Education in Finland and the United States

In recent years, Finland’s education system has been gaining recognition worldwide, which is not at all ungrounded. The Northern European country has built itself a reputation of being a top contender on almost every Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey (Dickinson, 2019). 2015 PISA findings made it apparent that Finland outperforms the United States in reading, science, and mathematics, with gaps being as significant as 15-20 positions on the ranking (Dickinson, 2019). However, it is not only Finnish students’ academic performance that makes headlines. Besides, they seem to be happier than their Northern American counterparts and make easier transitions into higher education and employment. In the light of these trends, it is especially compelling to shed light on Finland’s vision on education and its philosophical underpinnings.

Interestingly enough, Finland’s educational authorities draw on American education research and especially the works of the philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey. In particular, Finland’s approach to education is based on Dewey’s pragmatism. The scholar believed that humans learn best when they can experience reality (Studio Ninety9, 2019). Therefore, it is only logical to create an environment for hands-on exploration. In fact, Finnish children are not required to attend school before the age of six. It is believed that in early childhood, they need “balanced growth,” which means that they can play and learn on their terms with the support of their parents (Dickinson, 2019).

The goals of basic education in both Finland and the United States are somewhat similar. The 2006 UNESCO report names realizing students’ highest potential, making them good citizens, and helping them become competitive on the job market as the key objectives of the US school system (UNESCO, 2006). In turn, the Finnish National Agency for Education envisions supporting students’ growth toward humanity and providing them with the necessary skills (Dickinson, 2019). In other words, the two countries see school as an institution that both transmits knowledge and instills values. What is different is how the US and Finland evaluate the system’s performance to ensure it is on track toward its goals. Finland rejects comprehensive standardized tests as an overemphasis on this aspect of education makes the learning process serve a single purpose. On the other hand, the US educational system lets test results be its North Star so that even school funding is tied to these metrics.

It seems that even when it comes to testing, Finland follows Dewey’s lead. The philosopher was convinced that students should be taught how to think, not what to think, and standardized tests check the latter (Studio Ninety9, 2019). The Finnish school system’s independence of thought is supported by various academic and career tracks that a student can choose. Upper secondary education is not obligatory, and a person can return to it at any point for free. It is divided into general and vocational and has a flexible schedule and freedom of choice. Again, per Dewey’s ideas, students are the primary decision-makers; they are given the autonomy to take charge of their lives and carve their paths.


Dickinson, Kevin. (2019). How does Finland’s top-ranking education system work? World Economic Forum. Web. 

Studio Ninety9. (2019). John Dewey | What is pragmatism | Whiteboard video [Video file]. Web.

UNESCO. (2006). World data on education (6th ed.). Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Education in Finland and the United States." February 18, 2022.