Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 25, 2013

Finnish Education System vs Singapore Education System

Recently, I came across a report on the internet about the education system in Finland. In the report, the Finnish education system was compared to that of Singapore. Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world. Equally, the Finnish educational system has consistently come at the top for the international rankings. However, the interesting thing is that the education system in Finland is totally different from Singapore’s.

In short, the Singapore education system, in a way, encourages competitive learning. On the other hand, the Finn’s promotes collaborative learning. Students in these two countries learn under a completely different atmosphere.

In Singapore, children start receiving formal education at a very young age of three and the young children are constantly under societal pressure to view the assessment score as an “all or nothing”. The score decides which secondary school, which stream and which subjects a 12-year-old student will go to. In Finland, children don’t start school until they are seven years old and they are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. Finnish children rarely take exams or do homework until they are into their teens. The only mandatory standardised test is taken when children are 16 years old.

If we are to replicate the Singapore education system (eg. Primary School Leaving Examination-PSLE, different academic streams etc.) in Finland, it would have been illegal. The Finnish education system focuses on fairness and equality among students. Putting students of different abilities into different classes is illegal in Finland. All children, with either high or low ability, are taught in the same classroom. Children have long recess times (75 minutes) in elementary school. Extra tuition class is foreign to Finnish parents. Young children do nothing but play in school.
While the Finnish education system looks totally odd to Singaporeans, it is ranked as one of the top in the world. The followings are some facts about the Finnish education system :

– 93% of Finns graduate from high school.
– 66% of students go to college.
– The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world.
– 43% of Finn high-school students go to vocational schools.
– Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom and take 2 hours per week for “professional development”.
– Science class is capped at 16 students per class so that they students can participant in practical experiments.
– Finland spends about 30% less per student than the US.
– In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finn students came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.

The education system in Finland is made very laid-back deliberately and we can see the benefits of it from the above facts. The point which is worth commenting is the small difference between the weakest and strongest students. Although I do not have any statistical proof, I believe this is not the case for Singapore. Personally, I reckon that the equality and fairness emphasised by the Finns help bridge the gap between the strong and weak students.
One more fact which is worth noticing about the Finnish education system is the quality of the teachers. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree which is fully subsidized. They are also selected from the top 10% of the graduates. In Finland, teachers are very well respected and are given the same status as doctors and lawyers. In 2010, 660 school teachers were selected from 6600 applicants. Teaching as a career is highly regarded in Finland. In Singapore, we seem to be facing a shortage of teachers all the time. Is this phenomenon linked to the high expectations we have on our students?
As a mother of two young children, I wish the Singapore Education System can be more like the one of Finland. Singapore is placing far too much emphasis on producing “top” students. “Top” students are defined as the ones having outstanding academic results. More often than not, they are the ones with PSLE aggregate scores of more than 280 and/or O or A-level marks with all As. Looking at producing students with excellent academic result by itself is not wrong, but in the process of achieving this, most students are under tremendous pressure and this situation creates a very competitive learning environment. Personally, I think the pressure and being overly competitive is unnecessary.

Students can learn through many ways. For young children, they may be able to learn better through games under a relaxed atmosphere. Imposing assessments on young learners may have adverse effects and students learn for the wrong purpose. Looking at the Finnish system, young children learn through games and collaborative efforts and they do not have to worry about examinations until they are 16 years old. Yet, their academic performance later on is still good. All Singaporeans are just too immersed into the current educational system which focuses on academic performance. Nearing PSLE or other main examinations, not only the student himself/herself is feeling stressed out, the parents are equally pressurized. Many parents have the perception that their child’s PSLE result will define his success in the future. In case he does not do well in the examination, his future will be gone. I feel this negative thought demotivates the child further and there is a need for change in this perception within the society. Having said that, there is much more to do than just changing this perception. Or rather, before this perception can be changed, there is a need to transform the attitude towards education.
As citizens of a country known for having a knowledge based economy, many of us will question if this can ever be achieved in Singapore. If we would like to shift towards an education system which is similar to the one in Finland, a large-scale educational reform will need to take place and it will have to start with a change in culture and people’s mind-set. Such reform will take a very long time to launch and yield effects.

There are obviously many areas in the Finnish education system we can learn from, from education philosophy, school-starting age, curriculum design, assessment methods and frequency to teachers’ motivation. From my point of view as a mother and an educator, I can see many benefits of the Finnish education system which are severely lacking in the context of Singapore. With some recent initiatives from the government such as changes in the PSLE policy, I hope we can move away, gradually, from the overly pragmatic education system (as I would call).


Barr, G. (2011). Success of Finnish Education System. Retrieved from
Chang, R. (2013). PSLE tweaks among impending policy changes as OSC Ends. Retrieved from
Taylor, A. (2011). 26 Amazing Facts about Finland’s Unorthodox Education System. Retrieved from

Posted by Wendy Wong


  1. Thanks Wendy for sharing the Finnish education system. I totally share the same thoughts or wishes to Singapore education system. Although the policy has changed a lot and innovations have been imposed in the past, such as removing the stream separation in primary 4. But the current PSLE policy indeed make not only students stressful, but parents also. Always see colleagues have to take leave to help their children prepare the PSLE exams. So many communications are going on among parents to share their experience on how to help children prepare the PSLE exams.

    After PSLE, the pressure is not over. There are still GCE O/N/A levels examinations waiting for students and parents. On top of the normal school hours, students are forced to attend all kinds of tuition classes. I was even thinking whether the students still have ‘CHILDHOOD”.

    Creativity of kids are progressively killed by the current education system. It’s time for all of us to review the current policy and change in order to let all children have a better and happier childhood.

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