I would like to start off with a look at the similarities in the education system between the two countries, Singapore and Finland. I will discuss the similarities in subsequent posts. Again, please refer to the diagram that I have provided in Part 1 of this series.
If you look at the diagram, the two countries are similar in four areas, namely:
a) in the importance that is attached to education in both countries by the the government and society;
b) both systems are highly regarded around the world with their students having fared well in international surveys and olympiads;
c) both systems have centralized control albeit with some differences; and
d) both provide comprehensive education
Education is given great importance in both the Finnish and Singaporean societies. In Finland, the right to education is enshrined in the country’s constitution. The Finnish National Board of Education re-affirms this on its website. It says:
“The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education, regardless of age, domicile, financial situation, sex or mother tongue. Education is considered to be one of the fundamental rights of all citizens. Firstly, provisions concerning fundamental educational rights guarantee everyone (not just Finnish citizens) the right to free basic education; the provisions also specify compulsory education. Secondly, the public authorities are also obligated to guarantee everyone an equal opportunity to obtain other education besides basic education according to their abilities and special needs, and to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.”
In Finland, there is general consensus that education is important. There is broad political consensus on educational policy. The Finnish people enjoy free education that includes instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, special needs education and remedial teaching. At the tertiary level, the World Economic Forum has ranked Finland as top in terms of tertiary enrollment and quality.
Its strong emphasis on education is also seen in the quality of its teachers and the perception that the Finnish people have about teaching as a profession. One has to have a Masters degree to be a teacher in Finland. This alone shows the seriousness of education to the Finnish people. They want to attract the best talents into teaching. Teaching is a highly respected profession in Finland. It is regarded on equal terms as being a lawyer or other professionals.
In Singapore, the government has promulgated a law, the Compulsory Education Act (2000), defining that each citizen is obligated to complete a minimal of ten years of education.
In addition to this, both countries spend a large amount of the budget on education. For example Singapore’s spending on education is about 20 per cent of the country’s annual budget, making it only second to its defense spending. A huge portion of this goes to the provision of a modern infrastructure in the schools, heavily subsidized education, and the high teachers’ pay.
Singapore society also attaches great importance to educational qualifications. It is near impossible to get any decent employment without them even if one has the skills. Parents see schooling as the ticket to a better life and are willing to spend a lot on the children’s education, for example, supporting them with extra tuition classes. They also know the stigma that is attached to failure in school. The Singapore government also sees education as the “great leveler” and also at the same time the route for anyone to rise up in society that the Singapore government claims to be based on meritocracy, a corner stone of its political philosophy.
(to be continued)