Finland

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Finnish schools have been at the centre of the Ahtisaari Days from the start. The events promote peace and effective conflict resolution among kids and teens. CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation organizes the Ahtisaari Days in cooperation with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Photo credit: https://ahtisaaripaiva.fi/en


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Major Branches of Peace Education Observed in Finland. (click for details)
  • Conflict Resolution Education
  • Democracy Education
  • Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
  • Gender
  • Global Citizenship Education (GCED)
  • Human Rights Education
  • Interethnic / Intercultural Education
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Significant Approaches and Themes of Peace Education in Finland. (click for details)
  • Anti-Bullying Education
  • Anti-Racist Education
  • Conflict Resolution Education (CRE)
  • Democracy Education
  • Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
  • Gender
  • Global Citizenship Education (GCED)
  • Human Rights Education
  • Interethnic / Intercultural Education

Historical Context

Finland is a Northern European country of 303,815 km2 and about 5.5 million inhabitants. It is situated between Sweden and Russia and borders the Baltic Sea. It has been a member of the European Union since 1995. There are two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Finland is officially bilingual but a small part of the population also speaks Russian and Estonian to a lesser extent. The majority of the population is Lutheran with a small orthodox minority (Britannica Finland profile). 

In the Northern part of Finland live the Sámi, the only indigenous people of the EU. They were recognised as such in the 1995 Constitution, and it gave them the ability to keep their own language, culture and livelihoods alive. They also have their own self-government managed by the Sámi Parliament (Samediggi website). Despite the fact that many laws protect Sámi people and their culture, the relations are not quite ideal, especially since Sámi history and culture are not taught in Finnish schools (Alemanji, 2016). 

Finland is a parliamentary republic, with the Prime Minister as the head of government and the president as the head of State (European Union, Finland profile). This is a multi-party system, and usually a single party cannot win alone; hence the tradition is to have a coalition government ruled by different parties. The majority parties now are the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which is centre-left, the Finns (PS), which is a nationalist party; and the National Coalition Party (KOK), a centre-right pro-European party (Nordea, Finland profile). The current president, since 2012, is Sauli Niinisto. He is the first conservative President in about 50 years. Since 2019, a centre-left coalition is leading the government with Sanna Marin as the prime minister, the youngest one in the history of the country (BBC, Finland profile). 

Finland is considered to be one of the happiest, most stable, safest and best-governed countries in the world, with significant levels of social progress and justice and low levels of corruption (Statistics Finland, 2019). In terms of gender equality, Finland is also highly ranked, as Finnish women obtained the right to vote and the right to run for elections in 1906 (first in the world) (Henley, 2018). The Finnish welfare State is considered to be one of the sources of happiness and equality in the country. The fact that the education and healthcare systems are functioning so well is mainly due to the high taxes. Finland is also well placed in terms of environmental protection and fighting climate change, especially thanks to successful environmental policies (This is Finland, 2014). 

Finland has been inhabited since at least the Ice Age. However, there is not much information before the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, between Sweden and Novgorod (Russia), which assigned the main part of Finland to Sweden and a small Eastern part to Novgorod. After that and until 1809 Finland was under Swedish domination (This is Finland, 2017). In 1808-1809, Russia took Finland from Sweden and became a Grand Duchy, part of the Russian Empire, but it was quite independent (Hancook, 2011). After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Finland declared its independence, which caused a civil war between the Left and the Right (InfoFinland, Finnish History). During World War II, Finland refused to let the Soviet Union use part of its territory for military bases, which caused an attack by the Soviet Union in November 1939 and the beginning of the Russo-Finnish War or Winter War (Britannica Finland profile). Finland lost and had to sign a peace treaty, the Treaty of Moscow, in March 1940, which gave a large part of Southeastern Finland to the Soviet Union (This is Finland, 2017). In order to regain the lost territories Finland allied itself with Germany against the Soviet Union during the Continuation War (Roberts, 2016). Finland had to sign an armistice with the Soviet Union in 1944, recognizing the Treaty of Moscow, and surrendered some additional territories to the Soviet Union in addition to war reparations (Britannica Finland profile). During the Cold War, Finland was basically in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, which guided most of its Foreign Policy (InfoFinland, Finnish History). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland signed an agreement with Russia in 1992 to ease their relationships. This, notably, allowed Finland to apply for membership to the European Union (Britannica Finland profile). 

The Swedish and Russian influences are both still very strong in Finland. Swedish is still an official language in Finland. With Russia, Finland tries to keep cordial relations, even on tricky issues such as Ukraine (Ponniah, 2017). Finland is still not a member of NATO; even if Moscow never clearly said it would prevent Finland from joining NATO, such a decision could have a negative impact on their bilateral relations (Vanttinen, 2020). Also, Finland is among the last European countries where military service is mandatory. All Finnish men must do their military service after they turn 18 (Global Security, Finland). Finland is not the European country who spends the most on defence and the military; nevertheless, these expenditures are increasing, mainly because of the unique geographic position of Finland, bordering Russia and the Arctic (Lee, 2020). 

Immigration in Finland was not really a widespread phenomenon before the 1980s. In the 1990s there was a real demographic change with an increase of foreign-born residents (Blakeslee, 2015). This late immigration changed and challenged the myth of Finnishness (Alemanji, 2016). Unfortunately, we are witnessing a development of anti-immigration and racist narratives in Finland, despite the existence of several antiracist laws (Alemanji, 2016). These narratives focusing on the issue of cultural incompatibility are increasingly popular within the population (Sommier, Roiha, 2018). They became even more common after the 2015 migrant “crisis” in Europe, with a lot of debates around immigration and refugee issues in the country (Alemanji, 2016). Racist harassment and discrimination are quite high in Finland; for instance, in 2018 the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency publication entitled Being Black in the EU showed that 63% of the respondents in Finland reported “having experienced racist harassment in the last five years” (Foreigner.fi 2019). More recently, a survey was conducted in Finland after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that happened in response to the death of George Floyd in 2020. This survey shows that “people of African descent living in Finland experience racism and discrimination on a daily basis” (Vanttinen, 2020). Moreover, The Finns party has recently gained more and more popularity thanks to anti-immigration discourse, and has revealed some racist tendencies in its positions (Alemanji, 2016). It obtained 17.5% of the votes at the last elections in 2019. 

Finally, other issues in Finland are related to the health situation, especially mental health. Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe and loneliness is often pointed to as an important problem in the country. Alcohol consumption is also problematic in the country and is linked to issues of violence. 

Current Issues & Conflicts
  • The situation of the Sámi people
  • Racism in Finland and anti-immigration narratives
  • Rise of nationalist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigration political party

Additional Resources for More Context

Significant Peace Education Efforts & Approaches

The peace movement in Finland is quite old and significant. Finland is considered to be one of the most peaceful countries in the world according to the Global Peace Index. There are also many different organisations working on peacebuilding and conflict resolution issues based in Finland. Finland is considered to be one of the world leaders in peace mediation, thanks largely to the organisation CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation created by the former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize Martti Ahtisaari. Also, in Finland every year on November 11, the Ahtisaari Days are celebrated in schools to talk and learn about conflict resolution. The Ahtisaari Days is an annual project including many events which extend beyond November. Finland is historically strong regarding Peace Education, since the Peace Education Institute, a central organization in this field, was created in the early 1980s. Also, the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education was awarded to Helena Kekkonen from Finland who organized yearly meetings between educators from Western and Eastern Europe (Andersson et allii, 2010). 

In Finland, Peace Education is used as a concept and term but several others are also used, such as Human Rights Education, Intercultural Education, Active Citizenship (Concord Europe, 2018), Anti-racist Education, and Intercultural Education. 

Programs tend to focus on various issues such as racism, diversity, gender equality, bullying, citizenship, human rights and ecology. Recently there is also a renewed focus on violent extremism and radicalization issues. Especially since the recent terror attacks in Europe, this trend is quite present in the continent. 

Some significant approaches and themes of peace education in Finland include:

  • Global/Active Citizenship Education
  • Anti-racist Education
  • Democracy Education 
  • Human Rights Education 
  • Intercultural Education
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) (Emotional Awareness and focus on well-being)
  • Conflict Resolution Education (anti-bullying and peer mediation)
  • Education for Sustainable Development (focus on ecology and a sustainable way of life)
  • Gender Education

The majority of actors involved in Peace Education in Finland are NGOs or CSOs. In 2008, the Peace Education Network was created, gathering many actors such as Peace Union of Finland, Peace Defenders of Finland, Committee of 100 in Finland, People‘s Radio Association, Artists for Peace in Finland and Technology for Life, aiming at cooperate and sharing knowledge on this issue (Andersson et allii, 2010). International organisations are also involved in Peace Education efforts in Finland, such as UNICEF’s global citizenship education program in Finland, linked to the SDGs, focusing on various issues including violent extremism and education about the Holocaust (European Commission, 2017). 

The funding for Peace Education comes from different stakeholders at different levels. Different entities are funding Global Citizenship Education activities in Finland, including the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Education and Culture and also the European Commission (Concord Europe, 2018). The National Agency for Education in Finland also provides funding for external organisations, and there is specific funding dedicated to the SDGs and particularly focusing on SDG 4.7 (GENE, 2018). 

The majority of Peace Education efforts in Finland are focusing on formal education, to provide trainings for teachers, educational and pedagogical materials and also to directly intervene in class. Schools in Finland seem quite open to these external interventions. Many organisations are for instance working with schools on anti-racism and discrimination issues, such as the Peace Union of Finland with the Peace School programme promoting human rights and respect for human dignity, particularly with anti-racist lectures. Finland is also a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the Finnish Peace Education Institute and Cultures of Silence research project (University of Helsinki) are working together on this issue, and published different pedagogic materials for teachers to use in class, such as booklets (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, 2015). Organisations not focusing on education are also working on this issue, such as the Finnish Red Cross, which has a project on racist and hate speech. Other initiatives and programmes worth mentioning include the teaching materials developed by CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation for the Ahtissari days, which is adapted to the official curriculum and can be included in different school subjects such as Finnish, geography, religion, ethics, and history. The material aims at improving various skills such as critical thinking or empathy among the students. There is also the work done by the Finnish Forum for Mediation (FFM) on peer mediation in schools, which offers trainings and interventions in schools to teach students how to be a peer mediator and adults how to mentor them in schools (Gellin, 2018). One example of their work is the VERSO programme. They implement peer mediation in schools and train staff members to use mediation and specifically restorative circles to increase capability to peace building in daily life at schools. They use the Restorative Approach and mediation in schools and day care. Finally, it is important to mention another organisation, Mediametka, which is working on media literacy tools to tackle fake news and conspiracy theories, which are more and more crucial issues for Finnish educators across the country (Henley, 2020).

Legislative and Policy Initiatives

First it is important to describe a bit more of the Finnish context in terms of education to better understand the current legislative and policy efforts.

Education is mandatory at 7 years of age and for the next  9 years, after which the students have the choice to continue or not. The choices include an upper secondary school and a school-level vocational institute, after which one can go to a polytechnic or a university (North-South Center of the Council of Europe, 2004). Education is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Culture, who works in partnership with the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) (Finnish National Board of Education 2016). The national curriculum is managed by the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI), established in 1991 (Lähdemäki, 2018). In Finland the education curriculum is decided at the national level but then the municipalities are in charge of its implementation. Schools can decide themselves how the objectives of the curriculum should be achieved, which means that there is an important and large degree of local autonomy as long as the curriculum is implemented (UNESCO, 2018). 

Finland is considered to have one of the best education systems in the world, if not the best, and is viewed as a world model in terms of education. Finnish students are often among the best ranked in the world on basic skills (European Commission, 2018). For instance, in international tests such as PISA and ICCS1 Finnish students have very good scores (European Council, 2013). Of course, these results are not the sole reason why Finland has such a great reputation in terms of education; other issues come into play. Equity and equal opportunities for all are at the core of the Finnish system, and that is why education is free of charge in Finland from pre-primary to higher education (Ministry of Education and Culture, Finnish education system). Education is seen as a way to balance social inequalities (Jordan, 2019). Also, in Finland there are not compulsory standardized tests for the students, except for one at the end of high school, and competition and ranking are not important aspects for the education system (Hancook, 2011). Teachers in Finland are very well regarded and respected, which is a major aspect in Finland’s success in education. Successive education reforms have given greater autonomy to the teachers, especially in terms of evaluation (Jordan, 2019). The education is really student-centred. The system is quite flexible and everything is done to please the students, so there are no dead ends in the system (Halinen, 2018). Moreover, the well-being of the pupils is very important and addressed in the education system, and everything is done to make sure that the students are happy and healthy (Xuan Poon, 2020). The quality of public education is mainly due to the welfare State and the high taxes. Because of that, almost all the children go to public schools and interact with others who are the same age, which allows for fewer class divisions. This was an important element when Finland recovered from the Civil War in the early 1920s. A family’s background was made less significant because everyone had a similar access to education. Of course, this system was not all ideal (at least at the beginning) but has in time enabled Finland to develop into a society where everyone has equal access to education and opportunities in life.

The history of education in Finland is also helpful to understand the specificities of the system. According to the website of the Ministry of Education and Culture, “Education is one of the cornerstones of the Finnish welfare society.” Indeed, in order to get out of poverty and enhance the economic recovery of the country in the 1960s Finland decided to focus on public education. Public education was thus chosen in 1963 by the Finnish Parliament to boost the economy (Hancook, 2011). With the 1968 Basic Education Act, the education system was totally reformed, public education for children from ages 7 to 16 was made free of charge (Jordan, 2019). In order to always adapt to the changing context, Finland decided to reform its national curriculum every 10 years (Lähdemäki, 2018). All these reforms have contributed to the current education system and they helped the curriculum move closer and closer to Peace Education. 

The most recent reform of the National Curriculum was issued by the Finnish National Board of Education in 2014, and it has been progressively introduced between 2014 and 2017. This reform is based on the development of critical thinking and learning skills, so that all students can become active and responsible citizens. The new curriculum includes, for instance, the introduction of "social studies/citizenship education" as a separate and compulsory subject (European Union Education Ministers, 2015). Different values such as peace, equity, justice, environmental responsibility and cultural diversity are at the very core of this new curriculum (Halinen, 2018). Within this new curriculum students have a more active role in their own education, in a spirit of equality and partnership with the teachers (Lähdemäki, 2018). 

Seven transversal skills are defined in this new curriculum (Wilkins, Corrigan, 2019):

  • Thinking and learning to learn
  • Cultural competence, interaction, and self-expression
  • Taking care of oneself and managing daily life
  • Multi-literacy (which means the “abilities to obtain, combine, modify, produce, present and evaluate information in different modes, in different contexts and situations, and by using various tools” (Kivinen, 2017).)
  • Information and communications technology competence
  • Working life competence and entrepreneurship
  • Participation, involvement, and building a sustainable future

Other policy and legislative initiatives are important to underline here to have a full picture of Finland’s efforts in terms of Peace Education. 

Various educational efforts have been made in Finland in order to prevent violent extremism (PVE) and radicalization. These efforts accelerated after the violent attack in Turku in 2017, which pushed the Minister of Education and Culture to create a set of tools and documents to support teachers in this field, including a collection of essays entitled Constructive Interaction: Guide for Strengthening Democratic Participation and Prevention of Violent Extremism (GENE, 2018). Moreover, it seems important to mention the EU efforts in this field, because even if education remains a national competence, the EU can nevertheless have a certain influence. In fact, within the EU there was a renewed interest for education for peace after the terror attacks in Europe in 2015, which led to the signing of the 2015 Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education. This document stated that education is supposed "to help young people –in close cooperation with parents and families – to become active, responsible, open-minded members of society." This document had an important influence on Finland’s policy efforts in this matter. 

Another important aspect of Finland’s efforts in Peace Education is the inclusion of human rights education, as part of citizenship education, in its official curriculum. Issues linked to citizenship and human rights are addressed in mandatory subjects such as history, geography, social sciences, or economics and are cross-curricular. The place of human rights education within history and morals’ teaching was reinforced thanks to the August 2010 law (Tibbitts, 2016). In addition, further guidelines in terms of human rights education can be found in the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men

The promotion of sustainability and ecology is also an important facet of Finland’s policy efforts regarding Peace Education. Citizenship education in Finland has always had an ecological dimension. In order to enhance these policy efforts, a working group has been created within the Ministry of Education and Culture with the aim to promote sustainable development in education (North-South Center of the Council of Europe, 2004). 

In Finland the official curriculum involves the teaching of religious education which can contribute to Peace Education. Religious education in the country is about "knowing about or respecting religions" (European Commission, 2017) and involves therefore a notion of respect and tolerance crucial for Peace Education. Religious education provides an opportunity for Finnish students to learn about other cultures and religions from across the world. 

Dealing with diversity and multiculturalism is another priority of Finnish education, especially because of the recent rise of racism and discriminatory attitudes. More and more students in Finnish schools come from an immigrant background and the education system is not necessarily adapted to their specific needs. Even if equity is supposed to be the basis of Finland’s education system it appears that in terms of education for immigrant students Finland did not achieve equity (Blakeslee, 2015). Nevertheless, many efforts by the Finnish authorities are important to highlight. In order to support the best integration of immigrant pupils, Finland has implemented preparatory education for comprehensive education, which usually takes one year, for people who have just moved to Finland (Ministry of Education and Culture, Finnish education system). Now the curriculum takes into account the cultural and linguistic background of the students. For instance, there is a recommendation that students from immigrant families have at least two weekly lessons in their mother tongue each year (Blakeslee, 2015). It can be a real challenge for teachers to deal with the relatively new multicultural aspect of the Finnish society and to treat all students in an equal and equitable way. In that sense, in 2010 the Finnish Ministry of Education published the Teacher Education memorandum which aims at reinforcing the competences of all teachers to work successfully in multicultural contexts (Alasuutari, Jokikokko, 2010). 

Finally, Finland has recently moved towards a more gender-sensitive education, whose principal aim is to leave behind traditional gender roles. Finland’s National Agency for Education has provided guidelines to help schools and teachers include concepts about gender diversity in various topics and to make sure that their teaching does not convey traditional conceptions of gender (Yle, 2017).

Policy / Legislation (click for details)
  • Supportive

Teacher Training (click for details)
  • Optional

SDG Indicator 4.7.1 Data / Analysis (click for details)

No formal reporting on 4.7.1 is currently available.  For a general overview, please visit Statistics Finland.

Preliminary analysis of SDG Indicator 4.7.1 was conducted in 2018 by UNESCO (based on 2016 data) that provides a ranking according to Belgium's inclusion of global citizenship education and education for sustainable development across five indicators.  The scores are denoted by numbers (the higher the number, the greater the inclusion): High = 3, Medium = 2, and Low =1. M is used to refer to missing national responses.

National Education PoliciesCurricula: ContentCurricula: ResourcesTeacher EducationStudent Assessment
233MM

From the UNESCO Report: “TCG4/16 Development of SDG thematic indicator 4.7.1” (2018)

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Photo Caption

The VERSO Programme offers training in restorative approach, restorative practices and mediation for children and professionals working with children in early childhood education, schools and other learning institutions. The photos (from left to right) show a mediation in process, a training of peer mediators, and a mediation circle. Photo credit: VERSO Programme

Peace Education Organizations, Projects, & Models

News on Peace Education in Finland

Access the comprehensive archive of news  articles related to Finland on the Global Campaign for Peace Education website. For a more customizable search, please visit the Global Campaign for Peace Education Clearinghouse.

Research on Peace Education in Finland

Access the comprehensive archive of research articles related to Finland on the Global Campaign for Peace Education website.
For a more customizable search, please visit the Global Campaign for Peace Education Clearinghouse.

Organisations’ reports and documents:

Where to Study Peace Education in Finland

Visit the Global Campaign for Peace Education Global Directory for where to study peace education in this country and around the world

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Photo Caption

Mediation and dialogue work at CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation aims to build trust between conflicting parties. Photo credit: https://ahtisaaripaiva.fi/en/ahtisaari/peace-mediation