The Finnish education system

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Compulsory education applies to all 6–18-year-olds. It includes pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education. After 9 years basic education there is general upper secondary or vocational upper secondary education and training.

Finnish education is of high quality. Differences in the learning results of different schools are small and nearly all students complete comprehensive school within target time. Pre-primary education, comprehensive education and upper secondary education is free of charge and also higher education is for the most part free of charge. The goal is for everyone to have an equal opportunity to receive high quality education regardless of the family’s income and to grow up to become active citizens.

The education system includes early childhood education, pre-primary education, comprehensive education, upper secondary education and higher education. Adult education is intended for adults and it includes a multitude of alternatives from comprehensive to higher education.

Early childhood education

In Finland, children are entitled to receive early childhood education before they reach school age. Early childhood education is organised in day care centres and family day care. Children may also participate in open early childhood education together with a parent, for example, at a playground. The goal is to support children’s development and well-being and to promote equality in learning. In early childhood education, children learn, for example, social, linguistic and manual skills and gain different types of information. Children also acquire skills that help them learn more.

A lot of playtime and outdoor activities are included. If the child’s native language is not Finnish or Swedish, he or she will receive support in learning Finnish or Swedish. The child may also receive special needs education, if necessary.

In Finland, municipalities organise early childhood education. It is tax funded and therefore more affordable to families. There is also private early childhood education available in Finland. Trained early childhood education teachers, social pedagogues and childcarers work with children.

Pre-primary education

In Finland, children must attend pre-primary education for one year before compulsory education begins. Pre-primary education usually starts during the year when the child turns six. Municipalities organise pre-primary education and it is free of charge for families. Pre-primary education is given by highly educated early childhood education teachers. Pre-primary education is usually organised from Monday to Friday, four hours a day during school hours. In addition to pre-primary education, the child can also attend early childhood education.

During the time that children are in pre-primary education, they learn skills that are useful in school, such as the alphabet. They are not, however, taught how to read. If the child’s native language is not Finnish or Swedish, he or she will receive support in learning Finnish or Swedish. A typical day in pre-primary education also includes playtime and outdoor activities.

Comprehensive education

In Finland, comprehensive education normally starts during the year when the child turns seven. All children residing in Finland permanently must attend comprehensive education. Comprehensive school comprises nine grades.

Finnish legislation guides comprehensive education. National curriculum bases and local curriculums are also in use.

Comprehensive education is organised by municipalities and is free of charge for families. There is at least 20 hours of tuition per week for first and second grades and more for higher grades.

All comprehensive school teachers in Finland have a Master’s degree. Comprehensive school class teachers, who teach grades 1–6, are specialised in pedagogy. Grade 7–9 teachers are specialised in the subjects they teach.

Teachers are at liberty to plan their tuition independently based on the national and local curricula. Recently, curricula have emphasised, for example, entities that cover several subjects, investigating daily phenomena and information and communications technology.

Children often have the same teacher for the first six years. The teacher gets to know the students well and is able to develop the tuition to suit their needs. One important goal is that the students learn how to think for themselves and assume responsibility over their own learning.

The teacher evaluates the students’ progress in school. In comprehensive education, all grades are given by the teacher. There are no national examinations as such. Instead, learning results are being monitored with sample-based evaluations. These are usually organised in the ninth grade.

If the child or young person has only recently moved to Finland, he or she may receive preparatory education for comprehensive education. Preparatory education usually takes one year. After it, the student may continue to study Finnish or Swedish as a second language, or an S2 language, if he or she needs support in learning the language.

Adult immigrants who have no comprehensive school leaving certificate from their native country may complete comprehensive school in general upper secondary schools for adults.

Upper secondary education

The most common options after comprehensive school are general upper secondary school and vocational education.

Compulsory education was extended in Finland in 2021. After comprehensive school, all young people have to study until they graduate from secondary education or reach the age of 18.

General upper secondary school

General upper secondary schools provide all-round education which does not lead to any profession. Mostly the same subjects are studied in general upper secondary schools as in comprehensive education, but the studies are more demanding and independent. At the end, students usually take the matriculation examination. General upper secondary school takes 2–4 years, depending on the student. After finishing, students are eligible to apply to universities, universities of applied sciences or general upper secondary school based vocational education.

Most general upper secondary schools provide education in Finnish or Swedish language. Larger cities have some general upper secondary schools that provide tuition in other languages, such as English or French.

Adults may take general upper secondary school studies in general upper secondary schools for adults. There, it is possible to either take separate courses or complete the entire general upper secondary school syllabus and take the matriculation examination. Tuition may include contact teaching, distance education, online education and independent studies.

Vocational education

Vocational education and training is more practice-oriented than general upper secondary school education. Completing a vocational upper secondary qualification takes about three years. In addition, you can complete a further vocational qualification or a specialist vocational qualification during your working career. On-the-job learning is essential in vocational education and training. If students so choose, they can progress from vocational education and training to higher education.

Further vocational qualification or a specialised vocational degree can also be completed as competence-based qualifications if the student has already acquired the skills required for the qualification.

Vocational qualification can also be obtained through apprenticeship training. In this case, students work in jobs within their own field, receive a salary that is at least in accordance with the collective agreement, or a reasonable salary if there are no collective agreements in the field. Students are allowed to complete their studies at the same time.

Preparatory education for programmes leading to an upper secondary qualification (TUVA)

Good language skills are needed in secondary education. If the student’s native language is something other than Finnish or Swedish and his or her language skills are not yet at the level required for general upper secondary school studies or vocational education, he or she can apply to preparatory education for programmes leading to an upper secondary qualification (TUVA).

Higher education

After finishing your upper secondary studies, you can progress to higher education. In Finland, higher education is provided by universities and universities of applied sciences. Universities and educational institutes decide on student admission.

Studying in an institute of higher education may be free or subject to a charge. You will be charged tuition fees if you are not an EU or EEA citizen or a family member of an EU or EEA citizen and are studying towards a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an English-language degree programme.

Universities of applied sciences

The education provided by universities of applied sciences is more practice-oriented than that offered by universities. Tuition also includes on-the-job learning. Completing a Bachelor’s degree in a university of applied sciences takes 3.5–4.5 years. If you also want to complete a Master’s degree, you must first acquire two years of work experience from the same field. 

Universities

University tuition is based on scientific research. Completing a Bachelor’s degree in a university takes about three years and Master’s degree about two more years. Universities organise English language tuition in some of their degree programmes. However, the teaching language of most degree programmes is either Finnish or Swedish.

 

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