How Finland uses Play-Based Learning to Stay at the Top of the Rankings of the World’s Best Education Systems

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How Finland uses Play-Based Learning to Stay at the Top of the Rankings of the World’s Best Education Systems

How did the US and Finland get their ranking on their education system?

The World Top 20 Education Poll rates the top 20 countries (out of 200 for which data is tracked) on a quarterly basis using different criteria each quarter. The most recent (2018) third-quarter poll measures and compares early childhood enrollment rates; test scores in math, science, and reading for lower and upper primary students; and high school and college graduation rates. According to the World Top 20 Education Poll, Finland shines at #2 while the United States lags behind at #16. Repeatedly, Finland outshines the United States in test scores in math, science, and reading. Finland’s high school and college graduation rates also surpass the United States.


How much money is the US putting into education compared to Finland?

A 2014 study shows that the United States spends about $12,300 per student annually. Finland spends about $9,800 per student annually (OECD 2014). So what is the secret to Finland’s success? Play-based learning.


What makes Finland different?

Finland has held the unofficial title as the country with the world’s best education system since 2000. Finland also has the smallest gap between the weakest and strongest students in their educational system. Two of the reasons for their success are as follows:

  • All students in the same age group study in the same classroom (with a few exceptions)
  • Finland supports the idea that teachers should do “whatever it takes” to help students learn, allowing them to personalize students’ educations to a remarkable degree. Teachers are well-prepared with advanced degrees in education and they also rely on each other for new ideas to reach their struggling students.


Play-based learning is a success strategy.

Another key aspect of Finland’s education is that they value play as an integral part of the school day. Finland’s model of education focuses on the importance of ‘play’ and ‘joy’ in education. Writer Timothy D. Walker visited a Finnish public Kindergarten and noted the differences in Finland’s approach. He spoke to some of the educators at the school while watching children do what they do best: play. “Children learn so well through play… They don’t even realize that they are learning because they are so interested,” explained Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah, one of the pre-school’s teachers. The school’s director shared these beliefs: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” Finland recognizes that movement has so many benefits in learning. Movement and play gives children a sense of independence and freedom.

Arja-Sisko Holappa is a counselor for the Finnish National Board of Education and a leader of the country’s pre-primary core curriculum. Holappa stated “Play is a very efficient way of learning for children. And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy. There’s an old Finnish saying: those things you learn without joy, you will forget easily.”

Can the US improve its ranking?

If schools across the U.S. commit to bringing joy and play back into the classroom, the U.S will see vast improvements. Using kinesthetic teaching practices is fun for students and teachers. Furthermore, it increases test scores, attendance rates, and graduation rates.


How Can Math & Movement help the US improve its ranking?

Math & Movement is a kinesthetic and multi-sensory approach to teaching math and reading. The movement-focused design harnesses a child’s natural love for active learning through mats and games. The program is perfect for energetic Pre-K/Kindergarten students with excitement to learn new things in new ways. Students engage in challenging math concepts because they see it as a game and as a time to run around and have fun. Math & Movement puts the joy back into learning — an ingredient that is desperately needed in America’s education system.




4 Responses

  1. Having taught for 5 years in Finland, I can tell you there is a world of difference with the approaches, when comparing Finnish and US outlooks. I’m happy to share more!

    1. Hi Becky,
      That sounds wonderful! We would love to hear about your experiences. One of our team members will email you to follow up!

  2. Sounds very good Becky.I would love to learn more.Could I go to Finland to do work experience for two weeks? I would so love to observe and help out there. I want to do my dissertation on their education system. Can you let me know if there is someone I can contact about this please? I would be so greatful.

  3. It is such a pity that the knowledge about the importance of play and movement for learning has been with us for at least 2 centuries and it is still not taken seriously in South Africa. We have a curriculum which remind teachers that at the Foundation Phase (at least) children “must not be stuck at tables on chairs for most of the day” but still teachers refuse to see the the need for movement.

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