Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
October 10, 2020 ·  5 min read

Finland’s Incredible New School Courses Are Teaching Kids Dependable Real-Life Knowledge and Skills

When a lack of significant progress is observed in a particular sector, we can’t continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Why do you think young adults these days would often have a hard time settling into the real world when they strike out on their own? School should prepare them for the many demands of adulthood and career pursuits, but you can’t really “algebra” your way into the world of outrageous tax returns, environmental decency, important legalities, investments, and mortgage madness.

Despite what the rankings online say, very few countries can equal Finland in their approach to education. The primary school system was ranked #1 by the World Economic Forum in 2016 [1]. About 20 years ago, Finland topped the charts as the world’s number 1 in education and although they no longer hold the spot, the country is still making massive moves at giving their students the eclectic best. 

The Finnish government is hands-on with giving kids the best quality of “tutelage” they need to survive in the real world, not merely teaching with the same syllabus that worked for students a hundred years ago. People may claim the educational system in the country is too lax, seeing as kids don’t start school until they are seven and are not measured until they are about 13 [2]. You’d find many articles online claiming that Finnish kids don’t get homework and examination at all, which isn’t entirely true. They get projects and occasional assessments but not nearly as much as to incite business-like competition amongst the students.

In many other countries, kids are hounded from the age of 3 or 4 with countless tests and homework in subjects they’ll never pay attention to outside of school. Where the U.S. impressively records an 88% graduation rate from high school and the UK records 92.5%, Finland records 93%. Despite having a supposedly “lax” educational system, Finnish students are faring better within and outside the walls of school than kids in many other countries, and it leaves a lot of questions to be asked.

What’s Finland’s phenomenon-based learning approach?

When the process is excellent but the application is impractical, the effort becomes wasted.

All through elementary, middle, and high schools, kids are taught several subjects by different teachers. While learning complex equations in math class, they are also learning the properties of every element in chemistry, reciting yards of literature in English, practicing the laws of motion in physics, dissecting frogs in biology, and ironing clothes in home economics. These are all the highly important nuggets of information that shape the minds and skills of the young ones.

However, beyond the shores of grade school and even college, most kids have to re-learn real-world ideas and concepts since applying what they’ve learned in school would usually become a problem. For instance, aside from the ones who go on to become industrial problem-solvers and engineers, most of them will never use 90% of the math taught in schools.

While these subjects are still fully covered in Finnish schools, the phenomenon-based educational system aims to teach kids topics or concepts as a whole rather than breaking them down into subjects [3]. It can also be described as holistic project-based learning, a multidisciplinary instructional approach where kids are taught to ask the important questions that do not have easy answers. 

To be an educated person is beyond knowing equations, Shakespeare, and ancient history. Finnish schools include courses that tackle real-world problems by picking them out and holding broad discussions during class [4]. For instance, according to the students’ grade level, the school may choose topics such as climate change, energy harnessing, global health problems, and the complex world of insurance and investment. These ideas would be discussed thoroughly and dissected during classes for the children to understand the real-world definitions, sub-concepts, applications in their country and around the world. Simply put, they’d be learning how to navigate these issues and ideas as though they were already facing them.

Learning history exclusively with visual aids and exploring ancient architecture with 3D printers is far better than poring over textbooks to forget every single word a year later.

A better approach to a persisting problem

Since the 1980s, Finland has consistently experimented with phenomenon-based learning. However, as of 2016, a curriculum change was effected that had topic-based courses incorporated into the national educational scheme [5].

Speaking to the BBC, Kirsti Lonka, a professor of educational psychology at Helsinki University, phenomenon-based learning is equipping kids with the necessary skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. “Traditionally, learning has been defined as a list of subject matters and facts you need to acquire – such as arithmetic and grammar – with some decoration, like citizenship, built in around it,” Ms. Lonka says.

“But when it comes to real life, our brain is not sliced into disciplines in that way; we are thinking in a very holistic way. And when you think about the problems in the world – global crises, migration, the economy, the post-truth era – we really haven’t given our children the tools to deal with this inter-cultural world. I think it is a major mistake if we lead children to believe the world is simple and that if they learn certain facts they are ready to go. So learning to think, learning to understand, these are important skills – and it also makes learning fun, which we think promotes wellbeing.”

Of course, PBL has received its fair share of criticism since its inception. Some educators in Finland are concerned that the less able kids may have a hard time following up with the seemingly advanced discussions. However, others believe the approach has yielded more results than the regular way of teaching, and it’s only a matter of time before the method fully settles into the system. Finland is doing it right and the rest of the world should toe the same line. Kids need to be ready before hitting the real world and filling their heads with random facts and equations isn’t going to cut it. We all need to take notes from the current happiest country in the world [6].


  1. The Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017.” World Economic Forum. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  2. 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.” School Advisor. Adam Taylor. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  3. What is phenomenon-based learning?Valamis. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  4. Finland’s new, weird school ‘courses’ say a lot about how we teach our kids.” Upworthy. James Gaines. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  5. Could subjects soon be a thing of the past in Finland?” BBC. Penny Spiller. Retrieved October 8, 2020.
  6. 10 Happiest Countries in the World, Ranked.” CN Traveler. Sebastian Modak. Retrieved October 8, 2020.