If you are planning for life in Finland with small children, you should sign them up for daycare as soon as possible. This is because in some cities and neighborhoods there might be a queue. All residents have the right to send their kids to a municipally run daycare until they are old enough to start school. In addition to municipal daycare, there are also private centers (although they cost more).
In general, if you have children, you are lucky to be living in Finland. It is an excellent place for them to attend school. In fact, there are few other countries with such an impressive education system. What language a child should study in is, of course, a case by case question. However, if your child (or children) is young enough and if you are living in Finland for a while, it is recommended to enroll them in a public (i.e. state) as opposed to an independent institution.
Remarkably, kids attend school for fewer hours in Finland than in any other developed country. Living in Finland, they have more time for play, and they do not have to complete any standardized tests before their last year of school. And yet, this more relaxed approach to education yields some of the best results worldwide. The Finnish education system believes that life in Finland for children should be playful and relaxed. There is no need to stress them out at such a young age.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), run by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), continually reveals just how good Finnish institutions are. The assessment ranks the performance of schoolchildren in science, literacy, and math. In this triennial test, Finland has continuously scored very high (first worldwide in reading in 2000, first in reading and science in 2003, first in science in 2006, and second in science in 2009), with a slight dip in performance in 2012 (twelfth in math, sixth in reading, and fifth in science). This has made Finland’s education system a subject of study worldwide.
Living in Finland, it is easier to get into medical school than it is into a master’s program in education! This reveals the elevated standards that are in place for teachers, and that, unlike in most other countries, society values teachers just as much as medical and legal professionals. The curricula that teachers have to follow are short; only two to three pages, and other than that, they can do what they want. In other words, the education system trusts them to teach.
In public schools, children learn the two official languages of Finland, Finnish and Swedish, plus English. This means that many Finns have a very good command of two foreign languages. They are also well fed as every child receives a free warm lunch. Living in Finland is sure to be enriching for expat kids!
With the exception of a handful of independent institutions (such as international, religious, and Steiner schools), there are no private schools in Finland. This is in part because equality is a governing concept for life in Finland.
Children start school the year they turn seven. Education in Finland is compulsory and the duration of comprehensive school is nine years. Classes are small with the average size of around 20 students. Finnish education recognizes that children learn differently and at different paces; so, teachers give students individual support.
A study by the OECD revealed that the differences between the strongest and weakest students in Finland are the smallest in the world. The Finnish education system aims for equality, and so, no matter where in Finland and no matter which school, the quality of education is the same. Thus, living in Finland can be extremely beneficial for expat children.
There are international schools in several cities in Finland where English is the language of instruction. There are also institutions with instruction in French and German.
In Helsinki, a popular option is the International School of Helsinki. Kids are allowed to attend starting at the age of 3 and the school is divided between a Lower Section (for grades 5 and lower) and an Upper Section (from grades 6 to 12).
Also in Helsinki, Ressu Comprehensive School offers instruction in both English and Finnish, and it does not charge tuition. The English School also provides instruction in English and Finnish, but it does have tuition fees. École Française Jules Verne provides instruction in French and Deutsche Schule Helsinki in German.
Outside of Helsinki, some other international schools include Turku International School, the Finnish International School of Tampere, the International School of Vantaa, and Oulu International School.
Living in Finland comes with many opportunities for higher education, provided by universities and polytechnics. The former take a more academic and research based approach, while polytechnics are more vocational. However, only universities can award doctorate degrees. Neither charge tuition, with the exception of specific master’s programs. Expats living in Finland can access university programs in Finnish, Swedish, and English.
Helsinki is home to six universities and eight polytechnics. Many of the universities are specialized, such as the Hanken School of Economics, the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, and the Theatre Academy. The University of Helsinki ranked number 96 in the world according to the 2015/16 QS World University Rankings.
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