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Finnish Education System: Did PISA really say it is “the best”?

Commentary, Finnish Education
finnish education system

Today I’d like to start the year by blogging about a topic about Finnish Education System that left me puzzled for a long, long time. These are the claims of:

  • “According to PISA, the Finnish education system is the best”; or
  • “According to PISA, the Finnish education system is one of the best in the world.”

Which year of PISA we are talking about? I am more inclined to agree with this article written by The Business Times, that “Finland used to have the best education system in the world“.

Because based on verifiable FACTS, it is clear that PISA did not make such claims since 2009, especially NOT after considering how Finnish 15 year-old kids performed in Mathematics.

A Caveat on Finnish Education System 

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not “bashing Finnish education system” here. I was just wondering why people proudly say things that are obviously not true.

If you want to say that “Finnish education system is the best” because “the education system still ranks top 15/72 globally and the kids have free space and time to play and learn”, I will think that that is a fair statement.

However, saying that “Finnish education system is the best because of PISA ranking” is obviously not verifiable by the raw PISA data, and I will show you why here.


What is “the best”? According to M-W dictionary, the “best” is defined as:

“excelling all others “

What is the PISA test? According to OECD website:

“The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

In 2015 over half a million students, representing 28 million 15-year-olds in 72 countries and economies, took the internationally agreed two-hour test. Students were assessed in science, mathematics, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy.”

Is “the best” in Finnish Education System a subjective or objective claim? 

For the purpose of this blog post, I want to focus on verifiable statements RELATED to PISA.

Any Tom, Dick and Harry can say “Finnish education is the best”! That is clearly a subjective statement. And such statements will be taken with a pinch of salt because it is just OPINON.

What I am consistently puzzled by the claim “According to PISA, Finnish education system is the best, or one of the best”. Some people say it like it’s a fact.

However, such statements are only partially true because PISA results need to be interpreted as a whole: That is, all ranking on Mathematics, Science and Reading need to be taken into account altogether.

Simply because PISA test is a combination of Mathematics, Science and Reading tests.

Since 2009, Finland never ranked top five in the Mathematics, and since 2012 Finland never ranked top 10 in Mathematics.

Given this piece of verifiable fact, would anyone with standards still conclusively say that “Finland has one of the best education systems in the world due to PISA ranking?”?

Analogy: Waffle Festival

Let’s say you go to a Waffle festival with 72 stalls.

Your time and tummy spaces are obviously limited, so you ask the industry professionals– “who has the best waffle here according to benchmarks that international industry experts can agree upon?”

Screenshot 2017-01-01 13.19.33.png

Assume that there is indeed this objective industry benchmark that is internationally agreed upon by the top waffle experts. Such as cripsy-ness of crusts, colour, texture, freshness of ingredients.

All 72 waffle vendors agreed to and went through this test.

In this case, “the best” is defined as “number one” position, and “one of the best out of the 72” is defined as maybe top 5, or top 10 out of the 72 vendors.

Now this is just common sense. I’d personally just restrict “one of the best” to top 5 because I have high food standards.

However, let’s be generous today and define “one of the best” to be “top 10, out of 72”.

Maybe you’d ask: “Can the best be defined as top 15 out of 72?”

Of course it can be defined that way as well!

In fact, you can even define “best” or “one of the best” as top 70 out of 72.

Doing so will tell me something of your standard of judging waffle–not very high. 

Then, you might as well ignore what the industry experts say if your standards are not very high…?

Don’t waste time–just eat whatever waffle you want at the Waffle Festival then! 🙂

Now, let’s check the 2009, 2012 and 2015 PISA results:

2009 PISA Top 10 Charts:

Screenshot 2017-01-01 12.23.51.png

In 2009, Finland ranks 6th on Maths, 2nd on Sciences and 3rd on Reading.

2012 PISA Top 10 Charts:

Screenshot 2017-01-01 12.26.04.png

In 2012, Finland is not even on the list on Maths (ranked 12th), 5th on the Sciences, 6th on reading.

2015 PISA top 10 Charts:


Finland once again is not even on the list for Math (ranked 13th), ranked 5th on the Sciences and 4th on reading.

Table showing the Ranking of Finland from 2009-2015, according to PISA. 

  2009 2012 2015
Mathematics 6th 12th 13th
Science 2nd 5th 5th
Reading 3rd 6th 4th

If anything, PISA test shows that the Finnish ranking on Mathematics has dropped drastically from 6th to 13th (i.e. it was never top 5 or top 10 from the time period 2009-2015). 

The Science global ranking dropped from 2nd in 2009 to 5th in 2015 (which is not too bad), and the Reading ranking dropped from 3rd in 2009 to 4th in 2015 (which is not too bad too).

The undeniable trend is that if we take 2009 to be a base year, ranking on ALL areas dropped from 2009-2015.

So pray tell, if you are a country consistently ranked higher on PISA, is there a need to put Finnish education on a pedestal? 😉

Based on these verifiable facts, I couldn’t agree more with this educator:

There is a lot of marketing involved in the idea that Finland has the best educational system in the world. Sure, the PISA tests demonstrate that they are doing well. But, are they the best and why would it be? Everyone wants a winner and be proud. However, the educational success of Finland is (like in most marketing) a bit overstated.”

So why do we have the impression that Finland has (one of the) best education system in the world, according to PISA?

“The Best” Finnish Education System? Simply a result of good marketing and branding.

After seeing the above verifiable facts, will you still consider to think that Finnish education system is one of the best in the world, according to PISA?

If yes, then it also tells me something of your standards. Or maybe your nationality that you’re probably not a Singaporean, Japanese, Singaporean, Chinese or Korean. HAHA.


So exactly who are the people who are saying “Finland has one of the best education systems in the world according to PISA results“…


…implying in a not-very-smart way, “we should definitely learn from Finland”?

Note that we can “learn” from the education systems of ANYWHERE in the world, even terrible education systems, so that we don’t make the same mistakes.

I’d thought about it. It is possible that there are three groups:

  1. Finnish business people with education interests in Asian countries. These business people want to use the Finnish brand image to sell their education systems as superior.

    Even IF the the PISA results are outdated.

For instance, there are some Finnish education institutions present in Singapore, Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea, Southeast-Asia. This is the Finnish education export market.

It does them good to vaguely make use of outdated data from PISA to continue implying “According to PISA, Finland has the best education in the world”.

Now, this PISA-outdated-result is used to add on to the impression that “Finland has (one of) the best education” reputation in the world. So it does not matter if they’re selling non primary school education systems. These businessmen can be selling Finnish technical education, executive education, university education and industry know-how. The idea is to talk about PISA and then conclude that Finnish education at all levels are truly the “world’s best”.

Again, anyone can say “truly at the world’s best”, then it’s an opinion. Therefore, to have a more objective perspective, always look to international rankings. This is once again, just common sense.

Also note that these folks are not lying when they use PISA as a reference to the so-called “best in the world reputation”. They are merely relying on the ignorance of the people who are listening, because few would really fact-check.

Then the next question is: Can you say that a person who is “not lying” is “telling the truth”?

Just think about it.

2. Yes, you are right–it is the Americans. 😀 Because even Americans themselves acknowledge that their education system rank low on PISA, and that they want to learn from the Finns.

That is a valid argument. And it also makes sense from the West to learn from the West, since they’re culturally closer. QUOTE:

“On a press call on Tuesday, Jon Schnur, executive chairman of America Achieves, said we need to make dramatic progress in showing educational improvement for students.

When looking at a comparable sample of countries that participated in the PISA exam in both 2012 (the last time the test was administered) and 2015, the US ranking fell to 35th from 28th in math. The US underperformed the OECD average in math.

Scores were relatively unchanged in reading and science compared to 2012 — down one point in each. The US performed better than the OECD average in both subjects.

Asian countries again topped the rankings across all subjects, and Singapore was the top performing country across all three subjects.”

Therefore, it actually is VERY puzzling for me when an American proudly makes this sort of statement that “Finnish education system is the best, because, PISA”.

Is there a need to be proud? Because making this sort of statement shows me how bad the person’s education system is in his country.

Then, I’d feel very sorry for the proud person.

3. People who want to sell “Finnish education know-how” to the world.

Some like to use the argument “Finland’s education system is one of the world’s best, because PISA” to sell university places too.

Let me give you an example to show what I mean. This screenshot is taken as of today:

Screenshot 2017-01-01 12.36.35.png

At the bottom of this article, it is written:

“Want to see what else Finland has to offer? Check out the University of Helsinki’s new roster of International Master’s Degree Programs that will launch next year. Courses will be available in English, Swedish, or Finnish and students can choose from thirty-four degrees ranging from European and Nordic Studies to Forest Sciences and Bioeconomy. Read more about the University of Helsinki here.”

So you see, we can reasonably conclude that this article titled “Ten reasons to study in Finland” is written to get people to go to Finland to study for their bachelors or masters.

Then why is there a need to cite “PISA”, and say that “Finland repeatedly ranks top five for PISA scores” (which is not entirely true, and can be clearly verified as never true for the area of Mathematics from the time period 2009-2015)?

Some might argue, OH, the PISA part is to show that Finland has a “world-class education”. I think that’s a valid argument if-and-only-if Finland does, and I quote again–“repeatedly ranks top five for PISA scores”.

However, as I’d clearly listed out in this blog post, Finland does NOT repeatedly and consistently rank top five.

So that statement is clearly not backed by verifiable facts.

It’s a delusion. 

Conclusion: Are people deluded?

I would have thought that for the past 6 years, the statement “According to PISA, Finland has the best education system in the world” is clearly false.

This can be verified– you just need to check the reported tables like I did in this blog post.

The statement “According to PISA, Finland has one of the best education in the world” seems to be not entirely true too, especially if you have high standards and peg “one of the best” to “top 10 in the world”. Standards in Mathematics had dropped significantly from 2009-2015.

So here’s my question to you: Why do we have the impression that “According to PISA, Finnish education system is one of the best in the world?”

This is not even a subjective question. Anybody can say that anything is “the best”. So what? Yes, if you like the person, you are more prone to believing that person.

However, this is an objective, factual statement which can be easily verified. And it’s clearly a false statement.

Don’t you think people are really gullible sometimes? 😀

[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Dr. Ed Dutton, a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu.

Finnish Education, Finnish People, Foreigners in Finland, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office
Ed Dutton

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Dr. Ed Dutton!

Dr. Ed Dutton is a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu in northern Finland. His current research examines both religion and culture in terms of evolutionary psychology, especially personality and intelligence.

Personally, I’d read Dr. Dutton’s research even before coming to Finland, and I have always found his propositions intriguing and thought-provoking. I appreciate Dr. Dutton very much for his candidness and intellectual honesty in this interview.

Enjoy! ~♡

TH: Hi Dr. Ed Dutton! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Hello Wan Wei.

I came to Finland in 2005. I was finishing my PhD at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and I met my girlfriend, who’s Finnish. She got a job in Oulu as a Lutheran priest, and so I followed her over. I began by working as a journalist at this English language newspaper known as the 65 Degrees North.

I’m currently working as a Religious Studies and evolutionary psychology researcher based in Oulu, and also write for various magazines and newspapers.


TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton: If I compare Finland to UK, I’d find that in general, Finns are more honest.

How should I put it? It is like there is this bell-curve of honesty—the average Finn is more honest than the average English person, or most other people I’d met in the European countries. So I don’t have to worry about a lot of things, for instance, locking my bike, or locking my door. I do think the average Finn is more honest and law-abiding.

The second thing I appreciate about Finland is the safety in this country.

I don’t have to worry that something will happen on the streets at night. There are parts of England where you know for sure you are seriously unsafe, and you don’t get that feeling here.

Thirdly, I like the fact that Finland is sparsely populated.

I like the fact that we don’t have many people, and I like the fact that we have a lot of land and space.

When you have many people cramped into a small space, there are high property prices and the standard of living drops. Conversely, when a place is sparsely populated, the standard of living is higher in many ways.

And this leads to a more harmonious society, as in the case of Finland, where the income gap is also smaller than that of the UK.


TH: What do you think is the one common misconception of Finland and Finns that people have that couldn’t be further away from the truth?

Dr. Ed Dutton: I think one common misconception is that a lot of people think that Finns are Scandinavians, like the Danes or Norwegians or Swedes, but they are not.

Finns are more like Northeast-Asians in some ways.

This is because Finns have the highest percentage of East Asian genes as compared to other European people—about 10%. East Asians have a small gene pool, and Finns have an even smaller gene pool.

Therefore, Finns don’t think like the average European. It seems to me more that they think like the average East-Asian.

For example, in Japan there is this phenomenon known as “Japanese shame culture”, and in Finland there is also a kind of “Finnish shame culture”. They are quite similar. Both cultures are very concerned about what other people think about them, they are very socially-oriented and do not want to stand out in a group. Like the Japanese, Finns also tend to have high conscientiousness and agreeableness. They are very altruistic and rule-following.

My own research shows that the Finnish IQ is the highest in Europe, and this is supported by data. Interestingly, being intelligent is correlated with being honest and not committing crimes. And this is really relevant to all the things I like about Finland: Honesty and low crime rates.

The Japanese and the Chinese have an even higher average IQ at 105, which is even more intelligent that the average European. If you look at the average intelligence of Finns, Japanese and Chinese, you will find out that the average is high, and the range is low. This is as opposed to the average IQ of Europeans, where the average is lower, and the range is higher.

This means that in Europe, there are more stupid people and also more extremely clever people who are creative people with truly brilliant ideas. Genius is a function of outlier high IQ and relatively low Agreeableness, meaning altruism, and Conscientiousness, meaning impulse-control and rule-following.

This is why geniuses can think outside the box and don’t care if their new ideas offend people. This, I think, is why there is a low per capita number of Finnish geniuses, if you measure it in terms of science Nobel prizes. There are too few people per capita with the genius intelligence-personality profile. This is partly due to the small gene pool. Extreme, outlier IQ gets thrown up due to random gene combinations. If you have a smaller gene-pool, this is less likely, hence the Finnish and East Asian IQ range is so narrow.

Here, I can refer to this research done with Doctor Kenya Kura titled “Why do Northeast Asians win so few nobel prizes”. And we found that even though Northeast Asians are very clever—cleverer than Europeans—they don’t have this curiosity and individuality to appear outstanding as researchers as compared to their European counterparts. Finns are really more like Northeast Asians in that way.

So yes, I think one common misconception about Finland is that they are just like other European or Scandinavian countries. Well, Finland is not—Finland is more like the countries in Northeast Asia.


TH: What do you think are some things that are unique to Finland?

Dr. Ed Dutton:

The first thing I would regard as unique to Finland is the sauna culture.


The idea that “Come over for dinner, and after that let’s take all our clothes off and sit together naked in a very hot room…and drink.”

Frankly, that sounds a bit crazy.

I’d been to saunas elsewhere, in Latvia for example, and they are not naked—they have towels! So Finns come up with this excuse, like “Oh, you might have chlorine on your swimming trunks, from the pool. Someone might be allergic to it.”

And I’m just like—“Rubbish. Why don’t you just admit that we Finns are a bit kinky and like seeing each other naked. Please respect our culture, tradition, way of thinking and doing things.”

You know—just to say it out, rather than come up with some excuse of “chlorine”.

TH: Hahahaha!

Dr. Ed Dutton: It took me a long time to get used to it. Also, it is always awkward when you see someone whom you know, naked. Especially when you see them again in school outside of sauna.

I’d been to this hotel once, and they had a mixed sauna! And people came into the mixed sauna after that—husbands and wives– and you do see them at breakfast the next day, you know.

The second thing I would say is that the Finns have a really sophisticated way of dealing with the cold weather. I guess this is because the cold weather is the norm in Finland.

In UK, we have school uniforms and students can be in shorts even when it is so cold outside. In Finland students wear warm clothing, gloves and hats.

In particular, my wife and I went to England in 2006, and she was horrified to learn that there is no central heating indoors in the house we stayed at. She couldn’t believe it because Finns are used to having warm indoor spaces.

The third thing I would say that is unique to Finland would be the way Finns communicate. I have never seen it anywhere else in the world—the silence. You sort of forget about about it after living in Finland for a long time.

Yes, the “quietness” is probably something unique to Finland. In Finland, it is perfectly okay to be quiet, and you can expect one to be quiet too.

Also there are noises, such as “joo”, “o-ho”—which can mean a lot of things in different tones. These sounds are not exactly words and they are used frequently in communication in Finland.

So I would say the use of these “sounds” as a way of communication is rather unique to the Finns.


TH: Haha, are there any more?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Yes, and a fourth might be…of shoes!!


Nowhere else in Europe have I been systematically and without exception told to take off my shoes before entering a house. Not in UK, not in Scotland, not in Ireland, not in Spain …and always in Finland.

So that is very Finnish!

And this gives rise to related problems such as having holes in socks.


There is probably this conspiracy in Finland to destroy socks that because there is grit on the grounds due to the snow, and this grit destroy socks. Then you have to take your shoes off and expose your socks with holes, and that will compel you to buy new socks…so seriously, if you sell socks in Finland, you will make big money.

I bet the Socks King of Tampere is currently a millionaire.

TH: Hahahahaha!

Dr. Ed Dutton: Yes! Socks.


TH: In this article, you argued that “And Finland is more nationalistic, more tribal, than the UK.” How do you think “multiculturalism” can fit into the nationalistic narrative?

Dr. Ed Dutton:

Let’s first define the term “ethnocentrism”.There are two aspects to “ethnocentrism”: Positive and negative. ‘Positive’ means you are altruistic towards members of your own group. ‘Negative’ means you don’t like members of other groups.

In my opinion, Finns seem to score higher in positive ethnocentrism rather than negative ethnocentrism. This means that Finns are more trusting and protective of their own groups. Well, this is probably the case because the Finnish gene pool is small, and Finnish parents invest heavily in their children.

So you see, with the case of Finland, it might be the case that they are like the East-Asians and are more nationalistic due to a smaller gene pool. Because they are more genetically similar to each other, you would expect Finns to be more nationalistic than for instance, Swedes or Danes.

This is because each Finn is more related to another Finn, so you are indirectly passing on more of your genes by being altruistic to a Finnish stranger than you would if you were a Dane and acted in the same way.

Also, there are also some other factors you might like to take note of, such as for example, war or stress. Stress can result in elevated nationalism.

On the other hand, because Finns have such high intelligence, it might correlate to low self-esteem. This might correlate to other variables such as high suicide rates, and so on. So if you have low self- esteem, then you are more concerned about what other people think of you.

Therefore, this low self-esteem might explain the tendency to simply follow and adopt what other countries are doing as well. And this might, ironically, make Finns at least want to think that they are more ‘multiculturalist’ because this is what the ‘big boy’ countries are doing.

Let’s go back to the topic of “multiculturalism”. If you are too multiculturalist, then nobody can really say anything or speak their mind about national identity without the fear of “being offensive”.

If you are too religious, then everything that runs contrary to what you consider as the truth will be offensive. If you are too irreligious, then there is no sense of eternity or purpose, and there is nothing to die for, and the nation collapses. In much the same way, if you are too multiculturalist there’s nothing that holds society together. If you’re closed off to foreigners, then you become insular and stagnate.

And therefore the question is really maintaining a sort of “summer” or “autumn” of civilization, where you are in between the two seasons. The idea is to have a good balance of what “Finnishness” is.


TH: So, who is a “Finn”? How would you define it?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Who is a Finn? Well my wife is a Finn.


TH: Will you ever be a Finn?

Dr. Ed Dutton: No, I will never be a Finn. And, perhaps, nor would my daughter be, as she’s ‘half-English.’

Well, you could define any term in any way as you deem fit.

“Intelligence” for example, if one of these words—what would anyone mean by “intelligence”? We have different kinds of intelligence.

So the key idea is to think about what other people understand by what this word means. Normally we are talking about categories that allow you to make successful predictions. We design our own categories so that we can navigate the world to make predictions.

So if having the concept of having the category of a “Chinese-Singaporean” is useful and only useful to the extent that I can make accurate predictions, then the categorisation is useful. For instance, it might guide me to certain rules of behaviour in Singapore: I should not do this, I should not say this, I should do this, I should do that.

So to the extent that useful rules can be formed so as not to offend people of a certain category, such as “you should take your shoes off before entering the house of a Korean person” and “that is not true in the case of entering the house of a Dutch person”.

Therefore, the categorization of a Finn is useful to the extent that you can make correct predictions about Finns. Therefore, the stereotype of a Finn would be the stereotype of an “ethnic” or “native” Finn. That is what stereotypes are all about, and to that extent this is why stereotypes can be useful.

And I do think that from the Finnish perspective, this is how “Finns” are defined—the “ethnic” Finn. The discourse on what constitutes “Finnish-ness”, although it is changing, is still fundamentally a ethno-nationalistic discourse.

So will I ever be a Finn? No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t born here and I am not ethnically Finnish.

Of course, there may be foreigners who have lived in Finland all their lives. And even though they might speak Finnish and really understand the Finnish way of life, they are not ethnically Finnish.

And ethnic Finns can of course say, “We accept them as one of us”– in the same way that a family might say “we adopt a child not related by blood as one of us”. It does not mean that he might be as typical as one of the ethnic Finns.

All in all, this boils down to the observation that here in Finland, the whole construct of what constitutes a “Finn” is a very ethnic one. In this sense, the construct here in Finland of “who is a Finn” is different from the construct in America, of “who is an American”.

So I don’t think I’d ever be a Finn, and I don’t think my daughter will ever be considered a Finn, at least by most Finns.


TH: Finland will be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Well, I certainly hope that intelligent Finns can procreate more!

The IQ of the average Finn is going down, and going down rapidly and intelligence is what predicts the ability to sustain civilisation.

You know, I just watched a video of the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, on youtube. Didn’t he have a QnA session at a university in Singapore, where a young lady aged 29—a PhD candidate–asked him a question?

And Mr. Lee counter-questioned her:

“Do you have children?” “No.”
“Are you married?” “No.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?” “No.”

So you see, this is the problem, isn’t it? Intelligent women dedicate most of their 20s and some of their early 30s to having careers, and they end up going past their fertile age. Simply put, the IQ of future generations are going down. And Mr. Lee’s advice to her is to do her PhD, and have her boyfriend.

I admire Mr. Lee’s sense of humour but he also has a point So yes, this is one challenge I feel—that the intelligent Finns need to have more babies, particularly the intelligent ladies.

My second wish for Finns and Finland is for them to be more creative! There is this atmosphere in Finland where they have to follow the rules all the time, and there is little room for mistakes.

It is known as “Shut up, don’t be different. Perform and shut up.”

And I do think that that is a sad thing. There are three Finnish Science Nobels. Two of those lived abroad and one of them spent a significant amount of time abroad.

I don’t think that is a coincidence.


TH: Then I have a question, how do you survive in Finland? You don’t seem like a conformist! * laughs *

Dr. Ed Dutton: I don’t–I get into trouble!

But I’d rather get into trouble you know, than to just bury my head in the ground.

I do appreciate Finland—it really is a nice and safe place to live, but the price you have to pay is simply the need to conform. It really is a question of getting the balance right.

Well, I do hope Finns can be less obsessed with laws, rules and order. Be less obsessed with your job as a part of who you are. My observation is that career plays a huge part of how a Finn defines himself. It is okay to not follow the rules sometimes—there is no need to be scared of controversy, especially if the things you are saying are right!

Be more creative! And the way to do this really, is to increase the gene pool. Have more foreign spouses, for example?

Well, actually from my observation, I’d noticed that Finnish ladies might have a tendency to select spouses that are from countries that are perceived as richer or more important than Finland, like Britain, Germany, America or Australia. Finnish men however, usually end up with foreign spouses from Eastern Europe, or Britian. The exception was East-Asia, where East Asian women might end up with Finnish men, which is the exception to the rule. This might be because people look up to Western cultures in East-Asia.

So yes, my wish for intelligent Finns: do date, get married, and have children.


TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Dr. Ed Dutton: Well, I suppose—based on the research on the IQ, I would like to urge intelligent Finns to procreate more in Finland.


Have children and rescue your country–Fertility rates decline dramatically after you are 35! The thing is that as people get more intelligent, happy and secure, the desire to procreate seems to decrease.

And really—let’s think more outside the box. 🙂

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo of Dr. Dutton and his daughter courtesy of Dr. Ed Dutton. Other photos from Unsplash. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂

[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Saku Tuominen, entrepreneur, innovator, creative director, executive producer, author, keynote speaker…(ran out of space)

Finnish Education, Finnish People, Official Finland 100 Series Endorsed by Prime Minister's Office

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Saku Tuominen. Saku is an idealist, entrepreneur, innovator, creative director, executive producer, author, keynote speaker, curator, olive oil producer… etc.

Watch this before you read the interview! 

Personally,  Juha and I have been talking about this awesome initiative HundrED helmed by Saku since October last year, and it’s totally amazing to find out that HundrED is part of the Suomi 100 official programme too!!~~

Enjoy the interview! ♡

WW: Hello Saku! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are currently doing?

Saku: I am entrepreneur who has founded several companies and written 10 books.

At the moment I am concentrating only on the future of K12 education and HundrED is a my main project.

WW: Who is an idealist?

Saku: For me an idealist is a person who genuinely believes that every problem in the world can be solved with great ideas that are executed well.

WW: What is the one thing you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?

Saku: I like the fact that even though we are among the best ones in the world in so many areas and measurements, we are never satisfied or happy but strive to improve.

WW: What is the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen, and how do you think this can change?

Saku: I hate the fact that even though we are among the best ones in the world in so many areas and measurements, we are never proud about it.

But I am not certain it should change because it has its pros and cons.

WW: What are the three most innovative inventions from Finland? Do tell us more! 🙂

Saku: For me by far the best one is Santa Claus.

A fictional character that brings happiness to every human being in the world annually.

It is something that not even the most innovative companies like Pixar or Disney have been able to come up with.

The second one is karjalanpiirakka/ the Carelian pie.

Amazingly delicious, perfect snack, especially with munavoi/ eggbutter.

And finally, sauna.

I love it.

It is something I enjoy almost daily and so should everyone else.

However, the common denominator with all three is that we Finns have been extremely lousy in branding them or claiming the global ownership.

All three should be massive global hits and known as Finnish innovations – which they are.

WW: Finland is commonly said to have the world’s best education system. How do you define “best”? Next, how do you measure the “world’s best”? Does this set of measurement and definition only apply to primary education system, or does it also apply to Finnish universities?

Saku: This notion is based on some credible global studies, like PISA by OECD or the global competitiveness report by World Economic Forum.

Having said that, the quality of any education system is really difficult to define because some of the most important things in tomorrow´s schools are hard to measure.

For example, how well do schools educate growth mindset, skills of lifelong learning or thinking skills and creativity?

But I think it is fair to say that equality is on a high level in Finnish schools in general and our teachers are among the best ones in the world.

But I would say this is mainly true for K12 education, not for our universities that are having hard time at the moment.

WW: The concept of “skills of lifelong learning” is fascinating! Talking about “lifelong learning”, what are your thoughts about calls to privatise Finnish universities and eventually charging fees to students?

Saku: My strict principle is not to comment on things where I am not an expert and my focus is really strongly on K12.

In K12, I love our public school system and our country´s mission that instead of having special schools for very talented kids, every school should be a great one.

But in general, I try to be open for every new proposal and don´t say an absolute no to anything, even though things has been taken for granted for a long time.

So, not charging fees has been one of them. But for me, it is an option I think we have to consider in the future.

WW: What are your thoughts on certain Finnish political parties which went ahead to cut the university budgets, using “austerity” as a justification?

Saku: I have been an entrepreneur all my life. I understand that in difficult times you have to do things everyone hates if you don´t have the money.

But at the same time, I think it would have been a bold and an important message if the government would have said that education is so crucial for the future of Finland.

And that it will be the only area where we don´t make any cuts, and on the contrary, invest more on it.

WW: Saku, you once commented that more ambition is needed in the sphere of Finnish primary education. Do you seriously think this would happen, and what makes you think you’re not deluded?

As you said, most Finns believe “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”. Why should they listen to you and innovate in this ever-changing world to risk failure if the current system is seemingly so great?

Saku: There is a classic innovation problem & challenge called ”innovation paradox” in innovation theory.

It means this : how do you become successful? By taking risks.

What happens when you are successful? You start avoiding them.

This is something that can happen also to Finnish education as well if we are not open and willing to improve.

The world is changing so fast that education has to change as well. If your attitude is “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”, you end up in a situation, when you start fixing things when it is too late.

My attitude is ”even if it´s not broken, improve it”.

WW: Can you tell us 3 ways Finnish schools can be more ambitious, and why should they?

Saku: If you want to be the best one in the world, you have to keep improving. You have to stay open, curious and hungry.

Three areas that are really important for me are these:

1. Our education system should be the most child centric in the world. All the development should start from child´s interest and viewpoint.

2. Teachers. We should have the best teachers in the world also in the future.

3. Co-operation. Instead of fierce competition, there should be a lot of co-operation between schools, both in domestic and in international level.

We are not bad in these areas but we can be a lot better as well.

WW: What are the three things/ traits you would consider as uniquely “Finnish”, and why?

Saku: I have been working so long in multinational environments that I would love to say none.

But maybe there is one.

The fact we are so silent and shy means that we can do most of the work much faster than other people – which is understandable because they socialize so much more.

I don´t know whether that is a good thing, though.

WW: Against the context of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?

Saku: We should be agile, ambitious and liberal.

Fast moving, bold and effective – all the things we are not at the moment.

We should be like the special force of the world, being the most dynamic country in the world, always testing new things, making rest of the world jealous.

WW: What are three popular misconceptions about Finland/ Finns that you would consider as far from the truth?

Saku: Of the positive ones, we Finns like to think that we are especially creative or hardworking.

I don´t think that is the case.

And of the negative ones, the fact that we think that we are not good in communication or drink too much.

I think we can be really clear and precise in delivering our message and the good old drinking days are history.

WW: “Finns overly care about how the world sees them”. Do you think this statement is true? Do tell us more!

Saku: I think that is very much the case since we are a county that has spent most of its history under other countries, first Sweden and then Russia.

Caring a lot about what others think is rooted in our DNA.

WW: Who inspires you, and why?

Saku: People who can combine bold thinking and bold doing inspire me.

Anyone from entrepreneur Elon Musk to Supercell´s game wizard Ilkka Paananen, from Noma´s chef Rene Rezepi to architect Bjarke Ingels.

But I also get inspired by people who do great things daily without any fuss, like most of the Finnish teachers for example.

WW: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Saku: Let´s be 100 times bolder in our thinking and doing.

Being a small, homogenous and rich country we could and should be a global opinion leader in so many areas – but that requires visionary leaders who can take action.

There is a room for them in Finland.

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Saku: The more I travel and spend time abroad, the more I love Finland.

Even though it could be so much bolder and visionary, it is quite a cool country already.

We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Saku Tuominen!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photographs courtesy of Saku, taken by Tuukka Koski.🙂 Feel free to follow Saku on twitter @sakuidealist or visit his website . ♡