Finnish schools scrap subjects as part of education reform

Finland is taking radical steps to reform its already-enviable education system by ending teaching by “subject”, and introducing teaching by “topic.”

The changes were announced in March, and are being pioneered in the capital of Helsinki. Finland has long been heralded a leader in education, routinely topping international rankings in terms of literacy, numeracy, and overall academic performance and satisfaction. Why then take such a drastic step – believed to be a world first – to fix the seemingly unbroken?

According to officials in charge of the programme, the reforms are taking place in response to the changing pace of the workforce. As generation Y graduates into a vastly different environment to their predecessors, they must learn the skills they need beyond academics sooner than later says Pasi Silander, Helsinki’s City Development Manager. “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life,” Silander told The Independent in March. “Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

So advanced is their education system that while the rest of Europe focuses on how to close the achievement gap, Finland is already focusing on how to incorporate more growth mindset thinking into the curriculum to prepare students for life beyond school walls.


Teaching by topic – how does it work?

The largest part of the reform involves doing away with subject-specific teaching.

For example, standard, overarching subjects like history or geography are no more. Instead, students can choose to learn practical skills, such as how to handle money, or more academic topics such as foreign policy. Another change has taken place in the physical classroom set up, encouraging a more cohesive, “co-learning” space that diminishes fear and fosters interaction.

If we look at the changes, at the centre of each component of reform is growth mindset, and it can be seen that with each change, this kind of independent thinking is encouraged. Problem-solving, confidence-building and self-belief are encouraged, and a positive learning atmosphere is created in which students can feel free to try new things, and even make mistakes.

So what can be gleaned from our Nordic neighbours? Can Britain possibly replicate the success of this education system, and close the achievement gap in the process? There have been calls to do so, with the current education system criticised for being too focussed on results and exams, and ignoring crucial aspects of social and emotional development.

Time will tell if the Finnish education revolution is a success, but credit is certainly due as elements of SEL are incorporated into school life, and growth mindset activities are not only present but encouraged.