Finland’s Visual Arts Curriculum for Schools (Architecture, Visual Arts and Craft)

My friend Esa Helttula lives in Espoo, Finland (also home of Rovio who gave us Angry Birds). Over the past few months, we’ve been sharing some fascinating discussions about education in general, and he’s been blowing my mind about Finland’s incredibly healthy and holistic approach to education.

Finland has a long term approach to arts in education. Rather than valuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) over the arts like many Western countries, Finland considers the arts to be vital and weaves it through their entire education system.

Curiously when countries like the US or UK talk about Finland’s approach given Finland’s consistent chart topping OCED PISA scores, they hardly ever mention this fact. Perhaps it’s too uncomfortable to consider when their own approaches seem diametrically opposite, with high stakes testing and STEM prioritized above all else. Perhaps the fact of a country with 100% literacy rate and children speaking 2 or more languages is inconceivable? Perhaps the trust given to teachers in a country where it’s more difficult to be qualified as a teacher than a lawyer or a doctor is too much to grasp…

Esa very kindly took the time to translate the following when I asked him about the Finnish arts curriculum.


Basic Education in the Arts

Basic education in the arts is goal-oriented, progressing from one level to other. It teaches children skills in self-expression and capabilities needed for vocational, polytechnic and university education in their chosen art form. Participation is voluntary and the education providers may charge moderate fees.

Basic education in the arts differs from compulsory basic education. A local authority providing basic education in the arts receives statutory government transfers based on the number of inhabitants. Further, public and private education providers receive government grants based on the confirmed number of lesson hours given.

The network of art education institutes thus funded comprises 89 music institutes and 41 schools in the other arts.

Provision of Basic Education in the Arts

Music, art, dance, visual arts and craft schools and other institutes provide basic education in the Arts for children and young people.

– Municipalities can provide basic education in the arts
– The Ministry of Education can grant joint municipal authorities, registered societies or associations the permission to provide basic education in the arts
– Basic education in the arts may also be provided by a public educational institution on the decision of the Ministry of Education
– Legislation stipulates that basic education in the arts must be provided either by educational institutions or arranged in other ways

Curricula for Basic Education in the Arts

The objectives and core contents are determined in national core curricula devised by the National Board of Education for nine different art forms, which are music, literary arts, dance, performing arts (circus and theatre) and visual arts (architecture, audiovisual art, visual arts, and craft).

Curriculum for the advanced syllabus in basic education in the arts is defined for the following forms of art: music, literary arts, dance, performing arts (circus, theatre), visual arts (architecture, visual arts, and craft).

The Finnish National Board of Education decides on the objectives and core contents of each art form in both basic and advanced syllabi in basic education in the arts. However, the core curriculum may include syllabi of different extent.


The following is a quick translation from Finnish. This curriculum is for visual arts. There are separate curriculums for music, circus arts, dance, and theater. The curriculums are not available in English in the Finnish National Board of Education web pages.


Curriculum for the advanced syllabus in basic education in the visual arts (architecture, visual arts, and craft) 2002

Board of Education 2003

© National Board of Education
Layout Pirjo Nylund
ISBN 952-13-1385-4
Helsinki 2003rd
Ref 39/011/2002
Date 08/06/2002

The provision is based on: L 633/1998, 5 – Subsection 1., F 813/1998, 1

Board of Education has determined that the core curriculum for basic education in the arts will be observed from the date 08.06.2002. (day.month.year)

The education provider must draw up and approve a curriculum for teaching in accordance with to what is provided in the adjoining grounds of the curriculum.

The curriculum must define and complement the objectives and core contents described here. A curriculum that follows these principles shall be placed in service 06/08/2002 and shall be launched by 01/08/2004 (day/month/year).

The education provider cannot provide the core curriculum by ignoring or departing from these objectives.

General: Jukka Sarjala
Director General: Aslak Lindström

Chapter 1: The basic task, values and general goals of arts education

1 – The task

These curriculums in architecture, visual arts, and crafts are called visual arts. The studies in the various targeting options for the visual arts – architecture, visual arts and crafts – can be credited between them.

Teaching according to the in-depth syllabus should give pupils an opportunity to work in the long run according to their talents and interests and create the conditions for a lifelong interest in visual representation and for further studies. The goal of the education is that students can affect the values in society and thus society as a whole and the atmosphere in it, because of their knowledge of arts.

The tastk of teaching is to preserve and develop the national visual culture. The goal is to develop cooperation with educational institutions providing education in art education and with other bodies, both nationally and internationally.

2 – Values

Teaching should be based on an idea of a human being, where the individual has ethical and moral ability to choose and actively shape their lives and recognize the importance of beauty in it. Education shall support students’ spiritual growth and personal integrity and help him to develop into a thinking person with discernment.

The goal of education is that student by expressing themselves with art, learn to evaluate and assess himself and his environment and to build and develop their worldview based on both personal experience and heritage. Teaching should help students to become aware on what for him is important in life and to express this by visual means.

Education must develop students’ ability to work in interaction with others. Pupils should receive guidance in understanding and accepting diversity.

3 – General objectives

The goal of education is to develop students’ ability to operate in a society based on knowledge and interaction.
With the help of arts and science a person defines his relationship to nature and culture. Pupils should understand the visual symbols both in society and in the prevailing conception of arts in society, and their influence on architecture, visual arts and crafts.

In teaching, the student will be encouraged to interpret the art on a personal way and recognize their personal history and the context, in which he examines the work of art. Art can be interpreted on many levels, the same works of art, handicraft product, or built environment interpreted differently at different times and in different contexts.

Education must develop students’ capacity for creative problem solving. Pupils should learn to express themselves and to master materials and technology. He will receive guidance in assessing and appreciating the quality of the visual environment.

Chapter 2 The Basis for teaching

4 – Learning Attitudes

The goal of education is to support the student’s artistic learning so that he learns how to combine abstract thinking and personal experience and realize that experience and abstraction are in constant interaction. Knowledge base for artistic learning is created based on the student’s observations, feelings, thoughts, knowledge, expression and skills. One goal of the activity is that the student discovers that view, application of knowledge and activity happens simultaneously. The need for artistic expression is to be based on the student’s own motivation and the student must have an active role in studying and learning. Education must develop students’ ability to combine new knowledge and skills with the conceptual structures that he had gained earlier and to develop his ability to apply in the new context what he learned in the past. Pupils’ former experiences and knowledge base and self-understanding should be taken into account in teaching. Exploration and functional learning should be used, individually and in cooperation with others. Pupils must be able to formulate problems, process information, analyze the facts and form their own opinion about art.

5 – The educational environment

The study environment is the mental, social and physical environment, of curriculum and teaching methods. It also includes the traditions, values and ethical and moral beliefs and the cultural diversity that exists in the community. The ability to systematically develop educational activities is of great importance for a successful teaching and a high-class study. A continuous cooperation with the homes of the students is a goal that should be achieved through feedback and assessment.

A positive, open and secure atmosphere where everyone’s personality is respected and life skills are strengthened should characterize the study environment. It is a versatile way to support the growth of various kinds of students. The goal is to create a stimulating environment that supports cooperation and provides also opportunities for quiet stress free moments.

The study environment should also be aesthetically stimulating. It shall promote the functional, visual and personal expression in the student creations and crafts products. The learning environment must have diverse materials and tools that are safe to use and scheduled in accordance with the objectives and content of the detailed syllabus. Safety requirements for work products and the environment should be considered. The environment, nature, and cultural life are also places where studying takes place. A goal is to develop the computer network as a learning environment and facilities for interaction.

6 – Work methods

Teachers should consider students’ individual learning styles and stages of development. An individual curriculum can be made up for each student. Assimilating visual skills and an exploration, problem-oriented approach to learning and expression requires constant interaction between student, teacher and group. Pupils’ experiences, knowledge, skills and interests must be the starting points for teaching. The choice of subjects and themes should seek to maintain the joy of learning.

Approaches are chosen so that the interaction skills and ability to concentrate, sensitivity, empathy, ability to be initiative, responsibility and self-confidence and social skills of students will grow. The working should be chosen so that the methods teach students to respect the other members in the group and their own and others’ learning processes and results.

Operation and content of studies should be selected so that students can develop their expression in various targeting options in the visual production and make the expression more varied from the basic studies to advanced studies.

Chapter 3 Teaching approach and scope of studies

7 – teaching approach

Studies under the in-depth syllabus of visual representation consist of basic and advanced studies. Basic Studies and advanced studies are primarily designed for children and young people of school age.

8 scale of studies

The estimated extent of basic studies and advanced studies of the in-depth syllabus of visual representation is 1300 hours. Each lesson lasts 45 minutes. Students’ age, previous knowledge and skills and the teaching methods used are all taken into account when designing the method of instruction.

The education provider decides on the estimated magnitude the teaching of visual representation in early childhood stage.

The estimated extent of basic studies in the in-depth learning course is 540 hours.

The estimated extent of advanced studies in the the in-depth educational course is 760 hours.

9 the required time to complete studies

The education provider decides on the time used for the studies in young children stage, the basic studies and advanced studies of visual representation.

Chapter 4 Objectives and key content

10 Objectives of the detailed syllabus of Visual Expression

Common objectives of the detailed syllabus of Visual Expression

Students will learn

  • to express themselves by exploring and observing
  • to apply their knowledge to plan and carry out their work
  • observe and interpret both their own and others’ activities
  • use their impressions, ideas and thoughts in their work
  • to search ideas from nature, the built environment, historic sites, museums and exhibitions as well as professionals in the various sectors of the visual representation
  • to work in collaboration with the community and with working and cultural life
  • to collaborate, take initiative and responsibility in their work- to feel responsible for the beauty and diversity of the wild and habitat
  • to evaluate products and media environment in the visual representation
  • to gain knowledge of visual representation within their own culture and other cultures, their history, present and community tasks and to comply with the interplay between cultural heritage and the various sectors of visual representation
  • to understanding the visual culture associated with the internal culture structures
  • to be familiar with the visual culture and lifestyle of representatives for other cultures in their own environment
  • to take into consideration the principles of sustainable development and ability to apply them ecologically, culturally, socially and economically in their work
  • to learn the concepts and vocabulary of visual representation and the ability to communicate through them
  • to evaluate own and others’ work processes and learning.

The objectives of targeting options for architecture, visual arts and crafts in the in-depth syllabus of visual representation.

In the targeting option for Architecture, the student will learn to

• express themselves in different fields of architecture, i.e. in architecture, urban design, urban planning, environmental planning, planning of spaces, landscape design, installation art and environmental art

In the targeting option for visual arts, the student will learn to

• express themselves in various fields of visual arts, i.e. in drawing and painting, sculpture, architecture, environmental planning, design, graphics, ceramics, textiles, photography, film and video, series, environmental art and public art, performance art and video media and multiple artistic work.

In the targeting option for crafts, the student will learn to

• express themselves on the various fields of crafts, i.e. in planning and production of items in the planning and construction of textiles and clothing as well as in environmental planning and construction.

11 – Central content

The studies in the various targeting options for visual representation progress from early stage through the basic studies to the in-depth studies in architecture, visual arts and crafts.


The objective of the detailed syllabus of architecture is to develop the skills needed in today’s society to interpret the built environment. The goal is that students learn to understand the interaction between nature, the built environment and human activities. In teaching the entire built environment is dealt with, from individual objects and buildings to extensive environmental entities.

One goal of education is to help the student to design and understand their habitat and the world, to extend his general education and promote his ability to meet society’s challenges and meet with individual choices. Building heritage and its development is central in teaching.

The essential thing is to portray the three dimensions of space and understand that people’s way of building their environment is culturally and socially conditioned.
Pupils’ ability to observe, reflect, understand and value and assess the surrounding environment should be developed.

Important approaches are creative problem solving, student’s own artistic expression and construction.

According to the classical definition, the architecture should be beautiful, sustainable and useful. The three-dimensional built environment, nature and historical layers should be processed experientially and with all senses. Pupils should learn to understand their motion in three-dimensional space as a physical and spiritual experience.

Central content

In the architecture education for young students the pupils will

  • study the various manifestations in architecture and the built environment
  • practice how to be versatile and use all senses to learn how to gather information and use it in their work
  • explore architecture’s basic concepts – time, scale and movement
  • explore space, shapes, designs, colors and lighting
  • investigate the properties of various materials
  • learn the techniques needed to work
  • learn how to observe, perceive and assess the nature and the man-shaped environment
  • observe changes in the cultural landscape
  • comply with the fluctuations in the surrounding countryside, the landscape and seasons
  • examine different types of housing
  • get to know architecture and exhibitions in the near surroundings
  • learn how to operate in groups and alone.

In the basic studies, the student will

  • familiarize themselves with the ability of a citizen to influence matters relating to their own environment
  • develop their expression by applying their ideas and prior knowledge and skills about technology and materials
  • use the basic concepts of architecture – time, space and movement – in their work and learn how to build a space using form, scale, color and light
  • learn to use different techniques and designs and explore properties of various materials
  • familiarize themselves with the qualitative properties of various materials and practice in sorting, reusing and recycling
  • through their own work, become familiar with the planning process in different stages, the collection of background materials, brainstorming and using different technologies in the planning
  • become familiar with architectural history and current manifestations and visit museums and exhibitions
  • evaluate how buildings and structures of various kinds fit into the pristine landscape and the built environment
  • perform supervised homework
  • develop a portfolio of in-depth syllabus at the end of studies of visual representation

In the advanced studies, the student will

  • select one or more of the various subcategories of architecture for the object of their studies
  • familiarize themselves with the influence of a national
  • Land Use and Building Act and learn how to influence the planning of their own environment
  • develop their expression, knowledge and skills in their work and the ability to verbalize thoughts and feelings
  • study architectural history and philosophy, and examine the social, ecological and economic influence of architecture during different time periods
  • study the interactions between humans, environment and architecture; planning processes in society and become familiar with different stages of urban planning and construction
  • study the different work processes in project work and practice to taking into account the different needs of the parties of a project
  • familiarize themselves with the work of professionals who influence construction of architecture and environment and visit workplaces together with professionals and experts of different kind
  • observe, reflect, interpret and evaluate individual works and wholes in architecture and environmental planning during different time periods
  • observe and assess architecture and environmental planning, visualization and other visual media, as the creator and user
  • learn about interesting places of architecture, environment and museums
  • learn how to monitor their learning, assess their own and others’ work
  • perform supervised homework
  • publicly present the work and final results
  • make independently one final work, which includes a work, a portfolio of work processes and their own assessment of it.

Visual Arts

The goal of instruction in visual arts and aesthetic expression is to develop the skills needed in today’s society to interpret images. Pupils should learn to perceive and understand the world and to extend their general knowledge in visual arts. Important curricula are the visual manifestations, media, arts and cultural expression in nature and in the built environment. Teaching should be innovative in nature. Students should develop into discerning players in the world of art and society also.

Concepts and expressions in the visual representation should be the basis for teaching and they should be the key. The goal is that students learn to use transformations and loans that are typical of the visualarts and to use new and ancient symbols and give them meanings.

Visual production is practiced both by their own work and by looking at the picture artwork and images of everyday life. In teaching the importance of using the senses, intuition, dreams, imagination and empathy is stressed. Education shall be exploration and problem-oriented.

Central content

The young student in visual arts will

  • learn to make images and explore different kinds of expressions within art: shape, texture, space, movement, rhythm, color and light
  • learn how to use various materials, tools and working methods and learn the basics of how to take care of tools
  • observe and interpret the surrounding countryside, built environment and objects in the environment and learn how to transform the observations and ideas into images
  • learn how to concentrate on work and take into account others
  • familiarize themselves with the images conveyed through the media, assess them and develop their own visual messages
  • visit museums and exhibitions, and excursions into the wild and various cultural sites and process their experiences with the visual arts medium.

In the basic studies, the student will

  • train and develop their visual expressions
  • become familiar with the expression possibilities of different materials and techniques
  • gain knowledge of how materials and tools can be used appropriately and safely and promote sustainable development
  • practice in visual and related verbal expressions
  • obtain comprehensive knowledge of the visual arts sub-areas and the visual media
  • practice critical image interpretation as the author and user of image media
  • observe and interpret works from different periods and cultures
  • examine the relationship between form and content in the visual arts
  • familiarize themselves with the basic concepts in philosophy of art and aesthetics
  • learn to observe nature, architecture and objects in the environment on the basis of aesthetics and sustainable development and learning to understand the importance of the environment for his and others’ welfare
  • perform supervised homework
  • publicly present the work and final results
  • monitor their learning and evaluate their and others’ work
  • will independently make one final work, which includes a work, a portfolio of work methods and their own assessment of it.

In the advanced studies, the students will

  • deepen their knowledge and skills in one or more of visual arts and the visual media in different compartments after choice
  • train and develop their visual expressions and combining means of expression from different art forms in their work
  • immerse themselves in the visual arts history, compare different kinds of art expressions and reflect on fundamental issues in aesthetics and philosophy of art and consider the expressions in art history and contemporary art as historically coherent
  • immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture or in visual expression in different cultures
  • familiarise themselves with materials and practices that promote sustainable development
  • acquaint themselves with professionals in visual art and other visual production and the way they work
  • learn to consider the customers’ needs in product and construction planning
  • independently plan and carry out tasks
  • perform supervised homework
  • publicly present the work and final results
  • monitor their learning and evaluate their and others’ work
  • will make one final work, which includes a work, a portfolio of work methods and their own assessment of it.


The goal of instruction in crafts is that the student learns to understand the significance of crafts for human welfare. In teaching the student is supervised to create aesthetically high quality and environmental and user-friendly products and to develop production solutions that promote sustainable development. Crafts and design are studied from the aesthetic, expressive, functional, physiological, structural and substantive point of view.

The production of crafts is based on cultural heritage, the relationship between the arts and knowledge of nature. Starting points for teaching is the students’ own experiences, working with hands and the ability to produce products and express itself. In teaching the crafts should be seen as handicraft activities, skills, products and works. The goal is to preserve and further develop traditional craft methods and approaches and develop new ones.

The goal of education is that students learn to plan products and production and to give their work the desired direction. Pupils should understand that the assessment of the work affects quality. The content of education must be chosen so that the pupil’s visual knowledge and skills, technology and knowledge of working equipment and the ability to master them develop. In teaching careful observance is emphasized: to consciously observe environment, media and craft process and its conduct. The goal is for the students to act as a receivers, interpreters and authors who learn to monitor how their own ability increases and learn to appreciate the work as an independent part of their business.

Central content

In the craft education in early childhood stage, the student will

  • study various aspects and the basic elements of handicrafts: shape, texture, space, movement, rhythm, color and light
  • learn how to process natural materials
  • observe and interpret the surrounding countryside, the built environment and expressions of cultural heritage and to develop handicraft products based on the mental images he got from them
  • understand the design and practice of hand motor function, compliance, firmness and precision, in coordinating hand-eye and the haptic-kinetic powers of observation
  • learning how to concentrate on work, consider others and take care of their own workspace and tools
  • familiarize themselves with handicrafts, past and present in their own locale
  • strengthen their contact with nature and participate in cultural activities.

In the basic studies, the student will

  • in a comprehensive way get acquainted with the different kinds of crafts and the expressive possibilities of various materials and techniques
  • practice crafts with manual tools and become familiar
  • with mechanical crafts and usage of natural materials and of
  • man-processed materials suitable for handicrafts
  • observe their surroundings, interpret and apply their experience in planning and manufacturing of handicraft products
  • take responsibility for their own learning and work
  • familiarize themselves with the knowledge and skills that can be applied in a personal way and learn to use what they learned in new situations
  • immerse themselves in a creative problem-oriented thinking
  • develop the capacity for aesthetic choices
  • practice independent work, the verbalizing of craft processes and self-evaluation
  • consider and assess the life cycle of a product in view of technology and regulations on labor, products and environment
  • get an opportunity to learn about different cultures with regard to crafts and design and use them as sources of inspiration in his own production
  • perform supervised homework
  • create a portfolio of their studies.

In the advanced studies, the student

  • deepen their design and interaction skills in several subcategories of crafts
  • deepen their ability to perceive, understand and verbalize the design language, habitat diversity and the surrounding cultural values
  • design and manufacture personal products, whose production combines knowledge, skills, experiences and social factors
  • independently choose the methods, techniques and materials suitable for expression
  • learn how to combine visual, functional, ecological and economic characteristics with high quality and individual handicraft products
  • make decisions regarding consumption and the environment from design point of view, aesthetically, ethically, ecologically and economically
  • understand that handicraft in society can be seen as activities, products and works
  • develop and maintain the Finnish textile, object- and environmental culture and value the cultures differences in a multicultural World
  • immerse themselves in the crafts, culture, arts and crafts in
  • different time periods
  • acquaint themselves with professionals in handicrafts and their modus operandi and examine the school as a profession, skill technology, culture and heritage as well as art and hobby
  • monitor their learning and assess their own and others’ work
  • perform supervised homework
  • independently make a final work, which contains a work, a portfolio of work methods and a self-evaluation as related to it.

12 – Adult education

The objectives and core contents of adult education are the same as for basic studies and advanced studies in the visual production.

13 – Individualization of the syllabus and teaching

If a student who due to disability, illness or other similar reason are unable to study according to the curriculum, the goals of the curriculum can be modified to match the capabilities of the student.