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Mainstream, VOL L, No 38, September 8, 2012

Educational Reforms in Finland and their Relevance to India

Thursday 13 September 2012, by P R Dubhashi



Finnish Lessons – What can the World learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg; published by Teachers College, Columbia University, New York and London; pp. 165; 2011.

Finland, a tiny country of 5.5 million people in North Europe and belonging to the Nordic group of countries, has become a role model for social cohesion and solidarity and rapid economic and technological development. Nokia, a Finish company, has become the leader of mobile phones all over the world. A remarkable transformation took place in Finland within a short period of twenty years between 1970 to 1990. Reforms in its educational system played a crucial role in bringing about this transfor-mation. It nurtured the values of honesty and ethics in dealing with each other leading to mutual trust and confidence which laid the foundation of economic progress and social cohesion.

The importance of education in bringing about economic and social change has been recognised in many advanced countries like the USA, UK and Japan which have introduced reforms in their educational system. But the Finish approach to educational reforms has been very different from that in other countries. The Finish educational institutions are all in the public sector. Education is free for all students. In the place of former grammar schools and civic schools, Finland established comprehensive schools providing basic education for all citizens for a period of nine years. But more important than the changes in the formal structure are the changes in the philosophy of and outlook on education which are very distinct from these in other countries.

For long Japan was applauded for its educational system. Heavy syllabus, long hours, rigorous hard work and pressure on students to excel in tough competition characterised the Japanese system of education. In the USA the emphasis of educational reforms was on continuous assessment of students through frequent tests. In Britain fixing high standards and inspections of schools to ensure conformity to preordained students standard was the way to introduce school reforms. All these found place in the ‘Germ’, that is, the global educational reforms movement.

The Finnish approach to educational reforms was very different from the centralised reforms imposed by external authority which charac-terised all the other approaches. The Finnish re-forms are from within. Though there is common framework of curriculum, there is plenty of scope for experimentation by each institution. Creative flexibility rather than blind conformity marks the educational reforms in Finland. ‘Less is more’ is how the author describes the Finnish system of education—less pressure on students, less frequency of tests, less number external inspections but more creativity, more originality and more local effort and initiative of teachers.

At the centre of the educational reforms are the teachers. In Finland, the teacher’s profession is considered as ‘prestigious’—more prestigious then even the legal and medical professions. In India it is just the opposite. Those who cannot join the prestigious professions of medical, engi-neering, information technology etc., those who are left out, become teachers. In Finland there is a competition for entering the teaching profe-ssion and only the most promising can enter the profession. Teachers have post-graduate quali-fications. All teachers undertake research. The high quality of teachers ensure the high quality of education. A special feature of the Finish process of education is the career guidance the teachers provide to their students. Also there is the emphasis on vocational education. The aim is on building the ability to provide solution to practical problems. This type of orientation has made the Finnish system of education contribute greatly to human resource development.

India has much to learn from the educational reforms in Finland. The essential features of the Finnish model deserves to be emulated by us in India for the betterment of our educational system. India is vast country. Its population is 240 times that of Finland. It has great diversity in the composition of its population. The scale of our problems is gargantuan. Yet we should not hesitate to assimilate the lessons of the Finish educational reforms. According to PISA (Pro-gramme for International Students Assessment), Finland is at the top and India at the bottom.
The Union Ministry for HRD has recently taken some steps for educational reforms one of which is the passing of the Right to Education Act of 2009. The Act was passed by Parliament but in the formulation of the Act there were few local inputs. However, the implementation of the provisions of the Act has to be done by the States. Consequently inconsistencies have arisen between the existing educational situation in the States and the provisions of the Act. Severe problems of implementation have to be tackled. And yet after the judgement of the Sup-reme Court upholding the constitutional validity of the Act, the local offices of the State Educa-tional Administrators have started implemen-ting the provisions, specially those relating to reservations, in an authoritarian manner, obvi-ously to save themselves from any possibility of disciplinary action against them by the higher authorities. In this authoritarian operation, there is little understanding, cooperation or mutual trust. There may be formal conformity to the provisions of the Act but the basic objectives of the Act may not be achieved and the quality of education could decline.

Formerly Secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor, Goa University, Dr P.R. Dubhashi, IAS (Retd.), is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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