Finn and fun: Lessons from Finland’s new school curriculum

The Volatile and Uncertain Global Economy

Reading Straits Times recent article on Finland’s education system is a prompt reminder to us at TLP, why what we do is so important.

“Competencies needed in society and working life have changed over the past two decades, requiring skills that will remain relevant in an uncertain and volatile global environment,” said Mrs Anneli Rautiainen, head of the innovation unit at the Finnish National Agency for Education, the Finnish equivalent of Singaore’s Ministry of Education.

Recall the shift from small-scale cottage industries (think of a single craftsman shearing, knitting and sewing a fleece shirt) to mass-production using machines (now think of 100 identical shirts on an assembly line), known as the Industrial Revolution. The automation of white-collar jobs could be closer than we think.

In the Information Age we live in, information and communication technologies has progressed from a luxury to a necessity today. Job requirements has similarly changed rapidly along with the world’s progress.

Yet, how are we suppose to keep ourselves updated with the times?


Loosely translated as “one is never too old to learn,” it inculcates the value of constantly learning and improving oneself.

However will you always have the good fortune to have someone teach you what you want to learn like in school?

What happens when you can only self-learn that something new?

Will you be able to effectively assimilate the knowledge?

Being able to Stay Relevant

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

In this rapidly changing global environment, it is no longer sufficient to teach our students specific knowledge – for we do not know whether it will stay relevant, or will its prospects remain attractive. What we need to improve on instead, is to focus on teaching our children the skills to obtain knowledge rather than teaching them the content itself.

This is in stark contrast to how many Singaporean children are expected to learn, through rote learning – memorising through repetition. I’m not totally against rote learning, and still believe it is necessary to a fair extent.

Yet, the more effective way would be to complement rote learning with the proper skills on how to learn. Through this, the child will not only be able to improve his current rate of acquiring knowledge, but it also prepares him/ her to be able to adapt quickly when required to update/ change his proficiency in future.

The Importance of Testing, NOT Grade

Assessments are primarily used to pinpoint areas where students lack understanding, not to differentiate performance between students.

Another noteworthy thing to learn from the Finnish mentality, is that internal tests and exams are merely to locate students’ flaw in understanding. This is so that students can learn from their mistake.

In a society that emphasises academic excellence, which is the situation in Singapore, parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. As a result, a sizeable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes.

This is exactly the kind of situations we would want to avoid in learning. Not only is it harmful to the mental development of the child, but it also distracts us from the true purpose to testing ourselves and making mistakes.

Therefore, we must constantly remind ourselves that tests and exams are not just a be-all and end-all. The only few occasions would be during nationwide-exams, e.g. PSLE, O-Levels. Otherwise, tests should simply be seen as a learning opportunity.


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