Decoding Design

Finland's schools are designed for success

Finland's schools are designed for success

Posting in Design

The nation's schools offer lessons on how and what kind of environments encourage successful learning.

Recently students in Finland have been ranking as high or higher than the Asian academic superpowers, and the world, particularly the western world, has been paying attention. A new exhibit showcasing seven Finnish schools offers new lessons on how and what kind of environments encourage successful learning.

In an article for Education Week, Sarah Sparks writes that the director general of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland's education ministry, Pasi Sahlberg, outlined the country's three-fold approach to academic achievement. The strategies include creating and applying a high quality academic curriculum and providing equal access to education (there are no private schools in Finland). The third, surprising, strategy Sahlberg credits is designing an appropriate environment. Design, he says, is integral to the overall success of the system.

The Best School in the World showcases seven Finnish schools and their move from factory-style schools (those with classrooms lining hallways and desks in rows) to contemporary campuses. The schools follow guidelines set by the Finnish Board of Education for a proper learning environment that is "physically, psychologically, and socially safe, promoting the child's growth, health, and learning as well as their positive interaction with teachers and fellow pupils.

Some of the design elements, which give priority to providing the right kinds of spaces for different kinds of work and providing lots of natural light, include

  • spacious lounges and work areas so teachers have space for casual meetings and quiet places for preparing lessons
  • clustered buildings with lots of interior and exterior gathering spaces
  • light filled atriums that connect teachers' areas to classrooms
  • outdoor courtyards that are sheltered from wind but provide sight lines to supervise students
  • large floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights

Adopting the East Asian model for academic success is difficult to promote in the west. The long hours of study and emphasis on memorization would take a huge cultural shift. But creating better school environments is feasible and judging from the Finnish model, effective.

Finland Rethinks Factory-Style School Buildings [Education Week]

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure