Finland’s Education System vs. The US: The Interesting and Surprising Differences

Share Post:

education in finland, system vs. us, play based learning, finland's rank

Finland's Education System Vs. The U.S.

Education in Finland is unique but their system seems to work incredibly well. Finland’s education rank has been consistently high, ever since country’s education rankings have been calculated. What makes Finland’s education system so favorable and successful? How does Finland’s education system compare vs. the U.S.?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States spends approximately 23% more than Finland on education per primary student. In the statistics published by the Statista Research Department in December 2022, the U.S. had an annual expenditure per primary student of $13,780 in 2019 while Finland’s annual expenditure per primary student was $10,576.

Every quarter, the nonprofit group New Jersey Minority Educational Development (NJMED) ranks over 200 nations’ education systems. The project, known as the World Top 20 Poll, looks at data that indicate quality-education access and safe learning environments. More specifically, the project considers things such as school enrollment rates, school completion/graduation rates, test scores, and student-to-teacher ratios. For the first quarter of 2023, Finland ranked at #7 while the U.S. sits at #29. In fact, Finland has been consistently ranked high since the project began in 2013.

So if the U.S. is spending 23% more on education per primary student than Finland, why is the Finnish Education System continually ranking better than the U.S.?

Play-Based Learning in Finland

What makes the education system in Finland so different vs. the U.S.?
First of all, education is not nearly as politicized in Finland as it is in the U.S. There are no private schools in Finland – only publicly-funded schools. This eliminates competition between schools. Furthermore, every public school provides a high-quality education, so finding a school for your children to attend is as simple as finding the one closest to home.
“Overall, education in the United States is much more political than it is in Finland, where it’s much more of a professional issue,” notes education expert, Pasi Sahlberg.

Additionally, free meals, transportation, and healthcare service providers including nurses, dentists, psychologists, and social workers are all available to school children at zero cost. Teachers in Finland are also highly respected and compensated fairly.

Most importantly, Finland’s entire education system is structured differently. There is no formal school for children until age 7. Up until then, there is universal preschool and daycare. From there, children are required to be in school through the age of 18. Finland embraces experimental teaching styles. There is very little to no homework and no national standardized testing.

Finland’s model of education focuses on the importance of play and joy in education. In fact, education up to age 7 is almost entirely play-based. With a combination of free and teacher-directed play, students learn to build relationships with peers, communicate, be active, develop independence, and manage risk. Education in Finland also emphasizes playing outside in nature year-round.

“Children learn so well through play… They don’t even realize that they are learning because they are so interested,” explains Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah, a Finnish preschool teacher. Her school's director agrees, "It's not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, 'Take this pencil and sit still.'"

Movement has so many benefits in fostering social and emotional growth. Arja-Sisko Holappa, a counselor for the Finnish National Board of Education and a leader of the development of the country’s pre-primary core curriculum, stated simply, “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.”

Finnish law requires 15 minutes of play for every 45 minutes of formal instruction. As a result, teachers report that students behave better, have improved attention spans, and overall perform better in school. Sahlberg states that the main goal of kindergarten is “not to prepare children for school academically, but to make sure they are happy and responsible individuals.”

All of this seems to pay off for Finland’s education rank. 88% of Finnish children are enrolled in early childhood education, 99% of Finnish students complete secondary school, and 87% graduate high school.

education in finland, system vs. us, play based learning, finland's rank

How Does Math & Movement Bridge the Gap Between Learning and Fun?

Since Math & Movement is a kinesthetic and multi-sensory approach to teaching math and literacy, fun comes naturally from its movement-focused design; It harnesses a child’s natural love for movement-based learning through the use of mats and games. The program is perfect for students as young as preschool and kindergarten who have plenty of energy to burn and are notably excited to learn new things in new ways.

Students become engaged in learning multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, fractions, and other key math concepts because they see it as a game and a time to run around and have fun. It also includes learning opportunities for teachers through workshops in which they can test the program themselves. Math & Movement puts the joy back into learning which is so desperately needed in the U.S. education system.

References & More Reading

Henley, Jon, Philip Oltermann, Sam Jones, and Angela Giuffrida. “‘Let children play’: the educational message from across Europe.” The Guardian, 23 Apr 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/apr/23/let-children-play-the-educational-message-from-across-europe.

Statista Research Department. “Annual expenditure per student on education institutions in OECD countries for primary, secondary and tertiary education in 2019, by country.” Statista, 21 Dec 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/238733/expenditure-on-education-by-country/.

The Ministry of Education and Culture and Finnish National Agency for Education. “Finnish education in a nutshell.” Finland Toolbox, 14 Mar 2023, https://toolbox.finland.fi/life-society/finnish-education-nutshell-2023/.

Walker, Timothy D. “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland.” The Atlantic, 1 Oct 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/the-joyful-illiterate-kindergartners-of-finland/408325/.

Weller, Chris. “8 reasons Finland’s education system puts the US model to shame.” Business Insider, 6 Dec 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/finland-education-beats-us-2017-5.

World Top 20 Project. “International Education Database.” World Top 20, 2023, https://worldtop20.org/education-database/.

World Top 20 Project. “Finland.” World Top 20, 2023, https://worldtop20.org/finland/.

Recent Stories

Hello! Have a question?

Please leave your email and a quick note for us. We will get back to you soon! In the meantime, here are answers to some of our most common questions:

→ Shipping is 10% of the order subtotal.

→Yes, we accept purchase orders!