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Finland & South Korea

Finland and South Korea both have exceptional schools. They both consistently top the international PISA exam given to evaluate students world-wide in reading, math and science. They’re both committed to giving every child a fabulous education. And both countries revere their teachers. But that’s where the similarities end. In every other way their approaches to education are the complete opposite.

Study Time

Average school day in Finland is 5 hours long and they have very little homework. Korean students typically are in school from 9 am- 5 pm and then attend additional classes at night.


Children in South Korea take tons of standardized tests along the way to a massive, high-pressure college entrance exam that determines their future. Kids in Finland only take one standardized test in their academic career.

Academic Pressure

Students and teachers in Finland care very little about grades and oftentimes don't pay much attention to them. In Korea, it's about the marks! Students there are under an extreme amount of pressure to bring home good grades from school.

Use of Technology

South Korea is a world leader in integrating technology in the classrooms. Every school is wired to the hilt! In contrast, students in Finland spend the majority of their time in the “real” world. They often take their studies out of the classroom and into the outdoors.


In Finland they believe in giving the kids a lot of playtime. Students get 75 minutes of recess per day. There’s no real recess in South Korea. The only breaks Korean kids get is the 10 minutes they have to shuffle between classes.

South Korea and Finland education system

Teaching Around The World: What We Can Learn
From Two Very Different International School Systems


Imagine teaching in a school where playtime is not only valued, but required. Where part of every learning day is spent outdoors. Where students only take one standardized test throughout their entire K-12 careers. Or how about a school where every single parent is invested in his or her child’s education? Where technology is seamlessly integrated, and every teacher is respected?

In this two-part series, we take a look at Finland and South Korea—two of the top educational systems in the world. The two countries both have stellar schools but completely different approaches to education. South Korea’s schools are incredibly intense. Finland’s are super laid back. Yet despite their different approaches, both countries top the global PISA exam year after year. (The PISA or Programme for International Student Assessment ranks 15-year-olds’ competence in math, science and reading.) Here we take a look at what Finland and Korea are doing, and doing right, and what we can learn from each of them!

Finland FlagFinland’s A+ Schools

Many of us have heard how awesome the schools in Finland are. Their students rock international tests in reading, math and science year after year. Their teachers are highly respected and their students are highly motivated. But that wasn’t always the case. Read more about what we can learn from Finland >>

Republic of Korea FlagSouth Korea’s Amazing Schools

South Korea’s schools couldn’t be more different than Finland’s, yet their results on the PISA exams are similarly sensational. In the latest results, South Korea ranked second in reading (just behind Shanghai, China who participated as a city), fourth in math and sixth in science.
Read more about what we can learn from South Korea >>

One major thing

Finland and South Korea share is the belief that all children deserve access to an excellent education. Their approaches may be completely different, but both countries are truly committed to academic equanimity, and it shows. The countries share a passion for learning and a belief that if every child is educated, the entire society benefits. They share an unparalleled cultural respect for teachers. The system in the US may need some work before we get there, but until then we, as individual teachers, can make a difference one student at a time! By implementing some of the lessons we’ve learned from Finland and South Korea, we have more tools in our arsenals to do just that!

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