Finnish vs. South Korean Education and Culture


The education systems of different countries represent the special sphere of study as the quality of education determines the standard of living and the overall course of development of the country. The education systems of Finland and South Korea take the top positions in the world’s rating of the quality and level of education. At the same time, the approaches applied by these countries are essentially different. The Finnish system is liberal and gives the maximum flexibility to the teachers and students, whereas the South Korean system is rigorous and is based on the strict rules. The aim of this paper is to characterize the education systems of two countries and to determine how the cultural differences influence the approaches in education.

The Main Part

The quality of education is the important characteristic of the standard of living in the country. It reveals the opportunities, which people have for the self-realization and for the achievement of the better quality of life. Although the education system is managed and controlled by the government and the main course of its development is determined by the policy, it is influenced by the peculiarities of culture and national mentality to the large extent. Furthermore, the development of education system is closely connected with the historic development of the country.

The education systems in Finland and in the South Korea are considered to be the best in the world according to the rating of Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment (Kielstra 2). Both nations show the strong dedication of people to gaining the education as well as the high respect to the profession of teacher. Undoubtedly, such kind of attitude contributed to the continuous development of education. In comparison with many other countries of the world, people in Finland and South Korea feel responsible for obtaining the high education in order to make their own contribution to the welfare of the nation. For them, it is not only the question of their personal well-being and social status; it is their duty to family and society.

In spite of the fact that both Finland and South Korea outperformed other countries in the quality and level of education, the models, which they use, seem to be absolutely different. The Finnish approach is flexible and liberal. Its main principle is teaching the children to think. “The ultimate criterion of the quality of a national education system is how well students learn what they are expected to learn” (Sahlberg 49). Probably, it is for this reason that the Finnish students show the higher results in Math and sciences. They are not enforced to learn the theorems by heart. They are rather encouraged to think logically and to solve the real-life cases.

It is interesting to note that the children in Finland do not obtain marks for their results at school up to the seventh grade. In addition, their home assignment is very limited. In comparison with the children from other countries, the Finnish children spend the substantially less amount of time to do their homework. “Evidence from the most recent studies indicates that Finnish students experience less anxiety and stress in school than many of their peers in other countries” (Sahlberg 64). It goes without saying that the approach used by the Finnish schools is very different from the one used by the other nations. However, it proved its efficiency. The Finnish students achieve the higher results spending relatively less time on studying than the students from other countries.

The researchers of the so-called Finnish paradox claim that the roots of the Finnish success lie in the attitude of people to education as well as in the social-democratic ideology prevailing in the country. The education system in Finland develops in the frameworks of the welfare state, in which the education of every citizen is guaranteed by the government. Thus, the state provides the equal opportunities for everyone to obtain the high education. It should be said that the situation was essentially different in the past and Finland went a long way to achieve its current status of the leading country in education. After the proclamation of independence, Finland had to establish its own education system aimed at the satisfaction of the current needs of the national economy.

Up to the middle of the XX century, the level and quality of education in the country was very low. However, the situation changed when the government initiated the modernization of the education system. The reformation was aimed at increasing the level of education of people and the new model was based on the principles of accountability and equity. The former can be described as the increase in the autonomy of schools and the support and development of the self-assessment and self-evaluation, whereas the later can be defined as the provision of the equal opportunities for gaining education to everyone.

In contrast to Finland, the education system of South Korea is based on the principles of the strict discipline and hardship. The South Koreans are used to study hard since the early age. The traditions of the children upbringing and education in the country are largely based on the Asian philosophy. In addition, the country remained under the Japanese oppression for a long time and, after the liberation, the nation realized the urgent need for obtaining knowledge and skills in order to recover the country. Needless to say, the high level of social consciousness and national unity provided the great support to the development of the economy and education. It should be emphasized that the realization of the importance of knowledge was achieved at the national level. It was a kind of social responsibility for people to study and work hard.

The concept of social capital can be examined through the experience of the South Korea (Sorenson 13). Broadly speaking, the social capital is represented by the highly qualified workforce. The Japanese oppression resulted in the low level of literacy among the South Korean population. The purpose of the government after the liberation was to increase the level of social capital in the country.

The current model of education in the South Korea assumes the rules-based approach and continuous learning. It is so rigorous that the people in the West do not understand the expediency of such methods. In particular, the elementary schools in the county use the corporal punishment. The children should follow the rules and any self-will and capriciousness are penalized hardly. The people in the South Korea believe that these methods are justified as the children should be taught to cope with the hardship. They closely connect the personal freedom of every citizen with the welfare of the whole nation. That is why the strong commitment to study is up brought in children.

Sorenson says that the “humanistic Confucian values derived from the status-centered agrarian society of Korea’s past play their part, but in the context of a modern, competitive trading nation with large engineering firms and heavy industrial enterprises” (Sorenson 13). The Confucian philosophy influenced the development of the modern South Korean education system a lot. It is based on the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius who taught the values of virtue and humility. His philosophy was centered on the concept of the virtuous circle, which explained the five virtues of the man. Among them, the virtue of learning took the crucial place and was as important as the other virtues. The Confucian philosophy flourished the value of knowledge and education. Taking into account that the man should strive to achieve the harmony with himself and with the surrounding world, he should put the efforts to perfect himself. Knowledge is the key to perfection. However, the education can be only gained through the obedience and self-discipline.


In order to sum up all above mentioned, it should be said that the cultural peculiarities influence the education models substantially. The approaches used in teaching are largely based on the national mentality and the historic path of the nation. The experiences of Finland and the South Korea prove this fact as both countries were motivated to reform their education systems in order to recover their national economies and to cope with the poverty.

Works Cited

Kielstra, Paul 2012, The Learning Curve2012 Report: Lessons in Country Performance in Education. Ed. Dennis McCauley. Economist Intelligence Unit. PDF file. Web.

Sahlberg, Pasi. Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. Print.

Sorenson, Clark 1994, Success and Education in South Korea. PDF file. Web.

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