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Tailored support for learning difficulties – another Finnish education success story


News 8 December 2011

Finland’s world-renowned education system has been singled out for more praise, for its efforts in helping students with learning difficulties.

A recent study by Sitra shows that Finland’s international reputation for producing highly educated students is partly explained by its success in preventing the marginalisation of young people affected by learning difficulties. 

Finland has developed a high-quality special needs education system, which enables early detection of learning difficulties. The learner’s support is planned and implemented in close collaboration with the parents and a multi-professional team, and is always based on the learner’s individual needs.

The tailored services are made possible by the trusted position of Finnish schools and the extensive freedom given to them for organising education.

“The differences in people’s needs and circumstances as well as the rapid change in their living environment require that services be far more tailored than they used to be,” says Leading Specialist Timo Hämäläinen, who is responsible for the study for Sitra.


Hämäläinen says that services must be able to respond to people’s changing everyday needs and situations: ”This poses a new challenge to the service systems of the traditional welfare society, based on producing unified services for all. But the excellent results of Finnish special needs education are an indication of the advantages of tailored services.

”Individually planned services produce more value to the users and have greater impact, because they provide people with the ability to cope with the ever more rapidly changing and complex world.”

The new study on Finnish special education introduces an example of how the public sector can provide services that are tailored to meet individual needs. The good performance of Finnish school children in the international PISA surveys has traditionally been explained by factors outside the educational system, but the study by AnnaLee Saxenian and Charles Sabel (Individualized service provision in the new welfare state: lessons from special education in Finland) shows that good operational methods of the schools also play a significant role.


Timo Hämäläinen suggests that preventing the marginalisation of one young person saves society approximately one million euro in costs in the course of the person’s lifetime. “The benefits to be gained from these high-impact tailored services are worth bearing in mind when planning new cuts in special needs education or indeed other public services.

”Tailored services may, in the short term, require more resources than standard mass services, but their impact in the long run is in most cases worth the investment. Public services should always be planned for the long term with the produced added value in sight,” he says.

Publication information

Individualized service provision in the new welfare state: lessons from special education in Finland Charles Sabel, AnnaLee Saxenian, Reijo Miettinen, Peer Hull Kristensen, Jarkko Hautamäki
Helsinki: Sitra, 2011
70 pages
ISBN: 978-951-563-824-3 Sitra Studies 62, ISSN 1796-7112

Link to the publication»  

Further information

Timo Hämäläinen, Leading Specialist, Strategic Research
tel. +358 9 6189 9256