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why no homework in finland

Homework in Finland School

Homework in Finland School

How many parents are bracing themselves for nightly battles to get their kids to finish their homework every year with the beginning of a school year? Thousands and thousands of them. Though not in Finland. The truth is that there is nearly no homework in the country with one of the top education systems in the world. Finnish people believe that besides homework, there are many more things that can improve child’s performance in school, such as having dinner with their families, exercising or getting a good night’s sleep.

Do We Need Homework?

There are different homework policies around the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) keeps track of such policies and compares the amount of homework of students from different countries. For example, an average high school student in the US has to spend about 6 hours a day doing homework, while in Finland, the amount of time spent on after school learning is about 3 hours a day. Nevertheless, these are exactly Finnish students who lead the world in global scores for math and science. It means that despite the belief that homework increases student performance, OECD graph shows the opposite. Though there are some exceptions such as education system in Japan, South Korea, and some other Asian countries. In fact, according to OECD, the more time students spend on homework, the worse they perform in school.

Finnish education approach shows the world that when it comes to homework, less is more. It is worth to mention that the world has caught onto this idea and, according to the latest OECD report, the average number of hours spent by students doing their homework decreased in nearly all countries around the world.

So what Finland knows about homework that the rest of the world does not? There is no simple answer, as the success of education system in Finland is provided by many factors, starting from poverty rates in the country to parental leave policies to the availability of preschools. Nevertheless, one of the greatest secrets of the success of education system in Finland is the way Finns teach their children.

How to Teach Like The Finns?

There are three main points that have to be mentioned when it comes to the success of education system in Finland.

First of all, Finns teach their children in a “playful” manner and allow them to enjoy their childhood. For example, did you know that in average, students in Finland only have three to four classes a day? Furthermore, there are several breaks and recesses (15-20 minutes) during a school day when children can play outside whatever the weather. According to statistics, children need physical activity in order to learn better. Also, less time in the classroom allows Finnish teachers to think, plan and create more effective lessons.

Secondly, Finns pay high respect to teachers. That is why one of the most sought after positions in Finland is the position of a primary school teacher. Only 10% of applicants to the teaching programs are accepted. In addition to a high competition, each primary school teacher in Finland must earn a Master’s degree that provides Finnish teachers with the same status as doctors or lawyers.

High standards applied to applicants for the university teaching programs assure parents of a high quality of teaching and allow teachers to innovate without bureaucracy or excessive regulation.

Thirdly, there is a lot of individual attention for each student. Classes in Finland are smaller than in the most of other countries and for the first six years of study, teachers get to know their students, their individual needs, and learning styles. If there are some weaker students, they are provided by extra assistance. Overall, Finnish education system promotes warmth, collaboration, encouragement, and assessment which means that teachers in this country are ready to do their best to help students but not to gain more control over them.

The combination of these three fundamentals is the key to success of any education system in the world and Finns are exactly those people who proved by way of example that less is more, especially when it comes to the amount of homework.

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No Tests, No Homework! Here's How Finland Has Emerged As A Global Example Of Quality, Inclusive Education

Mrinalini Kaushik

Writer: Mrinalini Kaushik  (Remote Intern) 

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She is a student of journalism, keen on learning new ways to unlearn, deconstructing news and life. Interested in exploring new media as medium is the message. Avid follower of sports and politics

Others/World,  15 May 2022 3:40 AM GMT

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Student-oriented approach to education in finland has been recognised as the most well-developed educational system in the world and ranks third in education worldwide..

"A quality education grants us the ability to fight the war on ignorance and poverty," - Charles Rangel

The uniqueness of the Finnish education model is encapsulated in its values of neither giving homework to students every day nor conducting regular tests and exams. Instead, it is listening to what the kids want and treating them as independent thinkers of society.

In Finland, the aim is to let students be happy and respect themselves and others.

Goodbye Standardised Exams

There is absolutely no program of nationwide standard testing, such as in India or the U.S, where those exams are the decisive points of one's admission to higher education like Board Examinations or Common Entrance Tests.

In an event organised by Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat remarked, "It is because they teach their children to face life struggles and not score in an examination," reported The Print .

Students in Finland are graded based on individual performance and evaluation criteria decided by their teachers themselves. Overall progress is tracked by their government's Ministry of Education, where they sample groups of students across schools in Finland.

Value-Based Education

They are primarily focused on making school a safe and equal space as children learn from the environment.

All Finland schools have offered since the 1980s free school meals, access to healthcare, a focus on mental health through psychological counselling for everyone and guidance sessions for each student to understand their wants and needs.

Education in Finland is not about marks or ranks but about creating an atmosphere of social equality, harmony and happiness for the students to ease learning experiences.

Most of the students spend half an hour at home after school to work on their studies. They mostly get everything done in the duration of the school timings as they only have a few classes every day. They are given several 15 -20 minutes breaks to eat, do recreational activities, relax, and do other work. There is no regiment in school or a rigid timetable, thus, causing less stress as given in the World Economic Forum .

Everyone Is Equal - Cooperate, Not Compete

The schools do not put pressure on ranking students, schools, or competitions, and they believe that a real winner doesn't compete; they help others come up to their level to make everyone on par.

Even though individualism is promoted during evaluation based on every student's needs, collectivity and fostering cooperation among students and teachers are deemed crucial.

While most schools worldwide believe in Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest, Finland follows the opposite but still comes out at the top.

Student-Oriented Model

The school teachers believe in a simple thumb rule; students are children who need to be happy when they attend school to learn and give their best. Focus is put upon teaching students to be critical thinkers of what they know, engage in society, and decide for themselves what they want.

In various schools, playgrounds are created by children's input as the architect talks to the children about what they want or what they feel like playing before setting up the playground.

Compared To The Indian Education Model

Firstly, Finnish children enrol in schools at the age of six rather than in India, where the school age is usually three or four years old. Their childhood is free from constricting education or forced work, and they are given free rein over how they socialise and participate in society.

Secondly, all schools in Finland are free of tuition fees as there are no private schools. Thus, education is not treated as a business. Even tuition outside schools is not allowed or needed, leaving no scope for commodifying education, unlike in India, where multiple coaching centres and private schools require exorbitant fees.

Thirdly, the school hours in Finland do not start early morning at 6 am, or 7 am as done in India. Finland schools begin from 9.30 am as research in World Economic Forum has indicated that schools starting at an early age is detrimental to their health and maturation. The school ends by mostly 2 pm.

Lastly, there is no homework or surprise test given to students in Finland. Teachers believe that the time wasted on assignments can be used to perform hobbies, art, sports, or cooking. This can teach life lessons and have a therapeutic stress-relieving effect on children. Indian schools tend to give a lot of homework to prove their commitment to studying and constantly revise what they learn in school.

Delhi Govt's Focus On Education

The Delhi model of education transformed under the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) tenure in the capital. In line with the Finnish model, Delhi government schools have adopted 'Happiness Classes' to ensure students' mental wellness through courses on mindfulness, problem-solving, social and emotional relationships, etc., from 1st to 8th classes.

Delhi government also introduced 'Entrepreneurial Mindset Classes' in 2019 to instil business and critical thinking skills among students of 9th to 12th classes. The practical approach in this class is indicated in the 'Business Blasters', a competition started by the Delhi government to encourage students to come up with start-up ideas and students were provided with ₹1000. Approximately 51,000 students participated in the first edition of the competition, according to Citizen Matters .

Through these endeavours, India is steadily investing in creating human resources that can get employment and generate employment for themselves.

India is at its demographic dividend stage; more than half of its population is within the working-age group of 14 to 60 years. Education is an essential factor in utilising this considerable advantage to grow economically and socially. Finland's education model is how India can strive closer to its goal and progress as a nation.

Also Read: Connaissance! Delhi Board of School Education Pens MoU To Add French In Government Schools

why no homework in finland

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why no homework in finland

Why do Finnish pupils succeed with less homework?

  • Published 27 October 2016

homework arguments

How do Finnish youngsters spend less time in school, get less homework and still come out with some of the best results in the world?

The question gets to the heart of a lot of parental angst about hard work and too much pressure on children in school.

Parents facing all those kitchen table arguments over homework might wonder about its value if the Finns are getting on just fine without burning the midnight oil.

As the OECD think tank says: "One of the most striking facts about Finnish schools is that their students have fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country."

Long summer holidays

It also touches on another tension between schools and families - the increased cost of summer holidays.

finnish backpack

While children in England and Wales are still toiling away in school into the middle of July, the Finns have already been on holiday for six weeks, in a summer break that lasts 10 to 11 weeks.

And completing this picture of less is more, Finnish children do not in theory have to start school until they are seven - although most will have been in classes from an earlier age.

But when it comes to the international Pisa tests, Finland is in sixth place and the UK is 23rd in reading; and Finland is 12th and the UK is 26th in maths.

Another set of OECD global rankings last year put Finland in sixth place for maths and science.

So what's going on? How do the Finns seem to start later, have fewer lessons and then finish ahead?

Finland, as part of its centenary commemorations next year, has a project to share what works in its schools with other countries.

Saku Tuominen, director of this HundrEd project, says parents in Finland don't really want longer hours in school.

He says there is a "holistic" approach to education, with parents wanting a family-friendly approach.


Why Sean wrote this article:

We asked readers to send BBC Education correspondent Sean Coughlan their questions on schools.

Sean chose four questions, and we asked you to select your favourite, which came from Lukas Milancius, a 16-year-old student.

Lukas asked: "How come Finland has shorter days and no homework for students and yet is achieving more?"

Lukas explained to us the thinking behind his question:

"I want to know why other countries are not adopting this education system. I find myself to be in a difficult situation where I am obliged to do a lot of homework and attend long school days which leaves me with hardly any time for me to do other activities."

Respect for teachers

There is little homework, compared with UK schools, and there is no culture of extra private tuition.

A key concept in the Finnish school system, says Mr Tuominen, is "trust".

Parents trust schools to make the right decisions and to deliver a good education within the school day - and schools put trust in the quality of their teachers.


Teaching is a high-status job in Finland and teachers are accorded a great deal of professional independence.

It's a different philosophy from the system in England, says Mr Tuominen, which he sees as being built around a check-list of tests, league tables, targets and public accountability.

He describes the amount of testing as the "tail wagging the dog".

But before making any assumptions that the laid-back Finnish approach must be the way forward, you could just as easily look to the educational hot houses of Singapore or South Korea.

Their children also do better than those in UK schools, but with an entirely different cultural approach, based on long hours and relentless pressure.

'Long-term planning'

This raises the question as to whether school systems, rather than shaping the next generation, simply mirror the society that's already there.

And in the case of Finland, Mr Tuominen says the Finnish school system is inseparable from the culture which it serves.

He says it's a "socially cohesive", equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.

World map ranking countries by educational attainment

This might sound as if countries are stuck forever with the school system that they've inherited.

But it's worth mentioning that there is nothing inevitable about Finland's success.

It's built on the foundations of reforms introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, which turned an ordinary school system into a world leader.

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, picks out this "stability" beyond the electoral cycle as the key difference.

"In Finland there's a long-term approach to education policy that means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work," he says.

"In England the opposite is true. The government is constantly tinkering with policy and there's an obsession with structure - such as grammar schools and academies - rather than a focus on evidence."


But there are no signs of cutting back on days or hours in the UK.

England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are already above the OECD average for the number of days taught.

And in England, this year's Budget in fact promised extra funding for extended days in secondary schools.

Pupils in England already get an average of 150 hours extra teaching per year than their Finnish counterparts.

Homework works

The OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher, says extra hours are linked to better results.

"You teach one hour of science more per week and you will see that reflected in higher average scores," he says.

But that doesn't mean it's going to be enough to catch up - because countries such as Finland, he says, can "deliver greater value in learning in fewer hours".

There is another big question raised by this balancing act between quantity and quality.

If there were shorter hours and longer holidays for schools, what would it mean for working parents and the cost of childcare?

There's also bad news on the homework front.

Even if the Finns don't need it, research suggests it makes a positive difference.

Prof Susan Hallam from the Institute of Education says there is "hard evidence" that homework really does improve how well pupils achieve.

"There is no question about that," she says.

A study for the Department for Education found students who did two to three hours of homework per night were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than those who did no homework

So back to the late night arguments over unfinished homework.


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Do you want to get involved with our coverage? Why not send us a question you'd like Sean to investigate? This time we're after your question on universities.

Take a look at some of the other questions you've wanted us to answer:

Why does the NHS spend on homeopathy?

Could the UK take on EU trade deals?

Pound fall: 'Should I get my dollars now or should I wait?'

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More on this story

Is homework worth the hassle?

  • Published 28 September 2016

homework arguments

You mean you're not on holiday yet?

  • Published 11 June 2014

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clock This article was published more than  4 years ago

What Finland is really doing to improve its acclaimed schools

why no homework in finland

Finland has been paid outsized attention in the education world since its students scored the highest among dozens of countries around the globe on an international test some 20 years ago.

And while it is no longer No. 1 — as the education sector was hurt in the 2008 recession, and budget cuts led to larger class sizes and fewer staff in schools — it is still regarded as one of the more successful systems in the world.

In an effort to improve, the Finnish government began taking some steps in recent years, and some of that reform has made for worldwide headlines. But as it turns out, some of that coverage just isn’t true.

A few years ago, for example, a change in curriculum sparked stories that Finland was giving up teaching traditional subjects. Nope .

You can find stories on the Internet saying Finnish kids don’t get any homework. Nope.

Even amid its difficulties, American author William Doyle, who lived there and sent his then-7-year-old son to a Finnish school, wrote in 2016 that they do a lot of things right:

What is Finland’s secret? A whole-child-centered, research-and-evidence based school system, run by highly professionalized teachers. These are global education best practices, not cultural quirks applicable only to Finland.

‘I have seen the school of tomorrow. It is here today, in Finland.’

Here is a piece looking at changes underway in Finnish schools by two people who know what is really going on. They are Pasi Sahlberg and Peter Johnson. Johnson is director of education of the Finnish city of Kokkola. Sahlberg is professor of education policy at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and is the author of the best-selling “ Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland ?”

No, Finland isn’t ditching traditional school subjects. Here’s what’s really happening.

By Pasi Sahlberg and Peter Johnson

Finland has been in the spotlight of the education world since it appeared, against all odds, on the top of the rankings of an international test known as PISA , the Program for International Student Assessment, in the early 2000s. Tens of thousands visitors have traveled to the country to see how to improve their own schools. Hundreds of articles have been written to explain why Finnish education is so marvelous — or sometimes that it isn’t. Millions of tweets have been shared and read, often leading to debates about the real nature of Finland’s schools and about teaching and learning there.

We have learned a lot about why some education systems — such as Alberta, Ontario, Japan and Finland — perform better year after year than others in terms of quality and equity of student outcomes. We also understand now better why some other education systems — for example, England, Australia, the United States and Sweden — have not been able to improve their school systems regardless of politicians’ promises, large-scale reforms and truckloads of money spent on haphazard efforts to change schools during the past two decades.

Among these important lessons are:

  • Education systems and schools shouldn’t be managed like business corporations where tough competition, measurement-based accountability and performance-determined pay are common principles. Instead, successful education systems rely on collaboration, trust, and collegial responsibility in and between schools.
  • The teaching profession shouldn’t be perceived as a technical, temporary craft that anyone with a little guidance can do. Successful education systems rely on continuous professionalization of teaching and school leadership that requires advanced academic education, solid scientific and practical knowledge, and continuous on-the-job training.
  • The quality of education shouldn’t be judged by the level of literacy and numeracy test scores alone. Successful education systems are designed to emphasize whole-child development, equity of education outcomes, well being, and arts, music, drama and physical education as important elements of curriculum.

Besides these useful lessons about how and why education systems work as they do, there are misunderstandings, incorrect interpretations, myths and even deliberate lies about how to best improve education systems. Because Finland has been such a popular target of searching for the key to the betterment of education, there are also many stories about Finnish schools that are not true.

Part of the reason reporting and research often fail to paint bigger and more accurate picture of the actual situation is that most of the documents and resources that describe and define the Finnish education system are only available in Finnish and Swedish. Most foreign education observers and commentators are therefore unable to follow the conversations and debates taking place in the country.

For example, only very few of those who actively comment on education in Finland have ever read Finnish education law , the national core curriculum or any of thousands of curricula designed by municipalities and schools that explain and describe what schools ought to do and why.

The other reason many efforts to report about Finnish education remain incomplete — and sometimes incorrect — is that education is seen as an isolated island disconnected from other sectors and public policies. It is wrong to believe that what children learn or don’t learn in school could be explained by looking at only schools and what they do alone.

Most efforts to explain why Finland’s schools are better than others or why they do worse today than before fail to see these interdependencies in Finnish society that are essential in understanding education as an ecosystem.

Here are some of those common myths about Finnish schools.

First, in recent years there have been claims that the Finnish secret to educational greatness is that children don’t have homework.

Another commonly held belief is that Finnish authorities have decided to scrap subjects from school curriculum and replace them by interdisciplinary projects or themes.

And a more recent notion is that all schools in Finland are required to follow a national curriculum and implement the same teaching method called “phenomenon-based learning” (that is elsewhere known as “project-based learning”).

All of these are false.

In 2014, Finnish state authorities revised the national core curriculum (NCC) for basic education. The core curriculum provides a common direction and basis for renewing school education and instruction. Only a very few international commentators of Finnish school reform have read this central document. Unfortunately, not many parents in Finland are familiar with it, either. Still, many people seem to have strong opinions about the direction Finnish schools are moving — the wrong way, they say, without really understanding the roles and responsibilities of schools and teachers in their communities.

Before making any judgments about what is great or wrong in Finland, it is important to understand the fundamentals of Finnish school system. Here are some basics.

First, education providers, most districts in 311 municipalities, draw up local curricula and annual work plans on the basis of the NCC. Schools though actually take the lead in curriculum planning under the supervision of municipal authorities.

Second, the NCC is a fairly loose regulatory document in terms of what schools should teach, how they arrange their work and the desired outcomes. Schools have, therefore, a lot of flexibility and autonomy in curriculum design, and there may be significant variation in school curricula from one place to another.

Finally, because of this decentralized nature of authority in Finnish education system, schools in Finland can have different profiles and practical arrangements making the curriculum model unique in the world. It is incorrect to make any general conclusions based on what one or two schools do.

Current school reform in Finland aims at those same overall goals that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — which gives the PISA exams every three years to 15-year-olds in multiple countries — as well as governments and many students say are essential for them: to develop safe and collaborative school culture and to promote holistic approaches in teaching and learning. The NCC states that the specific aim at the school level is that children would:

  • understand the relationship and interdependencies between different learning contents;
  • be able to combine the knowledge and skills learned in different disciplines to form meaningful wholes; and
  • be able to apply knowledge and use it in collaborative learning settings.

All schools in Finland are required to revise their curricula according to this new framework. Some schools have taken only small steps from where they were before, while some others went on with much bolder plans. One of those is the Pontus School in Lappeenranta, a city in the eastern part of Finland.

The Pontus School is a new primary school and kindergarten for some 550 children from ages 1 to 12. It was built three years ago to support the pedagogy and spirit of the 2014 NCC. The Pontus School was in international news recently when the Finnish Broadcasting Company reported that parents have filed complaints over the “failure” of the new school.

But according to Lappeenranta education authorities, there have been only two complaints by parents, both being handled by Regional Authorities. That’s all. It is not enough to call that a failure.

What we can learn from Finland, again, is that it is important to make sure parents, children and media better understand the nature of school reforms underway.

“Some parents are not familiar with what schools are doing,” said Anu Liljestrom, superintendent of the education department in Lappeenranta. “We still have a lot of work to do to explain what, how and why teaching methods are different nowadays,” she said to a local newspaper. The Pontus School is a new school, and it decided to use the opportunity provided by new design to change pedagogy and learning.

Ultimately, it is wrong to think that reading, writing and arithmetic will disappear in Finnish classrooms.

For most of the school year, teaching in Finnish schools will continue to be based on subject-based curricula, including at the Pontus School.

What is new is that now all schools are required to design at least one week-long project for all students that is interdisciplinary and based on students’ interests. Some schools do that better more often than others, and some succeed sooner than others.

Yes, there are challenges in implementing the new ideas. We have seen many schools succeed at creating new opportunities for students to learn knowledge and skills they need in their lives.

It is too early to tell whether Finland’s current direction in education meets all expectations. What we know is that schools in Finland should take even bolder steps to meet the needs of the future as described in national goals and international strategies. Collaboration among schools, trust in teachers and visionary leadership are those building blocks that will make all that possible.

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There's no Homework in Finland

THERE'S No Homework In Finland Finland's school system accomplishes some impressive feats: 93% THEIR HIGH SCHOOL 78% GRADUATION RATE IS AT 93%. 75% COMPARED TO 78% IN CANADA. AND 75% IN THE US. %! ABOUT 2 IN 3 STUDENTS IN FINLAND WILL GO ON TO COLLEGE. That's the highest rate in all of Europe. AND THEIR TEST SCORES DOMINATE EVERYONE ELSE. Mean scores for PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) 2006. 520 530 540 550 560 570 Finland Hong Kong Canada Taiwan Estonia Japan New Zealand Australia Netherlands Liechtenstein So what makes Finnish students so successful? STUDENTS GET PLENTY OF TEACHER INTERACTION. Finland and New York City have the same number of teachers. But Finland has nearly half the number of students. FINLAND NYC Students: Students: 600,000 ALMOST 1.1 MILLION Student to teacher ratio: Student to teacher ratio: 1 TO 12 1 TO 24 THOUGH 1 IN 3 FINNISH STUDENTS RECEIVES SOME SORT OF SPECIAL HELP IN SCHOOL... There are no separate classrooms for accelerated learning or special education. STANDARDIZED TESTING IS KEPT TO A MINIMUM. BEFORE A NEW YORK STUDENT REACHES HIGH SCHOOL, HE OR SHE WILL HAVE TAKEN 10 STANDARDIZED TESTS. Collectively, US students take 100 million standardized tests a year. FINLAND'S ONLY STANDARDIZED TEST IS TAKEN WHEN STUDENTS ARE 16 YEARS OLD. KIDS HAVE MORE TIME TO BE KIDS. AN AVERAGE US 5TH Finnish students GRADER HAS 50 MIN. rarely do homework OF HOME WORK until their teens. PER DAY. 10-11 YRS. ÖLD 13-14 YRS. ÖLD And while US elementary students average 27 minutes of recess... ... STUDENTS IN FINLAND GET 27 MIN 75 MIN ABOUT 75 MINUTES DAY. Most importantly? Finland knows good teachers are essential. TEACHERS IN FINLAND ARE ALL REQUIRED TO HAVE A MASTER'S DEGREE. (Which is fully subsidized by the state.) ONLY THE TOP 10% OF GRADUATES ARE ACCEPTED INTO TEACHING PROGRAMS. AND FINLAND'S TEACHERS ARE AS ESTEEMED AS THEIR DOCTORS OR LAWYERS. The rest of the world could learn a lot from you, Finland. Sources: [1] http://www.scribd.com/doc/82204617/Global-Graduation-Rates-By-Country-Source-OECD [2] http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/48343652/ns/today-back_to_school/t/home work-overload-gets-f-experts/ [3] http://www.businessinsider.com/finland-education-school-2011-12?op=1 [4] http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019676789_finland14m.html [5] http://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/secret-finland%E2%80%99s-success- [6] http://www.time4learning.com/testprep/index.php/new-york-state-standardized-test-prep/educating-teachers.pdf This work is under a Creative Commons license. Brought to you by: Online Classes.org BY NO ND OnlineClasses.org

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why no homework in finland

Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?

The country’s achievements in education have other nations, especially the United States, doing their homework

LynNell Hancock

Photographs by Stuart Conway

Kirkkojarvi School

It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn .

Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns. They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much. “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.”

Maija Rintola stood before her chattering class of twenty-three 7- and 8-year-olds one late April day in Kirkkojarven Koulu. A tangle of multicolored threads topped her copper hair like a painted wig. The 20-year teacher was trying out her look for Vappu, the day teachers and children come to school in riotous costumes to celebrate May Day. The morning sun poured through the slate and lemon linen shades onto containers of Easter grass growing on the wooden sills. Rintola smiled and held up her open hand at a slant—her time-tested “silent giraffe,” which signaled the kids to be quiet. Little hats, coats, shoes stowed in their cubbies, the children wiggled next to their desks in their stocking feet, waiting for a turn to tell their tale from the playground. They had just returned from their regular 15 minutes of playtime outdoors between lessons. “Play is important at this age,” Rintola would later say. “We value play.”

With their wiggles unwound, the students took from their desks little bags of buttons, beans and laminated cards numbered 1 through 20. A teacher’s aide passed around yellow strips representing units of ten. At a smart board at the front of the room, Rintola ushered the class through the principles of base ten. One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. Those who finished early played an advanced “nut puzzle” game. After 40 minutes it was time for a hot lunch in the cathedral-like cafeteria.

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

Even so, Rintola said her children arrived last August miles apart in reading and language levels. By April, nearly every child in the class was reading, and most were writing. Boys had been coaxed into literature with books like Kapteeni Kalsarin (“Captain Underpants”). The school’s special education teacher teamed up with Rintola to teach five children with a variety of behavioral and learning problems. The national goal for the past five years has been to mainstream all children. The only time Rintola’s children are pulled out is for Finnish as a Second Language classes, taught by a teacher with 30 years’ experience and graduate school training.

There are exceptions, though, however rare. One first-grade girl was not in Rintola’s class. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish. She was studying math down the hall in a special “preparing class” taught by an expert in multicultural learning. It is designed to help children keep up with their subjects while they conquer the language. Kirkkojarvi’s teachers have learned to deal with their unusually large number of immigrant students. The city of Espoo helps them out with an extra 82,000 euros a year in “positive discrimination” funds to pay for things like special resource teachers, counselors and six special needs classes.

why no homework in finland

Rintola will teach the same children next year and possibly the next five years, depending on the needs of the school. “It’s a good system. I can make strong connections with the children,” said Rintola, who was handpicked by Louhivuori 20 years ago. “I understand who they are.” Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry.

Not until sixth grade will kids have the option to sit for a district-wide exam, and then only if the classroom teacher agrees to participate. Most do, out of curiosity. Results are not publicized. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests. “Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

I had come to Kirkkojarvi to see how the Finnish approach works with students who are not stereotypically blond, blue-eyed and Lutheran. But I wondered if Kirkkojarvi’s success against the odds might be a fluke. Some of the more vocal conservative reformers in America have grown weary of the “We-Love-Finland crowd” or so-called Finnish Envy. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5.4 million people—4 percent of them foreign born. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. It employs standardized exams and teachers without master’s degrees. And like America, Norway’s PISA scores have been stalled in the middle ranges for the better part of a decade.

To get a second sampling, I headed east from Espoo to Helsinki and a rough neighborhood called Siilitie, Finnish for “Hedgehog Road” and known for having the oldest low-income housing project in Finland. The 50-year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores. Half of its 200 first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies.

A class of first graders scampered among nearby pine and birch trees, each holding a stack of the teacher’s homemade laminated “outdoor math” cards. “Find a stick as big as your foot,” one read. “Gather 50 rocks and acorns and lay them out in groups of ten,” read another. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks. Aleksi Gustafsson, whose master’s degree is from Helsinki University, developed the exercise after attending one of the many workshops available free to teachers. “I did research on how useful this is for kids,” he said. “It’s fun for the children to work outside. They really learn with it.”

Gustafsson’s sister, Nana Germeroth, teaches a class of mostly learning-impaired children; Gustafsson’s students have no learning or behavioral issues. The two combined most of their classes this year to mix their ideas and abilities along with the children’s varying levels. “We know each other really well,” said Germeroth, who is ten years older. “I know what Aleksi is thinking.”

The school receives 47,000 euros a year in positive discrimination money to hire aides and special education teachers, who are paid slightly higher salaries than classroom teachers because of their required sixth year of university training and the demands of their jobs. There is one teacher (or assistant) in Siilitie for every seven students.

In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching. Last year, Kaisa Summa, a teacher with five years’ experience, was having trouble keeping a gaggle of first-grade boys under control. She had looked longingly into Paivi Kangasvieri’s quiet second-grade room next door, wondering what secrets the 25-year-veteran colleague could share. Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. It worked. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week. “We complement each other,” said Kangasvieri, who describes herself as a calm and firm “father” to Summa’s warm mothering. “It is cooperative teaching at its best,” she says.

Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it. After all, nearly 100 percent of the school’s ninth graders go on to high schools. Even many of the most severely disabled will find a place in Finland’s expanded system of vocational high schools, which are attended by 43 percent of Finnish high-school students, who prepare to work in restaurants, hospitals, construction sites and offices. “We help situate them in the right high school,” said then deputy principal Anne Roselius. “We are interested in what will become of them in life.”

Finland’s schools were not always a wonder. Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. (The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous.) Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education.

The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love (or pronounce). In 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some 600 years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. Petersburg. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917, Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war. Three more wars between 1939 and 1945—two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians. “Still we managed to keep our freedom,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a director general in the Ministry of Education and Culture.

In 1963, the Finnish Parliament made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book,  Finnish Lessons , is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive."

Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or  peruskoulu , for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

To be sure, it was only in the past decade that Finland’s international science scores rose. In fact, the country’s earliest efforts could be called somewhat Stalinistic. The first national curriculum, developed in the early ’70s, weighed in at 700 stultifying pages. Timo Heikkinen, who began teaching in Finland’s public schools in 1980 and is now principal of Kallahti Comprehensive School in eastern Helsinki, remembers when most of his high-school teachers sat at their desks dictating to the open notebooks of compliant children.

And there are still challenges. Finland’s crippling financial collapse in the early ’90s brought fresh economic challenges to this “confident and assertive Eurostate,” as David Kirby calls it in  A Concise History of Finland . At the same time, immigrants poured into the country, clustering in low-income housing projects and placing added strain on schools. A recent report by the Academy of Finland warned that some schools in the country’s large cities were becoming more skewed by race and class as affluent, white Finns choose schools with fewer poor, immigrant populations.

A few years ago, Kallahti principal Timo Heikkinen began noticing that, increasingly, affluent Finnish parents, perhaps worried about the rising number of Somali children at Kallahti, began sending their children to one of two other schools nearby. In response, Heikkinen and his teachers designed new environmental science courses that take advantage of the school’s proximity to the forest. And a new biology lab with 3-D technology allows older students to observe blood flowing inside the human body.

It has yet to catch on, Heikkinen admits. Then he added: “But we are always looking for ways to improve.”

In other words, whatever it takes.

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LynNell Hancock | READ MORE

LynNell Hancock writes about education and teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Stuart Conway | READ MORE

Stuart Conway is a photographer based in southeast England.


Homework, should or should not?


In Finland we do give homework, but it is only given when the teacher feels that it is necessary for the students. There is no policy that homework has to be given after every lesson, or even every week. 

The aim of homework is to give the student a possibility to do revision on a new topic / most important topics covered in class. Homework should not be   about learning anything new at home, but more about challenging the student´s memory on what concept was covered in class. 

For example, if the students have been covering photosynthesis in their biology class, the teacher could give a problem solving task related to photosynthesis. In this task the student would have to think about what they learned in school and how to adapt that information into their homework. The teacher should not give the student tasks where they need to deepen their knowledge or learn anything new. 

Because the aim of homework is only to do revision on the most important concepts covered in class, homework shouldn´t take over 15 minutes per subject. Teachers need to keep in mind that students have on average 4-5 different subjects per day. If every teacher gives them 30 minutes of homework, that would be over 2 hours of extra studying each night. 

The Finnish education system wants to make sure that students have the ability to recharge from their school day by doing non-school related things that make them happy. For example, participating in football training, playing the piano, and enjoying time with their friends. This is why we limit the amount of homework. When a student has time to relax after school, they feel rested and have full focus and motivation for their next work day at school. 

In Finland we have the mindset of "quality over quantity". With qualified and educated teachers, we can offer students excellent learning opportunities in school. This means that they do not have to do extra studying at home, but rather do a quick revision on the most important topics when needed. 

I don’t worry that students forget knowledge Without homework. If the teacher offers the students a possibility to challenge their memory in diverse ways in class, there shouldn´t be any problem with students forgetting their knowledge. 

For example: I use around 15 minutes of my lesson to teach a new concept in theory. After that the students are challenged to use the information they just learned in various ways. They might be doing group tasks, presentations, experiments, play games etc where they do revision on the topics they just learnt. 

In Finland, teachers never have exercises or homework for students to review in the holidays . Students should spend their holidays resting and doing activities that they enjoy. No adult uses their holidays to do work, and if they would, they wouldn´t have the opportunity to recharge. This would make them tired, less motivated and less efficient when coming back to work. Holidays are the time for the students to let their brain rest.

Using diverse teaching methods is the best way for students to learn and gain knowledge. Teachers should offer students experiences where they can use their knowledge. Memories like this help students to understand what they have learned and come back to these situations when they need to remember something. 

For example: in biology I teach the students about the digestive system by letting them build a model of how bread moves along the digestive tract. When doing a practical assignment like this, they constantly do revision on which parts of the body belong to the digestive tract and also get to see what happens to the food in each phase of digestion. 

Finnish teachers also make sure that when they plan their lessons for the semester, there is enough time for students to revise during their classes. No Finnish teacher teaches new topics every single lesson. Instead, they make sure that students are offered possibilities to do revision in class. 

For example: I teach my high school students 5 x 45 minutes lessons a week. 3 of those lessons are used to learn new topics. The rest are used for challenging the students memory through different assignments and tasks. In this way students do revision in class and no homework is needed. 

Ms. Laura Katriina Lammi

Biology and geography teacher ; Coordinator of the Science Department

Masters of Biology and geography as a teaching subject, University of Jyväskylä


Of course, giving homework is entirely up to an individual teacher but usually holidays are breaks from the school work when students spend time with their families and friends, it is time when they charge their batteries and focus on free time and hobbies in order to be full of energy when they return to school. In a happy and balanced life, it is also important to just relax and be without doing anything serious with goals or objectives because this is a precondition for one's creativity and vitality. 

Personally, I don't worry about students forgetting knowledge during the holidays because the school is not the only place where students learn, for instance, when they are travelling, they are using and practising knowledge of many different subjects: language, geography, history, etc. 

At school we never can teach all the needed facts for the students, it is much more important to teach them to be curious about life and learn constantly based on experiences and new requirements faced in life, nobody will know what each of us will need to know in our individual and unique lives, we have to be prepared to face basically all kinds of events, but this is more related to attitude than mastering all the possible facts.

Nowadays we can check up facts from the internet whenever it is needed but it is much more important to learn to think and conduct your life and be a balanced person with good relationships to your friends and relatives. Besides, growing teenagers need more rest and sleep than grown-ups because they are growing, therefore there is a real need for a break from school for them even in physical terms.

Ms. Katja Grekula

History, Social Studies and Economics Teacher, Guidance Counsellor

Master of Social Studies, University of Tampere, Finland

European Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation

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why no homework in finland


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No Room for Homework in Finland

A lot has been said about homework in the past as well as in the present. There are some set of people that believe homework has a part to play in the education of the student. There are others that believe that homework should be eliminated from the school calendar.

The argument is still raging. What is happening in Finland says much about those who believe that homework has no riles to play in the development of the child. Is homework really useful in the learning process?

Finland is rated as the best as far as education is concerned and yet they have abolished homework in their school. Without homework, 93% of Finish students graduate from high school as against the 75% in the US where there is homework.

What is magic?

The teacher-student ratio works magic in Finland. It is 12cstudents to a teacher as against 24 to a teacher in the US. The low ratio gives the teachers the opportunity to have a direct one on one with the students. Enough time is given to proper monitoring; this will yield a perfect understanding of the concept taught in the classroom.

With plenty of teacher interactions, it will be possible to pass the instructions to the student. The deficiency in the class that teachers wanted to with homework will not be there in this case because of the strict monitoring that students will get through their teachers.

The staggering statistics

  • About two out of three students in Finland go to college. This is a high rate when compared to what is happening in Europe.
  • The test score of the students in Finland dominates everyone else.
  • The teachers in the Finish system of education have more time for the students. Assignments are only given to teenagers. In the US, an average 5 th grader has about 50mins of homework.
  • The recess in Finland is different from other parts. While 75 minutes is given to Finland students; the elementary system in the US gives room for only 27 minutes of recess.
  • Finland knew the quality in a teacher. Extra efforts are made to ensure that every teacher is given adequate training before they are allowed into the Finland classroom. Finland allows only the top 10% of their products into their schools.
  • The top quality that we see in Doctors or Lawyers all over the world is the same as what obtains in Finland teachers.

It could be seen from what you have read that Finland has deposited so much in teacher training. That is the reason why they are in a soar away position among the rest of the world.

Final thoughts

When the world is ready to pay the right attention to educating the teacher; things will change for the best in our schools. Without homework, the results can be achieved if we go the way Finland is handling the process in their sector. Without homework; success can still be achieved in our schools.

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