Finland is considered to have one of the best education systems in the world. The teaching profession is very popular and a master’s degree is required to become a teacher. Education is compulsory for children and adolescents aged 7-16.
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Organization of education in Finland
Health and Social Services has the overall responsibility for the so-called dagvård (nursery mm). The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for preschool, elementary school, secondary school and most of the higher education. However, the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the training of police, border guards, as well as fire and rescue personnel, while the Ministry of Defense is responsible for military education.
The primary and secondary schools are administered by the municipalities. Since the beginning of the 1990s, great emphasis has been placed on decentralization. In the Primary Education Act of 1999, local authorities and institutions themselves are given greater responsibility for local facilitation and priorities. Schools must teach core subjects and have the same objectives, but local authorities can organize the education they want within the national guidelines.
There are very few private schools in Finland. In 2009, just under three percent of pupils in primary school were taught in private schools.
Children have a statutory right to kindergarten until they reach school age. Kindergartens combine elements of childcare, childcare and education. Quality is very important and the staff’s competence is strictly regulated. Each municipality is obliged to provide a day care center in the mother’s mother tongue if this is Finnish, Swedish or Sami.
Parents can choose from three forms of state-sponsored child custody:
- Subsidized space in a municipal kindergarten or family kindergarten.
- As an alternative to a municipal kindergarten, families can apply for support to cover expenses for space in a private kindergarten, family kindergarten or at a daycare.
- Cash support is available for families with children under the age of three who do not attend kindergarten. Some cash support is also provided for older children who have not started school if the family already receives cash support for younger siblings under the age of three.
Children can begin preschool the year before they start school. The municipalities are obliged to offer a free preschool offer, but can decide for themselves whether the preschool is added to a school or kindergarten. The children’s participation is voluntary and is decided by the parents, but about 96 percent make use of the offer.
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In 1999, Finland passed a new school law that eliminated the division between children and adolescents and introduced a 9-year continuous schooling. Children start school the year they turn seven.
Students are entitled to tuition in their mother tongue if this is Finnish, Swedish or Sami. Everyone who needs special education should be offered it, either in regular school or in special schools. Textbooks, stationery and other teaching materials are free in primary school. Students are also offered a free meal.
Religion, mathematics, environmental and natural sciences, social sciences and history, physical education, music and education are the core curriculum throughout the primary school. Native languages (Finnish or Swedish) and the second national language (Finnish or Swedish) are also compulsory, in addition to one foreign language. Most people choose English, but it is also possible to take German, French or Russian. Throughout the school, the opportunities for differentiated and individualized education increase. Most schools start with grades in fourth or fifth grade, but this depends on the local curriculum.
From 1st to 6th grade, students are mainly taught by a class manager. In the 7th to 9th stages, they are largely taught by specialist teachers. The national curriculum includes guidelines for choosing educational methods, but teachers can choose which methods they wish to use to achieve the goals of the curriculum.
As in Denmark, pupils can choose to attend a voluntary, tenth year in primary school, if the municipality offers this. Only 2 percent of students choose to take advantage of this offer.
Most start in high school the year they turn 16. There is a distinction between general and vocational training. It usually takes three years to complete each of the directions. Both enable higher education. Higher education is free, but textbooks and other materials are not covered by the public.
In 2011, 91 percent of those who completed primary and lower secondary education continued. About 50 percent chose a general vocational field, 41 percent chose vocational training, while 9 percent chose not to continue immediately.
The high school system is very complex and gives students great freedom of choice. The general study programs are organized so that each student must complete a minimum of 75 courses. These usually consist of 38 lessons of 45 minutes. Each study program has between 47 and 51 compulsory courses, the rest are optional courses. The organization enables students to take both general and vocational courses. In addition, it allows students to spend less than standard time on completing school as the courses are not year-specific.
For those who choose vocational education, technology and transport, economics and administration, as well as health and social sciences, are the most popular directions. A total of 119 different vocational study programs exist.
Since the late 1970s, adult education has become increasingly important. The training aims to maintain and further develop the vocational competence of the adult population. In 2009, more than 1.7 million took advantage of the scheme. About 80 percent of the students are older than 25 and many of them already have work. Most adult education is run by adult education centers. These are largely funded by the state and most programs are free for students. Universities and technical colleges also offer adult education.
Finland has 14 universities and 25 technical colleges. The state institutions do not require tuition fees. At the end of 2011, 31 percent of Finnish women and 25 percent of Finnish men had higher education.
The technical colleges were established in the 1990s to meet the ever-increasing demand for highly educated labor. The schools offer professional and vocational education in a variety of disciplines and disciplines. The technical vocational schools issue in excess of 20,000 bachelor’s degrees and 200 master’s degrees annually.
About 170,000 students study at the country’s universities. The University of Helsinki (Helsingin Yliopisto) is the country’s largest and oldest university.
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Compulsory primary school was first introduced in 1921 after Finland became an independent state, and it has been reorganized several times. Prior to 1946, the primary school included a 2-year primary school (small school) and a 4-year upper secondary school. In 1946, a new primary school law was passed, and after this the primary school was to be 7-years with a 1-year secondary school as a superstructure. In 1958 a new law was again adopted, which in principle introduced eight years of teaching duty. The elementary school was divided into a 6-year school, the actual primary school, and a two-year “civic school”. In 1968, Finland passed a new law on primary school. Primary and former civic and middle schools were merged into a 9-year compulsory unit school, with a 6-year primary school and a 3-year old secondary school.