Our mentors gave us the task to compare the education system of Finland with that of our own countries. For me it seemed like there could be books written about the subject, so I wasn’t quite sure how to make this post short and concise. I already wrote a post about educational technology in Romania, where I discussed the history of education in Romania from the point of view of funding and technology in schools. In this post I will try to focus on the structure of the education system in Romania, and compare that with how education is organized in Finland.
Structure of the educational system in Romania
The structure of the Romanian education system changes a bit almost every year, but these changes are mostly in administration, the basic structure remaining quite the same. There are two major national examinations: one at the end of the secondary school, age 14 and the baccalaureate, at the end of high school. The first national testing results determine which school the students gets into (if the grades are not good enough for high school, they are placed in a vocational school). The second national testing (Baccalaureate, age 18/19) is important for admission to universities.
Kindergarten is not compulsory except the last year of it, which prepares children for school. Pre-primary education in state institutions is free, but parents are required to pay for certain things (food, materials, etc.). The education from primary school up to 10th grade (age 16) is compulsory and free (although parents are often required to pay for different things). From 16-18 the education is free, but not compulsory. At universities there are free places offered, and also some with yearly fees (students with high grades get the free places).
Sometimes it’s difficult to see what is different in Romania from other countries, because some little things are just so natural for us. In this blog a person from England living in the part of Romania which has a Hungarian majority describes his experiences with education in Romania: http://szekely.blogspot.fi/search/label/Romanian%20education%20system . I found his writing very insightful and amusing, I think it’s worth taking a look at.
As I already explained in the post about educational technology, there is a huge difference between rural and urban areas in Romania. Here you can see a video about the situation in rural areas:
Structure of the Educational System in Finland
The structure of the Finnish system is quite similar to the Romanian at first glance as you can see below. However, in the Finnish system there are no examinations, which is great in my opinion. In the Romanian system there are many students who for some reason don’t do well in the first national evaluation when they are 14, so they loose many options.
The other difference is that education in Finland is free on all levels, and that children get food at school for free. The number of hours spent in the classroom is also less than in Romania (e.g. I spent around 38 hours/week in high school).
About vocational training
When I first started to get acquainted with the Finnish education system, the part that was most difficult for me to understand had to do with the vocational “path” students can take. You can go to a vocational school during your high school year, and then continue your studies in a polytechnic or a university of applied sciences. These institutions focus on providing their students with practical knowledge, and those who graduate will have a well defined profession. Students can learn to become for example nurses, optometrists, programmers or dance teachers.
If you look at the Romanian model, you will immediately notice that the vocational education leads… well, nowhere. Ok, that’s not quite right, after completing 2 years in a vocational school, students have to possibility to pass an exam and get a certificate in their field, or they can opt to study two more years, and get a higher level certificate. These certificates are not very valuable, and usually they lead to unemployment or very low salary. If they want to continue studying in a university or polytechnic they have to spend another year preparing for the Baccalaureate exam, however the success rate of these students is very low.
As I already said, there are so many differences between the two education systems, that it’s difficult to pick out the “main difference”. I would say that in the case of the structure of the education systems, the keyword is flexibility. In the Finnish system children can make choices, and the choices they make in their teenage years don’t have to be definite, they can always reorient themselves.
Another important difference is that in Finland they value and respect all professions. In Romania very few students choose to go to vocational schools, they usually end up there because they couldn’t get into high school. Those who graduate from vocational schools (plumbers, electricians, welders etc.) are not payed well, and they would need more training to become professionals. This situation leads many people to struggle through the theoretical training in high school and sometimes at university, just so they can have a “diploma”, even though they would be more skilled in other areas and don’t plan on pursuing a career requiring a theoretical background.