Why Finland is scrapping school subjects and replacing them with topics

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Finland is giving its top-performing educational system a radical rehaul that could change the way the world looks at education.

In Finland, kids start school at the age of 7, have very little homework, and hardly any standardized exams. However, Finnish students have consistently topped international ranking systems for years, and by no accident. The Finnish government places a huge emphasis on education, and so their teachers are some of the most well-trained in the world. The country’s inclusive and egalitarian approach allows all children access to the same quality education.

However, Finland’s rank in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study has been slipping. In 2003, Finland was first in science and reading and second in mathematics, but in 2012, the country was 6th in reading, 12th in mathematics, and 5th in science.

“We have to think and rethink everything connected to school"

finland educational system

Photo: Leo-setä/Flickr

The government obviously doesn’t want to rest on their laurels and let this trend continue, because officials are giving the educational system an overhaul.

“We are often asked why improve the system that has been ranked as top quality in the world. But the answer is: because the world is changing,” Irmeli Halinen, head of curriculum development with Finnish National Board of Education said. “We have to think and rethink everything connected to school. We also have to understand that competencies needed in society and in working life have changed.”

Instead of sticking to the traditional way of teaching mathematics, social sciences, and the arts, Finnish schools will be learning these subjects in a more interdisciplinary manner. This is a response to how a recent review found that what kids learn is not as important as how they learn, and that individual subjects aren’t as important as broad competencies, Quartz reports.

"The needs are not the same, and we need something fit for the 21st century"

“There are schools that are teaching in the old-fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginning of the 1900s—but the needs are not the same, and we need something fit for the 21st century," explained Marjo Kyllonen, the head of the Department of Education in Helsinki, to Independent.

Students will now learn economics, history, languages, and geography via topics like the European Union, climate change, or  World War II. Students will also no longer be sitting in rows with a teacher in front of the classroom, but instead, will be working in smaller groups to solve problems.

This system will be introduced to senior students aged 16 and above, with the belief that these students should be given the freedom to choose the topics most relevant to whatever career path they intend to pursue.

On the next page: how to help your child become interested in school.