Teacher education (Finland)

As a token of appreciation for our participation in this workshop, we were given a copy of The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. In the book, the author analyses educational systems in Finland, Poland and South Korea through the eyes of students, teachers, parents and administrators to try and understand what makes kids in these countries perform exceptionally well on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.

I had written posts related to the power of expectations (here's the first one) in the South Korean context. In this piece, I'll look at aspects of the teacher education system in Finland that stood out to me. While a comparison with India's teacher education system is not the focus of this post, I firmly believe that we (India) can improve in this sphere by adopting some of Finland's practices.

Note that the points covered below are based on Ripley's account of Finland's teacher education system in 2013 and elements of it may have evolved over the past 8 years.

~ o ~ x ~ o ~


To become a teacher in Finland, one had to get accepted into 'one of only 8 prestigious teacher-education universities' (Ripley, 2013, p. 84). High test scores and good grades were necessary but not sufficient. The process went beyond - for example, an application to enrol in a Finnish language teacher education program at one of these universities involved reading books selected by the university and then clearing a Finnish literature exam. The selectivity rate of these colleges was on par with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA!

As a contrast, 'Norway (another Scandinavian country) spent more (per child) on education than Finland but was not choosy about who got to become a teacher' (Ripley, 2013, pp. 85-6). It was observed that Norwegian children performed about average on global tests like the PISA.

What does this tell me?
  • In Finland, the application process to enrol in a teacher education university was rigorous and holistic with the aim of separating the wheat from the chaff.
  • In Finland, people deeply valued student learning; so much so that only the most educated and top performing citizens were allowed to do the teaching. One couldn't simply waltz in and become a teacher!
~ o ~ x ~ o ~


A Finnish teacher has received the highest level of education in the world.
~ A teacher union advertisement from the late 1980s

Such a claim can hardly be made by teachers in any country in the world! This shows the level of confidence that Finland had in its teacher education programs.

The degree programs to become a qualified teacher were six years long. The first three years were spent going deep into the subject that the teacher wanted to teach - for instance, Finnish language teacher education programs required students to read, study and analyse Finnish literature through rigorous coursework, papers, presentations and exams.

The next three years were for the teacher-training components of the program. One year (out of the final three years) was a school immersion where the soon-to-be teacher trained in a public school under the guidance of mentor teachers. During that year, he/she taught, observed mentor teachers teaching, received actionable feedback and collaborated with classmates to plan and practice their lessons.

Furthermore, all Finnish teachers were required to get a master's degree and do original research as part of their teacher education degree.

What does this tell me?
  • In Finland, obtaining a degree that qualified one to teach was a rigorous, stimulating and challenging process - a lot like the application to get into the teacher education university in the first place!
  • In Finland, theory, practice and research were each factored into the equation with theoretical knowledge gained during the first half of the course, practical application of that knowledge to a classroom context being the focus of the second half and the submission of a thesis being a compulsory component of the degree program.
  • In Finland, teachers were given critical and constructive feedback during their degree - to quote Ripley, "...some of it harsh, in much the way medical residents are critiqued in teaching hospitals." (Ripley, 2013, p. 86)
~ o ~ x ~ o ~


'Now that teachers had been carefully chosen and trained, they were trusted to help develop a national core curriculum, to run their own classrooms, and to choose their own textbooks... School leaders and teachers were free to engineer experiments within their schools to find out what worked, and generally design a more creative system than any centralised authority ever could.' (Ripley, 2013, p. 90)

The above lines concisely summarise how laying a strong foundation through the selection process and coursework led to the administration having confidence in teachers and school leaders. They collaborated with union leaders and politicians to continually improve the Finnish education system and degree of trust between the parties was high.

What does this tell me?
  • In Finland, teachers (and teaching as a profession) were highly respected. The efforts that went into teaching (read more about my views on this here) were recognised by both parents/students and the administration.
  • In Finland, teachers were trusted to do their jobs with minimal red tape and checks and balances in place. Here, teachers 'were accountable for results, but autonomous in their methods.' (Ripley, 2013, p. 117)
~ o ~ x ~ o ~

Closing reflections

One of the aspects that really stood out to me was the emphasis on rigour. It was deeply embedded in all stages of the teacher education process in Finland. There was an implicit understanding that, 'without highly educated and well-trained teachers and principals, children could only make limited progress each year.' (Ripley, 2013, p. 96)

The positive effects of this attention to rigour were striking: highly educated teachers ⇒ the academic material they selected for their students was complex and stimulating  robust curriculum all around  gave children the message that they'd have to work hard to obtain good grades ⇒ helped children realise the value of a strong education ⇒ they passed on their learning to their own children and the cycle continued.

Another aspect was trust. Teachers did not have stern administrators constantly looking over their shoulders and evaluating them. They were treated as qualified professionals who had impactful jobs and knew how to execute them. The flexibilities and autonomy that they had to plan and deliver high quality learning experiences was something I found quite admirable.

~ o ~ x ~ o ~


Ripley, A. (2013). The smartest kids in the world and how they got that way. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.


  1. This is a brilliantly detailed analysis. And what hooked me was only 8 universities churning out teachers. There are many tracks in an education system including family track, social track. But I feel , in isolation teacher training track holds the largest significance. Finland is clearly teaching the world 'how it's done'...
    Overall, a great read.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gauri! :-)

      Glad that you liked it... for me, more than significance, I believe it's a track that doesn't get as much attention as it should.

  2. Thanks, Shreyas!

    Loved it!

    Autonomous and accountable sounds like such a powerful combination.

    1. Yes! And not just in the education sphere... think about any team or company and the role that autonomy-accountability can play to make them stronger.


Post a Comment