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Finland’s and South Korea’s Education Systems Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 22nd, 2020


The level of education is the important sign of the country’s competitiveness on the world arena. The employed teaching methods as well as the level of the financial support do play the role in the high effectiveness of the education system but they are not its only determinants. The scholars indicate to the importance of the cultural differences in the success of the certain countries in this area. The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast the educational systems in Finland and South Korea and to find out why these countries are the leaders in the education.

The Analysis

The educational systems in Finland and the South Korea are remarkably different but both counties are said to be the world leaders in the education sphere. While the South Korean education is based on the strict rules, hardship, and learning by heart as much as you can, the Finnish teaching methods are very liberal and they are aimed at reducing the course load. Paul Kielstra in his research on the countries’ performance in education refers to the Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment indicating to Finland and the South Korea as the top performers in the ranking (Kielstra 2012). The most remarkable question is that why these two countries, which support the opposite educational methods, are the leaders. It seems that the model of education is not the primary determinant of the countries’ high achievements and there are other determinants of their success.

The scholars argue that it is the cultural peculiarities and national mentality, which determine the success of Finland and South Korea in the education sphere. Both nations flourish the common values of the social responsibility and respect to the teachers’ profession. The results of the analysis based on the comparison of the different countries performance in this field and their educational policies allow concluding that although the increase in the government spending on education contributes to its improvement and development, it does not make the educational systems stand out.

The success of the Finnish and the South Korean models is caused by the attitude of people to knowledge and learning. The researchers say that the educational systems of both countries are based on “the high status of teachers in the society, ambition for students, and strong sense of accountability” (Kielstra 2012, p.40-42). Undoubtedly, the educational ethics prevailing in the society of the countries explains the high results of both the teachers and the students.

People in Finland and the South Korea have the commitment to studying. However, the roots for such kind of attitude are different. The South Koreans experienced the foreign oppression during decades, when the country was under the control of Japan. The Japanese government impeded the development of the education in the South Korea in every way possible. However, the most significant pressure on the stance of education was made by the restrictions for the Koreans to attend the school (Kielstra 2012). Along with the Confucian ethics, these historic factors brought up the strong commitment of the nation to education. They saw the learning as their duty to society and their Motherland (Kielstra 2012).

In contrast, the roots of Finnish achievements in the education system lie in the social-democratic values, which have been supported in the country since the beginning of the XX century. The national movements in support of Finland’s independence and the mass protests of people agitating for their rights increased the level of the national identity and social consciousness of the Finns. The high unemployment and social tension of the1950s and 1960s required the well-coordinated economic policy. The government intervention was aimed at the modernization of the Finnish economy. The historic events laid the foundations for the reformation of the education system, which was initiated in the 1970s.

The structural transformations were aimed at the building of the welfare state in the frameworks of the social democratic ideology, which explained the comprehensive education principle in the country. The education became perceived as the social responsibility and as the contribution of every citizen to the welfare of the nation. The reforms resulted in the increase in the number of people who graduated from school and pursued the high education. This was largely due to the equity principle underlying the Finnish education system (Sahlberg 2011). This principle assumes the vast opportunities in the education provided by the government. As regards the educational model in Finland, equity is the principle of the social fairness and the equal opportunities for the pursuit of education (Sahlberg 2011). The education strategy of the 1990s was aimed at the decrease of the regulation, the expansion of the schools autonomy and was based on the tenets of accountability and decentralization.

The principle of accountability takes the central place in the Finnish educational model. It should be emphasized that the education in the country is aimed at not teaching the pupils to learn the rules and textbooks’ materials. It is rather aimed at teaching them how to think and analyze the information presented in the study books. Partly due to this fact, Finland is one of the world leaders in Mathematics. The Finnish students seem to be better able to solve the complex mathematical problems than the students from other countries.

And this is accompanied by the non-graded school system and no home assignments until the upper school. Besides, the students do not have to learn everything by heart. The paradox is that such liberal and somewhat relaxing educational system leads to the high achievements of the Finnish students in Math and sciences. The scholars explain that the teaching model in Finland is aimed at developing the independent thinking. It employs the practice of teaching the students to apply the theory in practice. Furthermore, the practicing and the solving of the real-life cases are the core in the development of the analytical mind and logic. That is why the teaching of the Mathematics in Finland is based on the problem-solving (Sahlberg 2011).

The principle of accountability in the education system is widely discussed by the researchers. There are various types of accountability and the attitude of the public to each of them also differs. As regards the Finnish education model, it is said that it is strategically based on the intelligent accountability, the one, in which the internal and external accountabilities are combined. Pasi Sahlberg in his research on the place of accountability in the knowledge society explains both of its types. He says that the former consists of the interactive studying, self-assessment and selv-evaluation while the later deals with the management and control of the test assessments, which take into account the specificity of each school. In this respect, it should be mentioned that the reformation of the education in Finland resulted in the increase in the level of autonomy of school.

The success of the South Korea in the sphere of education is directly comparable to the achievements of Finland in the context of the high level of education among people, the above average scores of students in Math and science and the strong commitment of the population to learning. However, the differences in the approaches to teaching are striking. As it has been already mentioned, the South Korean model is the opposite to the liberal approach of the Finnish schools. The South Korean education system is based on the strict rules and guidelines for students, among which the principles of the hardship and dedication to work play the crucial role.

The South Koreans are used to study hard since the early childhood. Many scholars claim that the country’s education system can be explained from the standpoint of the religious and philosophical beliefs of people. Moreover, the economic success of the East Asian countries is explained by the traditions of their culture. Most of the nations are the followers of the Confucianism, which is based on the ideas of the self-development, the social duty of every person, and the mutual aid. These tenets of the Confucian philosophy can be directly related to the understanding of the value of learning and education by the South Koreans.

The virtuous circle takes a central place in the local philosophy. Confucius said that the true morality was based on the five virtues of self, among which the virtue of knowledge took the third place after the virtuous attitude and virtuous behavior. According to Confucius, every man should strive to achieve the harmony with himself, others, and with nature. The man who lives in the harmony is the perfect man. Confucius said that the perfect man is always the knowing man. It should be emphasized that the teachings of the Confucianism are based on the tenet of the continuous self-development, which is aimed at forming the habits of the virtuous attitude and behavior. Thus, the man should learn the rules and to become accustomed to them. The ideas of Confucius laid the foundations for the education systems in the East Asian countries and the South Korea in particular.

The scholars say that the high level of the social capital in the South Korea can be explained by the dominance of the Confucian philosophy in the country (Sorenson 1994). The social capital is the important concept in education and economics. It can be defined as the wealth based on the level of people’s knowledge and skills. The high level of the social capital indicates to the significant potential of the country as it has a highly qualified workforce.

However, the country has gone the difficult way to establish the effective education system and to become the top performer in the world ranking on the level of education.

“The 3 years of death, destruction, and large‐scale refugee movements that accompanied the Korean War raging up and down the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s interrupted educational careers and reversed much of the educational progress that had been made since 1945” (Sorenson 1994, p.13).

The reformation of education started in the second half of the XX century. Just as in Finland, the reforms brought the ground-breaking changes to the education system in the country. The new approach was based on the principle of the development of the teaching models, which helped to educate the population and to match the demand of the economy for the highly qualified workforce at the same time.

The South Korean model assumes the upward mobility through education (Sorenson 1994). It is aimed at ensuring that the graduates have the opportunity to grow and to develop their skills further. Moreover, the results of the research show that the high education is directly linked to the achievement of the higher social status in the country. That is why the South Koreans realize the importance of education for increasing the quality of their life.

The learning process starts since the early age. The children are taught the reading skills from the age of 2 or 3. The discipline in the schools is very strict and even rigorous from the point of view of the Western people. The majority of the South Korean schools use the corporal punishment in the junior classes.

The teenage period is the time of the hard studying for the South Koreans. At that period, they have to put the maximum efforts to prepare for the entrance examination. It can be said that the university education means everything in the country. Without the diploma, the doors to the well-being will be closed. The teenagers spend approximately 11 hours per day studying. Besides the school classes, they attend the extra and optional classes. At the same time, the South Korean education system is based on the egalitarian principle meaning that everyone in the country has the equal opportunities in the pursuit of education. However, the colleges and universities have the strict hierarchy and the prestige of the diploma takes an important part of its value. It should be mentioned that the student bodies have the real opportunities to participate in the management of the university life and to defend the opinions of students. The chances of the student to obtain the good education are not limited by the financial abilities of its family. It is the hard work and diligence, which pave the way to success.


In order to sum up all above mentioned, it should be said that the cultural differences play the crucial role in the teaching methods and education model of the countries. The national peculiarities determine the attitude of people to knowledge and learning. The South Korea and Finland are the world leaders in the level and quality of education. Both nations show the strong commitment to learning and self-development. Their attitude can be explained by the high level of social consciousness. It is the duty of every citizen to gain the education, which allows making the contribution to the welfare of the country. At the same time, the education systems in the South Korea and Finland are substantially different. The former is based on the strict discipline and rigid studying since the junior classes, whereas the later is based on the liberal approach assuming the non-graded model and the encouragement of the independent thinking. Overall, the cultural traditions and people’s mentality determine the success of Finland and the South Korea to the large extent.


Kielstra, P. (2012) The Learning Curve2012 Report: Lessons in Country Performance in Education. Web.

Sahlberg, P. (2011) Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change inFinland? NY, USA: Teachers College Press.

Sorenson, C. (1994). Success and Education in South Korea. Comparative Education Review, 38(1), 12-35.

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