Education in Finland: schools without walls, learning with no marks

Освіта у Фінляндії: школи без стін, навчання без оцінок

In the world of future people will most notably need such skills as creative thinking, critical reasoning, and trainability. Finland, with its PBL system, is already teaching people of the future. It is demolishing walls at schools and is taking away usual “school subjects” from lesson schedule.

Short time ago Innovation House has already thrown light on how important the creative thinking is. American business advisor and researcher Garry Jacobs has already disclosed his thoughts on this issue. According to him, current educational system that teaches children to learn the facts, rather than to develop the creative initiative, became irreversibly out of date, and shall be fundamentally changed.

Current educational system that teaches children to learn the facts, rather than to develop the creative initiative, became irreversibly out of date, and shall be fundamentally changed

It is been a long time since educational system of Finland took care of training of people of the future, having reformed its approaches to the study at schools and universities. This resulted in worldwide recognition and top positions in a wide range of rankings. But the most revolutionary changes were made this year, when children, who came back from holidays, found out that floors with classrooms turned into open spaces. Instead of common school desks they saw that this space is furnished with comfortable sofas, upholstered chairs, tables and chairs of various shape, where scholars may get together at the “lesson”.

Schools with no walls

Finland is going to reequip all its 4,800 schools – project is more than ambitious. Only about a hundred of schools are built “from scratch” pursuant to new “open space” concept, the rest of them will be gradually and fundamentally rearranged. Sure thing, not all of them will be converted into the open space: some of the schools are rather old to survive the demolition of all the walls. Nevertheless, even they will undergo architectural replanning and will be adapted to the new concept, making allowances for the creation of more flexible educational space to the greatest possible extent. The problem of acoustics is the important aspect in this case: open space is known for a fact that one noisy person may disturb all the working group, and here we have one hundred of mischievous children on one floor. With the express aim of reduction of noisiness, large premises are furnished with large sofas, upholstered chairs, instead of school desks. If some “classroom” needs a little more silence, pupils can use relocatable walls and screens to create the island of calm and silence.

Education in Finland

  • Average classroom size – 19 pupils
  • Academic day is very short, and summer holidays last 10 weeks
  • Profession of a teacher is very well-paid, prestigious and respected
  • School are not checked, teachers are not assessed
  • Teachers prepare tests for their pupils
  • Nationwide exam is conducted by those, who have reached the age of 18 and continue to study


Education of groups or classes of children of different ages is performed in the atmosphere of freedom. What is more, separate school subjects – mathematics, physics or geography are not taught at the “lessons”. Instead of this, pupils learn “phenomena” and puzzle out some real-world examples. Thus, Finland not only demolished the barriers between the premises, but between classrooms and school subjects as well.

Phenomenon-based teaching and learning

Transition to “multidisciplinary education” was announced a short time ago. Lesson schedule has special time for such “life lessons” – quite a long period is allocated for them in the academic year. Method, that has the international name PBL (phenomenon-based teaching and learning) in no small measure resulted from evolution of methods of scientific and practical intensities and teaching procedures called Task Based Learning and Teaching. And such methods, in their turn, appeared in many educational institutions to replace PPP (Presentation – Рractice – Рroduction) system, which is most common to us. PPP system works in such a way: first – lecturership, then students or pupils do exercises based on the material perceived, and afterwards learned material is applied in more real-world examples.

But innovators of Finnish educational field moved beyond this revolutionary approach, which brought their school curriculum far away from traditional methods used in most of Ukrainian schools. Those, who study at schools with no walls and school subjects, are in position to choose by themselves (or are fully engaged in adoption of this decision), what “phenomenon” will they puzzle out at the next session. In such a case, pupils find the topic, which they mostly prefer, – and there will be no boring school subjects, if the topic was chosen by children themselves.

Pupils develop their critical reasoning, which is expelled by “mosaic” thinking among the modern youth.

When children choose popular “broad” topic, migration issues, for instance, or climate change issue, which is so sensible in many advanced countries, they dig too much into economic (mathematical and financial), humanitarian (social and demographic), physical, environmental, chemical and other aspects of this issue. By doing so, they not only perceive the world, but learn how to explore any phenomenon from different perspectives. Thus, pupils start to understand the complexity of the interrelationships of the world, they develop their critical reasoning and complex thinking, that are expelled by “mosaic” thinking among the modern youth, which was developed and fastened to modern world and the way of life in industrial and post-industrial countries. As we have already said, critical reasoning and ability to see the problem in all its multiplicity is one of the most important skills as of today. And, as time passes, significance of this skill will only run high.

Critical reasoning is one of the most important skills as of today

The world is not divided into “algebra” and “physics”

One would think that such overall approach to the study of world shall reduce the level of knowledge of students in certain disciplines. Thus, for instance, if pupil does not study pure mathematics, but only puts its laws and rules into practice, he will lose the depth of understanding, sense of abstractness of the most abstract of sciences. But, to the great surprise of PBL method opponents, Finnish youth remains to be one of the most educated in the world, leaving behind their age-mates from other developed countries, not only in terms of mathematics, but in terms of other disciplines as well – including the natural sciences (according to the PISA rating).

All processes in real life are not divided into separate sciences and school disciplines

Supporters of PBL method say that all processes, all events and actions in real life are not divided into separate sciences and school disciplines – any real-life situation is complex and involves a lot of sciences at a time. In just the same way human mind more easily acquires the information and finds a way out of problems, by finding the package approach to the problem, – we do not think in terms of arithmetic or grammar, but perceive the world as a whole. Trivial cooking of fried eggs – this is chemistry, biology, and physics. And this relates to any, even the simplest action in the real world. Therefore, PBL educational system is the more natural way to be wrapped up in phenomena of life and in its components, to get deeper insights into each of the areas of study, and to proficiently put them into practice, as well.

Critical reasoning

An important point is that children, who made their way in life with such bundle of knowledge of skills, will survive in “post-truth era”. Term “post-truth” was recognized to be one of the most popular English word in 2016. This phenomenon is used as the innovative social and political technology, when the emotional component, rather than fact, forms the basis of discourse. Post-truth became the basis for a range of campaigns of political forces and, sometimes it affects the future of entire countries. This may be clearly seen not in politicum, but on the global scale as well – refresh your memory about presidential elections in France and the USA, phenomenon of voting on Brexit, when manipulations of emotions in social networks and mass media had a great influence on the results. Whereas, PBL system does not deaden the emotions of those, who study, who stay alive persons in a comfortable environment, and allows them to look beyond the meaning of the said words, to see the facts and phenomena that are behind them. It is the purpose of the new educational system to go to the bottom and to have the very grasp of phenomena.

First attempts

Finland is not the educational field pioneer. Some elements of Finnish system and methods applied in the country were already used and are currently used by other countries. But so far Finland is the only country that had the courage to gather all these methods in one educational system and to implement it throughout the country. And above all – is succeed in this endeavor.

Finland is not the educational field pioneer

Attempts to use open spaces in schools we already made in Australia, for instance. But Australian teachers themselves were not ready to remove walls and school desks, to get rid of the blackboard and disciplines from curriculum. At every possible way confused teachers tried to create sort of classrooms and school desks in open educational premises: they set them in rows and hedged rectangular zones – “classrooms” – using the teaching aids, screens, furniture to reconstruct the image of traditional school, at which they got used to work. The innovative experiment did not come off.

Uncontrolled freedom

The example of Finland is remarkable not least because it proves perfectly well as follows: unified rigid program, which was imposed from above, becomes the Bed of Procrustes, rather than advantage, – it deprives the system of flexibility, propelling it into stagnations and ruins. Thus, time and again, experiment in other countries fail, most notably not least because schools are forced to comply with educational system, don’t even asking what teachers and, most importantly, pupils, think about it. “What do you mean? We shall ask the pupil what and in what way we shall teach him? Nonsense!” – great many people will say this. “On the contrary – progress and development!” – the Finns will answer.

Unified rigid program, which was imposed from above, deprives the system of flexibility.

As noted above, Finland has about 4,800 elementary, secondary and high schools. There are no two alike schools. There are no schools, who have the same layout planning, the same lessons – just like there are no “average”, the same teachers and pupils!

Образование в Финляндии: школы без стен, учеба без оценок

Photo: ARLKM

Every Finish school was offered to take advantage of the general flexible system of reorganization and restructuring – the very same “demolition of walls”. Every school was at liberty to adapt the system to its day-to-day realities. Every teacher was offered the flexible transition plan from teaching of separate discipline to discussion of more general issues and development of creativity, critical reasoning, looking to the things through a broader lens. And every teacher took his own decision what and in what way he will teach his scholars – and whether he will conduct tests at all. What is more, every scholar had the chance to choose “phenomenon”, which will be taught by him jointly with his group, to choose a chair or an armchair and to put it in the place suitable for him.

Therefore, there is little wonder that “open school” method stroke its roots in Finland. It has become “outline recommendation” here and staff of educational institutions took a creative approach to it and started to bring it to life.

Now, when many countries, including Ukraine, try to adopt the experience of Finland, the point of significance lies in the fact that such countries shall master the methodology and “openness” system and shall properly adopt its flexibility. When this is done, we will see the new world, where the one does not consume information, spinning like weather vane towards new global trends, but will take his life into his own hands and will build the world of the future, addressing solely through the lens of creativity and critical appraisal. Such an unconstrained and creative world – nearly ideal, – like the schools in Finland are.

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