A research-oriented mindset is what sets Finnish teachers from Malaysian teachers apart

The difference between Finland and Malaysian teachers

There are articles on the internet which have compared the differences of Finnish and Malaysian education system (Reo, 2015; “7 facts that makes Finland’s”, 2014). These articles have mentioned the differences of the type of teacher qualifications that an in-service teacher should have. The most basic thing that we know is that qualified Finnish teachers should at least have a Masters Degree while qualified Malaysian teachers should at least possess a Bachelor’s Degree. One would assume that because the other one is a higher level academic qualification, people would automatically assume that with this approach, Finland would produce better teachers than Malaysia. However, there is a missing link in this argument. Should we propose that it is compulsory for Malaysian teachers to have a Masters Degree only then the education system would improve? Not so fast.

Finland requires their teachers to go through a 5 year teacher education programme before they can qualitfy as a teacher (Malinen, Vaisanen, and Savolainen, 2012). They have to go through 3 years of Bachelor’s Degree and 2 years of Masters Degree. According to Sahlberg (2011) in his book called ‘Finnish Lessons‘, the reform took place in 1979. The problem back then was that there was a lack of transfer between theoretical, pedagogical, and teacher’s practice. The focus during teacher education programs in universities were more theoretical and pedagogical. After the teachers get sent to school, they would apply a practice-based approach to teaching which according to Trygvason (2009) was deemed unfruitful. I think Malaysian teachers are familiar with this approach. However, what makes teachers in Finland characteristically different nowadays is the research-based mindset that they have. They are encouraged to investigate their own teaching and have research-derived competencies in their ongoing teaching as well as decision making. This will result in the teacher becoming reflective and applying critical thinking when conducting research-based teaching. When teaching is based on research, teacher educators teach what they study, or their teaching is derived from well articulated knowledge of fresh research (Krokfors, Kynaslahti, and Stenberg, 2011). 

How does the Finnish education system support research-based teaching? Finland has done away with standardized testing and the students are only required to take a standardized test at the age of 16 which serves as a qualification to enter universities (Sahlberg, 2011). The standardized test isn’t even a high-stakes one so there is no competition among the schools in Finland. With this, the teachers are not being pressured to aim a high percentage of passes or being concerned about which student will fail. There is flexibility in their approach to teaching although it will always be research-oriented. They have the opportunity to do trial and error as well as experimenting with their lessons. They have more time to do so because they are not beng pressured to teach according to an examination format. If their standardized test was a high-stakes exam, then the time for them to read through research papers and apply them during classes would not have been feasible. Unlike Malaysia, SPM is a high stakes exam whereby the school will be held accountable if their performance is low. From my own experience, back when I was an undergradute, our lecturers have encouraged us to apply trial and error teaching with our students and conduct action research. Although there were times where I have attempted at this as an in-service teacher, it isn’t feasible most of the time. Teaching in Malaysia is mostly characterised by teaching-to-the-test method, not research-based method. It is the low risk way of getting the students to score SPM exams and improve the performance of the school. Since the education system in Malaysia doesn’t support research-based teaching, to apply it in classrooms all the time would be risky as the lessons that are being taught and evaluated will not go according to the SPM format. Other than that, teachers in Malaysia have also not been ingrained with a research-oriented mindset, not even at the Master’s level. Some may have enrolled into a Masters programme by conducting a full blown research, but it wouldn’t be sufficient to bring this method into the school environment and system as they do not support research-based teaching.

Some have argued that Malaysian teacher education should be improved. Malaysia aspires to follow the footsteps of Finland and The Ambassador of Finland to Malaysia have stated that they will be ready to assist Malaysia in improving its education system (“Finland ready to assist”, 2019). However, careful steps should be taken in order not to misuse the Finnish teacher education model and applying them uncritically into the Malaysian ecosystem. Chung (2016) has analyzed England’s effort to completely emulate the Finnish model of education system which was to offer a Master of Teaching and Learning program and send these teachers to schools once they’ve received their Masters Degree. The government’s aim is to have teaching as a Masters-level profession. It was to replace Bachelor and Diploma of Teaching. However, it was an ineffective effort to achieve the same result as Finland due to the government not taking into account of the nuances and different  ecosystems that England and Finland have. The underlying Finnish principles do not match with theirs. They ignored the university-based nature of Finnish teacher education. Finland first started off by strengthening the university’s role and academising the teaching profession. If Malaysia does not take into account of the nuances, all government efforts will all go to waste.

A comparative study written by Rasmussen and Bayer (2014) analysed the teaching content in teacher education programmes in Canada, Denmark, Finland, and Singapore. The contents were almost the same as what I have been taught as an education undergraduate back then. While these four countries are known to have the top education systems in the world, I do not see the correlation of having certain types of teaching content in teacher education programmes with the quality of education. Perhaps the deciding factor is not the content, but how it’s being executed in the classroom that contributes to the effectiveness of the lesson. 

Having a Masters Degree and upgrading teacher education programmes are not the sole factors that contribute to an overall excellent education system. Even if Malaysian teachers are obligated to possess a Masters Degree for them to qualify as teachers, it won’t be effective if research-based teaching isn’t injected into the school system. The school environment, government policies, and systems should give support to research-based teaching. This what differentiates Finland teachers from Malaysian teachers. However, in order to emulate their education system, there should be caution so that we do not pick and mix without critically taking into account of the socio-cultural, socio-political, and demographical differences between Finland and Malaysia. 


7 facts that make Finland’s education system better than Malaysia’s. (2014). Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://afterschool.my/articles/7-facts-that-make-finlands-education-system-better-than-malaysias

Chung, J. (2016). The (mis)use of the Finnish teacher education model: ‘policy-based evidence-making’? Educational Research, 58(2), 207-219. doi:10.1080/00131881.2016.1167485

Finland ready to assist Malaysia with education system reform – Envoy. (2019). Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/05/487125/finland-ready-assist-malaysia-education-system-reform-envoy

Malinen, O., Väisänen, P., & Savolainen, H. (2012). Teacher education in Finland: A review of a national effort for preparing teachers for the future. Curriculum Journal, 23(4), 567-584. doi:10.1080/09585176.2012.731011

Krokfors, L., Kynäslahti, H., Stenberg, K., Toom, A., Maaranen, K., Jyrhämä, R., . . . Kansanen, P. (2011). Investigating Finnish teacher educators’ views on research‐based teacher education. Teaching Education, 22(1), 1-13. doi:10.1080/10476210.2010.542559

Rasmussen, J., & Bayer, M. (2014). Comparative study of teaching content in teacher education programmes in Canada, Denmark, Finland and Singapore. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46(6), 798-818. doi:10.1080/00220272.2014.927530

Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons. New York: Teachers College Press.

Tryggvason, M. (2009). Why is Finnish teacher education successful? Some goals Finnish teacher educators have for their teaching. European Journal of Teacher Education, 32(4), 369-382. doi:10.1080/02619760903242491

Yeo, R. (2015, July 14). 5 Things Malaysia Can Learn From Finland’s Education System. Retrieved July 20, 2019, from https://says.com/my/imho/malaysia-vs-finland-s-education-system

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