What Malaysia Can Learn From The World’s Best Education System

Equal Access To Education

Formal education in Malaysia is divided into 5 distinct educational stages; a) Early Education, b) Primary Education, c) Secondary Education, d) Post-Secondary Education and e) Higher Education. The Finnish education system, on the other hand, is divided into a) Early childhood Education & Care, b) General Education, c) Vocational Education & Training, and d) Higher Education; 4 stages of education in total.

Finland’s education system has been regarded, and it still is, one of the best in the world. One of the basic principles of Finnish education is that all her citizens must have equal access to education and training. And they are all free at all levels; from pre-primary to higher education. Their teachers are very well paid. Their places of learning place less emphasis on homework and tests. It stands to reason why our education minister, Dr Maszlee Malik (who has since resigned), many moons ago was keen to adopt Finland’s education system.

“People sometimes incorrectly assume that equity in education means all students should be taught the same curriculum, or should achieve the same learning outcomes in school. This was also a common belief in Finland for a long time following the equality-based school reform that was first launched in the early 1970s. Rather, equity in education means that all students must have access to high-quality education, regardless of where they live, who their parents might be, or what school they attend. In this sense, equity ensures that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions – in other words, home background.” – Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland by Pasi Sahlberg.

Image credit: https://finland.fi/

We, at emakayah.com, couldn’t be happier when we learned of Dr Maszlee Malik‘s vision, and of what our education system might be like 5 to 10 years from now. Like the rest of Malaysians, and parents ourselves, we hope this vision does come to fruition this time around. It’s high time that Malaysia strives to provide the best possible education system for all, irrespective of one’s race.

That being said, before one begins to talk about adopting the Finnish model of education, one must first learn what exactly is there to emulate. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the best education system in the world work; beginning with education for infants, toddlers and young children – Early Childhood Education.

Stages of Education

Early Childhood Education

Pre-primary education is compulsory. Early Childhood Education in Finland is provided in both kindergartens and schools. It begins when the child turns 6. Children learn mostly through play. They are also taught to take responsibility for one’s actions and be mindful of others. The main focus of Early Childhood Education in Finland, in short, is to promote balanced growth and help young children develop their soft skills and learn to take others into account.

General Education / Basic Education

General Education or Basic Education begins when the child turns 7 and ends when the child turns 15. 9 years in total. The purpose of General Education is to provide students with general knowledge and skills. Students are assessed continuously during the studies and there are no national tests. Each pupil receives an academic report at least once every school year.

Vocational Education & Training

After General Education, a student can choose to continue studying at Vocational Education & Training. 90 per cent of them typically chooses to continue their study. The syllabus covers over eight fields of education with over fifty vocational qualification and a hundred different study programmes. Courses include compulsory and elective studies. Students are therefore required to complete the required number of courses and spend at least half a year of on-the-job training. Vocational Education was initially designed to last 3 years, but students may complete it in 2 to 4 years. The national test will be held only at the very last year of the study. Completion of this stage of education gives them the eligibility to continue to higher education.

Image credit: https://finland.fi/

Higher Education & Research

Higher Education system in Finland comprises of Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS). The former focuses on scientific research and instruction. The latter offers a more practical approach. The general requirement for admission to both universities is; applicants must have vocational qualifications, and they must sit a university entrance exam. At universities, students may choose to study for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and scientific or artistic postgraduate degrees. Courses at UAS, on the other hand, are multidisciplinary; often with a focus of equipping its pupils with practical professional skills.

Free Education At All Levels

Education is free at all levels from pre-primary to higher education. From Early Childhood Education up to General Education; textbooks, daily meal and transportation are free particularly for students living further away from their places of learning. Students at the upper secondary level (General Education) have the right to a free meal. Meals for students in higher education are subsidised by the state. According to Finish’s ministry of education, adult education is the only form of education that may require payment.

Image credit: https://finland.fi/

Educational Autonomy

There are no rules and regulations in place to determine class sizes; individual schools are free to decide how to group their pupils. Teachers have pedagogical autonomy; they are free to use any methods of teaching as they see fit.

Finnish teachers are particularly skeptical of using frequent standardized tests to determine students’ progress in school. Many Finnish teachers have told me that if they encountered similar external pressure regarding standardized testing and high-stakes accountability as do their peers in England or the United States, they would seek other jobs. In short, teachers in Finland expect that they will experience professional autonomy, prestige, respect, and trust in their work. First and foremost, the working conditions and moral professional environment are what count as young Finns decide whether they will pursue a teaching career or seek work in another field” – Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland by Pasi Sahlberg.

Teaching Is Finland’s Most Admired Profession

Many factors have contributed to the success of Finland’s educational model, but one factor outweighs all – their teachers. High-quality teachers are the hallmark of Finland’s education system. Teachers teaching Early Childhood Education must hold a degree from a university. Care-givers, helpers and instructors must at least hold an upper secondary level qualification in social welfare and healthcare. Teachers in Basic and General upper secondary education are required to hold a Master’s degree. Teachers in Vocational Education & Training must hold a higher education degree. Admission to universities of teacher education is extremely selective; only 10 per cent of all applicants are admitted – one out of every ten students who applied.


Finnish National Agency for Education. (2019). Finnish education in a nutshell. [online] Available at: https://www.oph.fi/en/statistics-and-publications/publications/finnish-education-nutshell [Accessed 15 Nov. 2019].

Finland: Teacher and Principal Quality. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/finland-overview/finland-teacher-and-principal-quality/.

Home. (2019, May 14). Retrieved from https://www.educationfinland.fi/.

Dickinson, K. (n.d.). How does Finland’s top-ranking education system work? Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/how-does-finland-s-top-ranking-education-system-work.

The Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://minedu.fi/en/frontpage.

BASTOS, R. M. B. (2017). The surprising success of the Finnish educational system in a global scenario of commodified educationRevista Brasileira de Educação22(70), 802-825.

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