Between 1856 and 1866, compulsory folk schools began to develop alongside the private secondary schools, established both the break the church monopoly and to advance the progress of Finnish-speakers. The creation of these folk schools allowed those without a wealthy background or with Finnish as a mother tongue access to education.
At the time of independence in 1917, education was seen as a tool for maintaining national identity, literacy, and political freedom.
After World War II, Finland found schooling a bit disjointed owing to the class and language differences. The education system also gave very little possibility of transfer between the tiers of education after the age of eleven. After the exam at age eleven, those successful could continue with secondary education, and leave school at the earliest at fifteen. Those who did not study at secondary schools could study more practical subjects.
Originally, the education system of Finland was under centralized control. However, in the 1960s a restructuring occurred and the Ministry of Education established a new local education administration. The Finnish Ministry of the 1960s found especially useful the educational models from Sweden and Germany.
The 1970s brought major reforms to the Finnish education system. This time in Finnish history also became a point of transition for many aspects of Finnish life. Many viewed the education system as biased towards the Swedish-speaking upper class, and not to the needs of the Finnish people. Government committees proposed to make schools comprehensive and egalitarian, to make general and vocational subjects interrelated, and to standardize schools in outlying areas. These reforms faced heavy resistance. Opponents to the reforms argued that it was impossible to educate the entire population. The government proposed that these reforms take place in a "rolling" manner, between 1970 and 1985. Geography determined the first areas to see reform, as examples of "inadequate education" made way for the new comprehensive system, beginning in the North in 1972 and ending in the Helsinki area in 1977.
In the 1980s, the education system undertook a market economy model and underwent decentralization. This decentralization of the education system increased the autonomy of schools, and therefore accountability for schools and teachers. The schools have the responsibility of producing learning outcomes, while the government has the responsibility of providing for the schools in order to meet their goals, therefore creating a cycle of trust in the governance of Finnish education.