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10. Literacy

With regard to the pupils level of attainment in literacy skills, the Finnish basic education seems to be very effective. In an international comparative analysis of literacy (IEA), Finnish pupils were in the top class. There are several reasons for the good results. In the Finnish society reading has traditionally considered important. Reading material is also easily available. Books are free of charge at comprehensive schools. A network of high-quality local libraries, completed with the mobile libraries in the country side, serve citizens all around Finland - free of charge.

In the Finnish society, illiteracy is not a problem. Instead, the functional literacy has been on focus of concern. Literacy is no longer defined merely in terms of a basic reading ability, but seen as how adults use written information to function actively in society. When the society has become more complex and new technologies have changed the working life, low-skill jobs are disappearing. Inadequate levels of literacy may threaten the strength of economies and the social as well as the cultural development of nations.

With these high stakes, also Finland has participated in the Second International Adult Literacy Survey (SIALS), initiated by OECD and conducted in 1997-1999. For Finland, the participation in the SIALS will provide an opportunity to draw the first literacy profile for the entire adult (16–65 years old) population. The objectives proposed for Sials in Finland are e.g. to profile the literacy proficiencies of the adult population and the important sub-groups , and to collect a variety of social, cultural and economic variables which can be associated with the literacy abilities in order to understand and explain the differences as well as to develop remedial training for risk population.

The national report will be available in January 2000.


11. Steering in a decentralised system – quality through evaluation

11.1 Decentralisation of decision-making

The educational administration was earlier characterised by the State's detailed steering and control. Since the 1980's, school legislation has been reformed, continuously increasing the decision-making power of municipalities and educational institutions. The reform of legislation on education that was carried in the latter half of 1990’s transferred more responsibility to the local level, and at the same time provided pupils and students with more freedom of choice concerning their studies.

Steering and control of the municipalities' educational administration through state subsidies has decreased radically, and the municipalities' cultural and educational administration is no longer much steered by field-specific legislation. The responsibility for teaching arrangements, course content and the selection of teaching material have been passed to the local level.

In a decentralised system - especially in the absence of a separate inspection department - evaluation plays a significant role in the steering of education. In legislation, evaluation duties have been assigned to both education providers and the authorities.

11.2 Quality through evaluation

The evaluation of education started in Finland during the great school reforms in the 1960's and 1970's. Evaluation that was started in conjunction with the school reforms was based on centralised administration and rational reform strategy (decision-making - development - experiment - implementation - evaluation). Since the 1980's, this basic framework of evaluation has collapsed, and there is currently a new development phase of evaluation, which has not started from the evaluation itself, but from changes in administration, in other words, in the steering of schools, where the focus has shifted from normative to informative steering. This dismantling of the central administration's decision-making power since the late 1980's has given rise to a new steering system which is based on self-regulation. Its central characteristics include increasing decision-making power at the level of implementation, allocating state appropriations as calculatory (not ear-marked) 'lump sums' and evaluating educational outcomes.

Self-evaluation has most strongly been steered with the state budget and core curricula. Under the new legislation, effective as from 1 January 1999, educational institutions are obligated to evaluate their own operation and its effects. The national evaluation of educational outcomes will also be partially carried out on the basis of the institutions' self-evaluation. Both external and self-evaluation aim at intensifying educational outcomes, the sectors of which are efficiency, effectiveness and financial accountability.

At the local level, municipalities and the educational institutions maintained by the local authorities have the responsibility to develop the education they provide according to the local conditions. Evaluation stems primarily from the educational objectives of the municipal educational administration, which must be based on national objectives. As a result of the increased independence of the educational institutions and their maintaining bodies, the educational institutions have been differentiated, and the options they provide have multiplied. This has in part increased the need for information obtained through evaluation.

At the local level, evaluation targets may include the accessibility of education, the financial accountability of educational institutions, and the realisation of the objectives of the municipal education/cultural policies, as well as the differences between various educational institutions. At the institutional level, the evaluation targets consist of achieving the objectives, completion of pedagogic and curricular reforms, and use of resources.

At the national level, monitoring and evaluation focuses on the extent to which the objectives set in statutes, education policy decisions and core curricula are being achieved. The three ground pillars of the national evaluation system are the evaluation of the learning results, the production of indicators, and the changing thematic evaluations.

The task of the authorities is to evaluate the realisation of education policy, such as the implementation of structural changes, their realisation and effects. In addition, the authorities are responsible for evaluating the achievement of equality and basic security in education.

A further aim of the national education system is to support educational institutions and teachers in the continuous reform of education, on the one hand, and to produce and convey versatile, up-to-date and reliable information on the functionality and outcomes of the institutions and the entire education system, on the other. The results of the evaluation and the methods and materials used are public. Information obtained through the evaluation of education is produced for the use of educational authorities, political decision-makers, educational institutions and their maintaining bodies.

12. Teachers

12.1 Teacher education and training

All education and training of class teachers and subjects teachers, working in comprehensive schools and general upper secondary schools was transferred to universities in the 1970’s. Class teachers have a higher academic degree (Master’s) in education that can be completed in five years. Class teachers teach the lower classes of comprehensive school. The subject teachers teach in the upper classes of comprehensive school and in general upper secondary school. They take a higher university degree in the faculty responsible for the instruction and research of their major subject.

The training of kindergarten teachers was transferred to the universities in the academic year 1995/96. The degree of kindergarten teacher education is a lower academic degree (Bachelor’s), which can be completed in three academic years. Since 1996, Finnish vocational teacher education has been organised in vocational teacher education colleges operating in conjunction with polytechnics.

Universities can decide on teaching methods independently. Finnish teacher education is characterised by an emphasis on research-oriented approach. Teaching practice plays a central role in all teacher education.

The aim of teaching practice is to broaden the students' idea of the teacher's work and to familiarise them with different methods of carrying out the teacher's duties. Another aim is that the students find their own personalities as teachers and that they are capable of developing their instruction and taking independent, creative and well-founded solutions to problems which can occur in teaching situations. A further aim is to guide the students in evaluating their own work and to support their professional growth.

At the beginning of 1995, teacher qualifications were unified for all kinds of educational institutions (comprehensive schools, general upper secondary schools, vocational institutions and non-formal adult education institutions). The same minimum of 35 credits of pedagogical studies is required of all teachers for each of these institutions, including basic and subject studies in education, subject didactics and teaching practice.

Separate training is arranged for Swedish-speaking teachers in Finland. The number of Swedish-speaking teachers - both primary school teachers and secondary and upper secondary school teachers - taken in the training programmes was increased in the autumn of 1998.

There are quotas for students speaking the Sami language in the training of primary school teachers in two universities situated in the Northern Finland. The Ministry of Education has set up a working group to draft a proposal for the practical arrangements concerning the training of secondary teachers speaking the Sami language.

Plans have also been made to establish a quota for the training of primary school teachers speaking the Romani language. The Ministry of Education has also accepted the training programme and the advanced training programme of Romani culture instructors as programmes referred to in the 1997 Act on Vocational Training Programmes. There are no possibilities for studying the Romani language at the university level.

The university training of teachers includes no special arrangements for other minority groups.

12.2 Future challenges

The class teacher degree has since long been one of the most popular fields of study offered by the universities. The standard of applicants is high, and only 10-15 per cent of applicants gain admission. As regards the training of subject teachers and vocational teachers the situation is different. In several fields, for example in foreign languages and mathematics, there is even lack of applicants.

Teaching is a predominantly female profession in Finland. The majority of teachers in the regular education system are women in all types of institution apart from the universities. For some time there were even quotas for mail applicants in teacher training, but these are no longer used.

One of the challenges for the future is therefore finding ways to increase the popularity of teaching profession among young and especially young men.

Ageing of the teaching personnel is another challenge. The median age of the teachers in the regular education system was 43 years in 1996. There are however differences between types of institutions in the age structure. Kindergarten teachers form the youngest group with a median age of only 35 years. The oldest teachers can be found in the general upper secondary schools where the median age is 47. The median hides regional variations as well as differences between subjects. The greatest proportions of teachers approaching retirement age can be found on the one hand in Eastern parts of Finland and on the other hand among German language teachers.

In 1998, the educational authorities launched a national project that will investigate the needs of teachers at primary and secondary levels for initial and continuing training by the year 2010.

The project emphasises the significance of the teaching profession in a situation where changes in working life are increasing and accelerating, where legislation is being reformed, decentralisation is progressing, communications and educational technologies in particular are developing and the content development of instruction is gaining more emphasis. The long-term objective of the project is to contribute to ensuring the future development opportunities of education and training and the availability of skilled labour.

12.3 Key figures

Table 12.1 Age structure of the teachers in the regular education system and the percentage of female teachers in 1996



  Teachers Women


< 30




40-49 (%) 50-59 (%) > 60




Kindergartens 8 737 96 23.2 46.2 24.9 5.5 0.2 35
Comprehensive schools 39 966 68 11.6 26.8 32.2 28.5 0.8 43
General upper secondary schools 5 766 64 8.0 20.4 28.8 36.3 6.4 47
Vocational schools and colleges 15 063 53 4.1 26.4 41.5 25.2 2.7 44
Polytechnics 1 019 57 1.3 24.6 46.5 25.2 2.4 44
Universities 7 115 38 11.1 28.1 31.2 24.9 4.7 43
Total 77 666 65 11.0 28.5 33.1 25.5 1.9 43

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 12.2 Level of education of teachers in the regular education system in 1996


level of education (%)


Below tertiary



Lower university or higher vocational (%)

Higher university






Kindergartens 5.6 93.5 0.9 0.0
Comprehensive schools 5.5 47.6 46.5 0.4
General upper secondary schools 3.0 8.2 85.7 3.1
Vocational schools and colleges 7.7 54.2 35.8 2.3
Polytechnics 2.3 22.3 64.8 10.6
Universities 3.6 3.8 34.7 57.9
Total 5.5 46.8 41.4 6.2

Source: Statistics Finland

13. Special education

13.1 Basic principles

Special education is provided to all those pupils who due to physical or mental disabilities are

unable to cope in mainstream education, or that owing to an emotional disorder have

difficulties in adjusting to work in a mainstream classroom.

The first option for educational provision is to integrate pupils in need of specialist support into

mainstream teaching and when necessary provide special education in a small teaching group.

Only when this is not feasible and in the child's best interests is the second alternative where

education is provided in a special group, class or school followed.

In all forms of special education the general objectives and essential content areas are the same

as in mainstream comprehensive education provision. On the basis of the relevant core curricula, the education provider draws up the individual curricula for each institution and a personal plan concerning the organisation of instruction for each pupil in special education.

The pupil’s personal plan concerning the organisation of instruction must include a description of the pupil’s performance level, interaction skills, and his or her personal interests and hobbies in various learning environments. It should also include, among other things, short- and long-term objectives, methodical solutions to attain the objectives, a list of services and aids supporting instruction and rehabilitation. The specification of the plan is an ongoing task, and the achievement of the objectives is monitored in co-operation with the home and a multidisciplinary pupil welfare team.

13.2 Historical overview

The development of special education in Finland dates back to the 1840’s when the first schools arranging instruction for pupils with sensory disabilities were established. However, the development of special education accelerated only in the latter part of this century.

The post-war period was a period for quantitative increase in special education. New forms of education emerged alongside adjusted instruction, such as instruction for maladjusted students and part-time special education. However, the medical approach still prevailed in the organisation of education for children with special needs. Pupils with special needs were regarded as different from other pupils to such an extent that their education could not be organised in conjunction with mainstream education. Because of this prevalent way of thinking, special education remained highly differentiated and segregated.

From the beginning of the 1970's, the principle of normalisation and the integration philosophy were strongly brought up in the education of pupils in need of special education. According to the principle of normalisation, the aim was that the lives of disabled persons would be as normal as possible. Integration was considered to be the means of implementing the normalisation. The goal was social integration, in other words, the opportunity of pupils with special needs to take part in teaching in ordinary classes. An important factor for the promotion of integration was the legislative reform of 1983. According the new school legislation, no child was any longer exempted from completing compulsory education.

Vocational education for those in need of special education started in the latter part of the 19th century, when education for the blind and intellectually disabled was started in special institutions established for them. The next decades witnessed the establishment of new special vocational institutions.

During the 1970's, vocational special education expanded to all vocational institutions. According to education policies, vocational education for those with special needs was to be established as far as possible in ordinary institutions, thus realising the principle of integration.

13.3 Development in the 1990’s

Compared to the situation in the late 1980s, changes have occurred in the structure of compulsory special education. The number of pupils in special education classes has increased. The resources per pupils allocated for this education have decreased in the 1990s a little more than in comprehensive school on average. The costs per pupil in hospital instruction and the training of the disabled, on the other hand, have decreased clearly more than in compulsory school on average. The decrement of the costs per pupil of special education have been effected mainly by the increasing special education classes and enlarging the size of teaching groups. Also, the regional variations in the development of costs are considerable. The amount of part-time special education has diminished. All in all the conditions for providing special education were weakened as a result of the economic recession in the first half of 1990’s.

The majority of the pupils receiving part-time special education or special education in special classes are boys. The share of boys in special education grew in comprehensive school in the years 1992-94. The increase in the number of boys may be due to the growth of the size of the teaching groups in regular teaching and the cut-backs of mainstream auxiliary/remedial teaching, which all impede the individual teaching of the boys. In view of this, the question is whether the need for the girls for special training is not in fact overridden by the more salient difficulties of the boys.

Integration has so far progressed at a very moderate rate. There are shortcomings in informing parents and involving them in the planning of their children’s education.. There are problems also in the flow of information between the lower and upper stages of comprehensive school as well as in selecting the most appropriate mode of special education. There is still need for developing new forms of integration. In addition, mainstream teachers’ skills in special education will be developed by increasing and revising their further and in-service education.

The educational authorities have recently launched a national development programme for special education that will continue until the year 2000. One of the central objectives of the programme is to encourage cooperation between ordinary and special education. It also aims to develop ways of identifying pupil’s special needs, to increase teachers’ ability to teach different type of pupils, and to promote the use of individual curricula.

14. Gender equality

14.1 Gender equality as a central aim of education policy

The promotion of gender equality has traditionally been one of the basic principles in the Finnish educational policy. Both school legislation and the Act on the Equality between Women and Men require that the promotion of equality between women and men is one of the aims of education at schools. The objective is that boys and girls will have equal rights and obligations in family life, work and society. Equality has been paid attention to in the guidelines for and in the follow-up and assessment of school curricula. The Ministry of Education recommends that courses on the equality between women and men are recommended to be included in the education of teachers. In most universities they are indeed part of education requirements.

As regards participation in education in general, the aim has been more than reached. There has been already for several years a notable difference between men and women both in the enrolment and in the graduation rates in favour of women. In the tertiary level education, the proportion of women seems to be growing even bigger.

The trouble is thus not the overall participation, but that education - and therefore also the labour markets - are still clearly divided into men's and women's fields. The gender distributions over the various fields of education have not become any more equal over the past 20 years or so. On the contrary, the male fields have tended to become more male-dominated and the women’s more female-dominated. Men tend to favour engineering, manufacturing, construction and agriculture programmes, women particularly health, welfare, education, services and humanities programmes.

Segregation related to educational and career choices is prevented by broad-based counselling and information, by offering further and supplementary training for teachers, as well as by making structural improvements and developing the content of education. Efforts are being made to increase the number of women in education in fields like electronics engineering and engineering in general, in order to be able to meet the recruitment needs in those industries in future.

In a development plan for 1995-2000, drafted by the Ministry of Education, special attention is paid to equality, on the one hand, in the teaching of languages and, on the other hand, in the field of data and communication technology. More intensive study guidance, development of teaching methods and material and the use of modern technology are ways of attenuating the division between boys and girls as regards interest in different subjects. The aim in respect of mathematics and natural sciences is, for example, that in the year 2002 more than 40% of pupils choosing advanced courses in mathematics, physics and chemistry are girls.

14.2 Key figures

Table 14.1 Qualifications at the upper secondary level 1975-1990, proportion of women (%)

  1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 1997
General education 60 62 62 60 59 59
Vocational education 46 46 51 53 52 51
Total 51 51 55 55 55 55

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 14.2 Proportion of women among university graduates 1990-1997, by level of degree (%)

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Bachelor’s degree 82 83 84 82 90 74 72 73
Master’s degree 54 55 55 56 56 56 58 57
Post-graduate degree 32 34 32 37 37 39 40 40
Other 55 57 63 57 57 52 59 62
Total 54 55 55 55 56 56 58 58

Source: Statistics Finland

15. Priority areas

The course of development for the Finnish education system is defined in the Development Plan for Education and University Research confirmed by the Government every four years. The present development plan was adopted in December 1994, and it covers the years 1995-2000.
According to the plan, the overall principles in educational development are high quality, equal opportunities and lifelong learning. The priority areas have included e.g. diversification of the language programme, information strategy, basic security in education, improving mathematical and scientific know-how and cultural school.

15.1 Information Society

The Government is implementing an extensive Information Society Programme in all fields of administration. The vision in the field of education, training and research is following:

By the year 2004 Finland will be one the leading interactive knowledge societies. Success will be based on citizens’ equal opportunities to study and develop their own intellectual capacity and extensively utilise information resources and education services. A high-quality, ethically and economically sustainable mode of operation in network-based teaching and research will have been established.

The aim is that every citizen has the basic knowledge and skills to understand information and communication technologies and to use them as a tool in learning, research, work and free-time. Special attention is paid to equal opportunities between men and women.

During the 1990’s, Finnish educational institutions have been equipped with computers and connected to information networks with the increased state support. It is estimated that 90 per cent of comprehensive schools, 95 per cent of general upper secondary schools, and 100 per cent of vocational schools were connected to the Internet in the spring term of 1999. By and large, the set technological objectives have already been achieved, and the focus of development has shifted to content production, teacher training and utilisation of information networks.

Finland is a small language area, and therefore, great attention has always been paid to language studies. The number of languages studied is one of the distinctive characteristics of the Finnish school. In principle, all pupils in basic education learn two languages besides their mother tongue, and have the option of one elective and one free-choice language. Language teaching and internationalisation are also included in the development priorities of the present education policy.

Internationally speaking, Finns study many foreign languages, but their choices focus on a few major languages. Finnish educational authorities started in 1996 a five-year national project to diversify modern language teaching programme and to develop language teaching methods and assessment of learning results on the basis of life-long learning. In the selection of languages, attention is also paid to regional characteristics and to equal opportunities. Another focus in instruction has been to promote knowledge and appreciation of different cultures.

Table 15.1 Students in upper secondary schools according to the number of foreign languages studied in 1997/98

2 languages 3 languages 4 languages 5 or 6 languages
37% 48% 13% 2%

Source: Statistics Finland

15.3 Mathematical and scientific know-how

Finland has for several years invested in the development of education in mathematics and science.

A national mathematics and science development programme aims to encourage more young people to choose mathematics and science at school, to ensure that they acquire sufficient knowledge of these subjects with regard daily life and further studies, and to increase openings in science and technology courses in higher education. One of the most significant means is to develop teacher training and to invest in teachers’ further training.

15.4 Music and art education

Arts and crafts have a long tradition in the primary and secondary curricula. In Finland, children can also study different forms of art outside the school in a system provided by the education authorities. Music is especially well-liked, but excellent work is being done in other art forms as well: children's and young people's art schools are increasingly popular. There are institutes especially catering for children and young people, where they go for one or two lessons a week after school.

Music institutions provide initial training in music to amateurs and prepare students for vocational studies in music. Vocational music training is provided by the conservatories of music. Without this initial training it is not usually possible to apply to vocational music education. There are 85 music institutions which receive statutory state aid, 11 of which also have a conservatories of music.
Development of music and art education has been one of the priority areas in the national development plan for education for the period 1995-2000. Following the set objective, a project was initiated to promote cooperation between art and other subjects and between educational establishments and cultural life.

15.5 Prevention of Marginalisation

According to the Government’s current development plan for education, special attention is paid to prevention action geared to those at risk of exclusion. Accordingly the educational authorities have launched a project for the prevention of marginalisation for the years 1998-2002.

Only 0,03% of all pupils did not receive the prescribed education in the school year 1996-1997. These pupils had either completely dropped out of school or had attained the age at which compulsory education terminates.

Although the number of children dropping out of comprehensive school is low, the risk group includes also those pupils who formally complete their school education without even achieving the basic skills. Poor academic achievement and negative experiences of school may cause the pupil to have no opportunity or inclination to continue studying after comprehensive school. Thus the basic skills for surviving in the society may be weak. Support for the pupil both in teaching and counselling at a sufficiently early stage are seen to have an important role in providing for the child experiences of success and promoting the development of motivation to attend school.

The number of drop-outs for upper secondary general education took a downward turn in the early 1990s. At mid-decade about 4% of the students were dropping out. This is largely explained by the fact that the upper secondary general schools adopted a flexible system of courses instead of set yearly classes.

The drop-out rate in vocational schools and colleges was about 10% a year in the mid-1990s. The drop-out rate seems to vary according to the state of the economy. At the height of the recession in the early 1990s there were fewer drop-outs than in the years with higher employment rate.

New school forms have been developed for those who have not received any post-school education or who have dropped out of school. Alternative vocational training and youth workshops are examples of such new school forms. Practical work constitutes a significant part of the curricula of workshop schools, aiming to provide young persons with training for a profession.

Another initiative taken is the so-called Innopaja training, which aims at securing that young people who consider to drop out of their vocational studies do continue their education with the help of tutoring student care and other supporting measures. Personal study plans, work-intensive study methods, along with supported transfer into work life are the central methods for preventing students from dropping out of school.



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