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Lessons in music and education from Finland

by Graeme Smith, Head of Croydon Music and Arts, Treasurer of Federation of Music Services

Member of Music Manifesto Partnership and Advocacy Group


Investment in music and cultural education in Finland and its place as the top performing country for educational attainment of 15 year olds in reading, maths and science is no coincidence.  That was my conclusion after spending two days in Finland visiting schools and music schools, talking to key music educators and studying information about the Finnish education system.


In Finland the key to the link between music and cultural education and educational attainment is that across all Finnish education there is a focus on Finnish culture.  From history to home economics the national curriculum in Finland stresses the importance of studying Finnish culture, other cultures which have influenced Finland, and other cultures from around the world.  The sense of identity this gives to people living in Finland is a major factor in promoting confidence and achievement in a nation which has historically been overshadowed by its much larger neighbours.


In the UK we tend to use the arts to teach about different cultures.  It is time we developed a more positive approach to giving young people a cultural identity.  This will also improve community cohesion in multi cultural Britain.  To enjoy and value other cultures we must first value the culture of our own heritage.  That is true whether a young person’s cultural heritage is from a region in England or from another part of the world or a mixture.


We already know how music and the arts can contribute to young people’s development.  They can learn vital personal, social and educational skills to enable them to achieve.  Through the arts young people can explore challenges and adversities in life, understand them better and take strength from coping with them.  Young artists can make a positive contribution to their communities.  Investing in arts education will build resilience in vulnerable young people, reduce youth crime and disorder and reduce the number of NEET young people (Not in Education, Employment and Training).  Investing in arts education will save money.


This is well understood in Finland.  An international study of arts education in more than sixty countries found that Finland has far more arts education than any other country.  Finnish music schools have more than five times the funding from central government compared to music services in England, and more than eight times the funding from Finnish municipalities than music services receive from local authorities in England.  Yet the overall spending on education in Finland is very similar to here.


Let us use music and cultural education to give our young people their own cultural identity and the confidence, self esteem and aspiration which goes with it.  Let us use music and cultural education to enable our young people to achieve as highly as the highest performing nations in the world.


The full-length article can be downloaded here:  Lessons in music and education from Finland



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