Like most educators in this country I know more about Finland and its educational success than would have seemed possible a decade ago.

Cartoon I know Australia is very different to Finland historically, geographically, ethnographically and culturally, so I am not among those who see the Finnish education as the ultimate silver bullet that can erase the problems identified in our educational sphere. But they have done some interesting things.

Beyond their educational system, there are a number of admirable things about Finland that I would hope we can mirror in our SCAS community.

On the centenary of its independence, Finland was ranked, by assorted international indices, the most stable, the safest and the best-governed country in the world. It was also the third wealthiest, the third least corrupt, the second most socially progressive and the third most socially just.”

What are the parallels that we might look to between this highly regarded society and our SCAS society?

First, they have not always been as they are today: Western Europe’s last naturally caused famine ended 150 years ago this winter. In a poor and backward part of the Russian empire called Finland, more than a quarter of a million people – nearly 10% of the population – starved to death.

In the early days of SCAS (as some long term members of our community will remember) the school was small, vulnerable to loss of students, lacking in the kind of facilities that we can take for granted today and living in the educational shadow of an extremely successful local Catholic school system. We did not lose people to starvation but to more established schools, here and in the capital cities.

So, why Finland? Here are ten other reasons I have for seeing an alignment between what we are seeking to create at SCAS and modern Finland?

  1. Attitude: ‘It’s about cooperating. Everyone together, equally’. Every person has to work hard for themselves. But that is not always enough. You have to help your neighbours.
  2. The third most gender-equal country in the world.
  3. Their kids feel the most secure, and their teens perform the second best at reading.
  4. Self-reliant, private, but also dependent on a highly cooperative society, where rules matter.
  5. Sisu: A kind of dogged, courageous persistence regardless of consequence.
  6. Talkoo: Working together, collectively, for a specific good.
  7. Helsinki: Clean, functional, visibly prosperous but “You can be walking down the street next to the richest guy in town, and you really wouldn’t know”.
  8. Confidence in social mobility, and a real belief in education.
  9. Finns also trust each other more than most.
  10. Things get done here faster, more reliably.

I have only very briefly visited Finland, really only Helsinki, but what I noticed was…

  • Positives: I was impressed with the beauty and elegance of the city and the positive attitude and of the people I met.
  • Negatives: The taxis and many other things are expensive compared to Australia.
  • Interesting: It is quite ‘brisk” in Autumn (-1 → +1 degree when we were there) with a strong wind chill factor.
  • Strange: Finding flourishing Western Australian Kangaroo Paw plants in a garden beside a harbour that regularly ices over.

I found Finland, like SCAS, aware of its history, innovative in approach to its development and optimistic about its future. So, if  SCAS was a country, I believe we could do worse than “being” Finland (with better beaches). I think I might have to go back there to make sure I got it right!


The magic sauce [of Finland], then, seems based mainly on basic virtues: self-confidence, cooperation, equality, respect for education, trust. At bottom and in practice, says Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist who now lives in New York, it boils down to a different quality of relationship. She calls it – since it is shared to a greater or lesser extent by Sweden, Norway and Denmark – the Nordic theory of love. ‘In the family, it’s realising that relationships can only really flourish between individuals – parents, children, spouses – who are equal and independent,’ Partanen says. ‘In a society, it means policy choices aimed at ensuring the greatest possible degree of independence, freedom and opportunity for everyone.’” 

Safe, happy and free: does Finland have all the answers? John Henley, The Guardian, February 2018


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School