5th November: Finnish Education

1 pm – 3 pm, E1-09, Humanities Room
Attendance: Lim Yi Fei*, Stanley Quek Tee Kai, Tan Teck Chye
*Denotes moderator and record-keeper


Members discussed the difference between the Singaporean and Finnish education systems, and then evaluated how elements of the Finnish system could be implemented locally. Singaporean society must be receptive of the values underpinning the Finnish system, which may be a pre-requisite that is hard to obtain as Finland’s society is markedly more liberal.

The Finnish education system, with nearly the best educational standards in the world, based on adult literacy levels, can be said to be a social leveller based on egalitarian principles, a publicly-funded programme which is provided in both urban and rural areas with similar quality, and which hopes to equip students with skills that will help them function as adult citizens. Since the 1990s, the Finnish government has devolved control over curricula and teaching to the local level; however, broad guidelines are still in place and schools are expected to follow them, but in their own ways. In marked contrast to Singapore’s system, there is no streaming (briefly taken up in the 1960s), and no gifted programmes are run for children. Instead, children learn together in small classes, and
better learners are expected to help slower learners in mixed-ability classes. Home-schooling is rare, as in Singapore. Following 9 years’ mandatory education, students can opt to go on to either an academic or a vocational track for 3 years, and then, university or polytechnic education respectively. Polytechnic degrees are treated on the same basis as university degrees; again, unlike Singapore.

The long-held principle of meritocracy in Singaporean education has also encouraged a kiasu mentality among parents who would be more concerned about academic achievements; hence parents must first be educated. For starters, future parents should be allowed to witness how their children might fare in an education model that de-emphasises competitive testing. Singaporean youth today have access to overseas exchange programmes, which allows them to glimpse how other countries’ education works – however, exchange programmes are mostly confined to Southeast and East Asia, and Australia, for now.

Singaporeans’ competitive orientation stresses the importance of individual excellence, especially in academics, while Finnish education stresses equity and values such as cooperation for the greater good. Finnish students are not driven to compete and outperform one another, but are encouraged to learn together, something that cannot be easily said of Singapore’s schools. In Singapore, there is a need to instil sound values in schoolchildren, and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat’s call for a values-based education is a step in this direction. Finnish schools seek to cultivate good ethics and morality from young, rather than later in school life, as instruction in students’ later years is less effective. Values such as cooperation permeate the school environment in Finland, and it is good to teach Singapore’s children the same. Bonding and social cohesion also stems from values instilled in schoolchildren.



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