Gifted Education in Finland



What are gifts and talents?

Theoretical definitions of giftedness ascribe it to individuals who possess two attributes: a particular kind of ability and a high level of that ability.

Until the 1960’s, ”giftedness” was generally taken to mean ”intellectual giftedness”. Later research began to distinguish between divergent, highly creative thinking, and convergent thinking, traditionally expressed in IQ figures. The concept has been further expanded by the definitions of non-academic and multi-talented giftedness. The usual term now used to refer to the individuals is ”gifted and talented” the latter word stands for the very varied talents that are taken into consideration apart from the intellectual potential.

Talents are always developing gradually from genes to high performances. Without inner motivation it is almost impossible to reach a real, permanent top-level. The environmental factors, supporting parents, teachers and coaches are important; however: outer motivation with too heavy pressures may be fatal for the development of giftedness. Many gifted individuals daily fight against perfectionism, depression and anxiety.

Howard Gardner published in 1983 his theory of Multiple Intelligences in response to what might be called “The Bell Curve” view of the mind: That there is a single intelligence, we are born with. That means there is little we could do about our genetic IQ, and psychologists just can tell us how smart or dumb we are. Gardner strongly disagrees with this kind of determinism. He has concluded that human beings have evolved to be able to make sense of the world in a number of relatively independent ways. He initially isolated seven “frames of mind”, seven “intelligences”: linguistic, spatial, logical, musical, psycho-motor, interpersonal and intrapersonal

Later Gardner added an eight intelligence, naturalist intelligence, an ability to understand nature in all its forms. He says that all of us have these intelligences, but we differ in strength and combinations of intelligences, just as we look different from one another, and have different personalities, we have different kinds of mind. That makes life interesting even as it makes education complicated.

If we favor only one educational approach, we end up skewing the system in favor of one kind of mind and selecting for privileges only to those individuals who happen to possess that specific amalgam of intelligences.

Gardner says he has been angered and hurt by assertions that his theory is a license to do whatever, a claim that everyone is equally smart, an argument against assessments, standards, hard work or discipline. The Multiple Intelligence theory is a claim about organization of mind and brain. It is not a receipt for education, Gardner says.


In Finland, as in the other Scandinavian countries, society has traditionally attached great importance to special education as a means of looking after its weakest members, children with learning difficulties or behavioral problems. The official educational policy created our comprehensive school (peruskoulu) in the beginning of the 1970’s. It put a strong emphasis on educational equality.

Every Finnish child has since then been educated in the same school system with only a few exceptions. I am convinced: The good results of our school system revealed by the PISA evaluation are mostly due to our democratic and equal comprehensive school.

 We have very few special elementary schools and classes In Finland. These schools are private schools supported by the state selecting their pupils according to their own criteria. In addition we have many music classes in the comprehensive school. There also is some differentiation in the curriculum; a pupil may take a couple of extra lessons in the subject she/he is interested in.

After the compulsory comprehensive school we have some secondary schools, which may be named as some kind of special schools, because these schools have more art, sports, science or languages in the curriculum. We also have a couple of IB schools.

The Finnish educational system has been criticized by some people for ”leveling out” school children, making gifted ones to suffer. I disagree with these opinions.

Talented children’s special education has been advocated especially by those industrialists and politicians who wish to secure the nation’s international competitiveness. In an integrating Europe, with national borders melting away, in particular, the representatives of industry demand increased investment in top-class education and know-how.

Educational objectives are always derived from the values prevailing in the background. When discussing about gifted children’s educational needs we should frankly and openly recognize the basic questions: What kind of talent are we talking about? How do we find the individuals concerned? Why should they be taught in special groups? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of special instruction?

Yes! We need gifted education in Finland, but…

It is very important that the goals and curriculums would be planned by real expert-educators, who understand the laws of human development and understand that there is a qualitative difference between a human child and an industrial product. We are not producing gifted individuals,we are educating them and nurturing their gifts.

One of the most obvious facts concerning the gifted education is that children must ”achieve”, to develop their potential ability as far as possible. This is a self-evident premise, very seldom opened to question. I think that even if underachieving is a real and severe problem we have to see also the other side of the coin: Why should children ”achieve” all the time. There are more and more children, who are totally burned out, suffering many kinds of social fears, feelings of inferiority and depression, because they are not ”achieving” well enough. Achieving what? It is seldom made explicit. Implicitly the meaning is obvious: Achieving a high status, a highly valued profession and lot of money.

Why are we not talking about achieving a happy life, being an human being who is unconditionally loved as an individual person who can reach self-actualization in his/her life without being depressed for underachievement.

The development of national economy is not a problem our children have to be worried about, even if some leading politicians are continually talking about children as becoming innovators in the field of economy. Finland must reach the top level among European countries, maybe in the global world, too.

In gifted education, the emphasis should always be on ”education” more than “gifted.” It means that the psychosocial needs are primary. Everybody has the right to feel that he/she is loved as a human individual, not as an achiever. Parents and teachers should remember that gifted children and youngsters are not adults, in spite of their giftedness. Also “Mr Brain,” ten years, is a child with needs of a child. His IQ doesn’t matter.

A glorious Pisa-success may be a very dangerous national goal, if the ranking list is more important than mental health of children. Caring and unconditional love is most important in all education, also in so called gifted education. We do not need children overachievers who try to live every day with a burden of destructive thoughts: I must be the best one, I must win, to be perfect, in order to earn my human dignity and love of my parents.






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