick - and the method will put the evidence in context.

5. Is the evidence Impartial?

A critical reason that businesses spend £4.8 Billion on research in the UK each year - is that they require expert and impartial evidence to underpin their decisions. Is the evidence any less Robust or Believable if produced by internal teams? I don't think so - but impartiality adds an extra layer of comfort.

Do you have any other tips that we've missed?

If you're looking for help uncovering insights that fuel innovation or secure investment, get in touch.



Behavioural Science and how it can influence Children and Education


The rather clever team at The Behavioural Insights Team have released this practical guide to 'Behavioural Insights in Education', in conjunction with Pearson.

As a parent, the guide provides an insight into Behavioural Science related to young children and some practical ideas regarding how to support your child to progress. These 3 insights particularly resonated, and the guide provides simple examples of how to affect change:

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As a researcher in Education, I'm fascinated by the fields related to Behavioural science including behavioural economics, social psychology and anthropology. Being able to understand and explain behaviour is critical for the definition of a problem upon which to build a solution, but also for defining outcomes against which any solution can be evaluated. Behavioral Science encompasses, in some cases, how to change behaviour.

Check out the full document for a more thorough read on the topic.

21st Century Skills, or Google’s workplace competencies?

21st Century Skills or Google's values?.jpg

It is impossible to talk to anyone working in the Education industry today, without the conversation steering towards the importance of 21st Century Skills, and how there remains an insignificant focus on developing them.

These skills are of critical importance for our kids, to enable them to find work and flourish in the future. It is interesting to see that these aren't really 'skills for the future', but are very much evident in the business world today. 

I can imagine this list being rolled-out as a set of competencies in any technology business in Silicon Roundabout today. For example, how would any progress be made without a basic competence in 'Design Thinking', 'Problem Solving', 'Innovation' and 'Entrepreneurship'?

If you or your organisation have a competency gap in 'Design Thinking', 'Problem Solving' or 'Innovation', please get in touch.