The standard of education in Finland is regarded as one of the highest in the world. Expats moving to Helsinki with children can count themselves lucky to be in a country with such an impressive learning culture. Finland's fantastic social support extends to quality education and learning support to foreigners.
Children may have longer recess periods and less homework than in other countries but teachers are highly valued and well paid. While education in Finland may come across as unorthodox, the country has a proven track record of academic excellence and a culture of individual attention which helps children overcome their most difficult learning challenges.
Public schools in Helsinki
Expats legally residing in Finland are entitled to send their child to a public school at no cost. Lessons are taught mostly in Finnish or Swedish and, as a result, public education is more often taken up by those who intend on staying in the country long term or those with young children who will be able to pick up the language quickly. That said, multicultural preparatory education programmes implement bilingual support to better integrate children and families into Finnish society.
The official website of Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture is a useful resource for specific and general information on the education system.
Finnish public schools boast high standards and there is often little difference in the quality of education from one school to the next. The Finnish education system covers everything from early childhood education to higher education.
Pre-primary education is the year before children turn seven and start basic education. Pre-primary schools are free, and attendance is compulsory.
Primary education in Finland is called basic education or comprehensive school. Starting the year a child turns seven up till they complete the basic education syllabus at age 16, comprehensive schooling is free and affords top-class learning environments.
Upper secondary school
Upper secondary school follows this, either general education or vocational learning and training. General education, or lukio in Finnish, normally lasts three years and prepares students for university, providing them with a national school-leaving certificate.
Students who opt for vocational education learn the basic skills required in specific fields, preparing them for the world of work. With this, they can go on to work and study in universities. Vocational education and training are not limited to young people – adults can also apply for it.
Private schools in Helsinki
There are few private schools in Finland. Owing to the Finnish government's regulations on educational institutions, even privately funded institutions are free of charge.
These private schools have slightly more leeway in determining their curriculum and language of tuition. Yet, private schools in Helsinki may have more difficult entrance requirements and admissions processes than their publicly-run counterparts.
Many private schools are faith-based and so parents following a religion may prefer that their children attend such a school. Some private institutes are Steiner schools that focus on creativity and imagination as well as artistic, intellectual and practical skills.
International schools in Helsinki
Due to the short-term nature of many expat assignments, international schools are often the preferred option for foreigners' children. The biggest advantage of these schools is that they allow students to continue studying a curriculum with which they’re familiar, usually in their home language.
There are several international schools in Helsinki which cater to the needs of children from countries such as the UK, Germany and France. Fees are high, though, and many of these schools have long waiting lists, so expats should apply as early as possible if they want to secure a place for their child.
Special needs education in Helsinki
Expats will be pleased to know that Finland recognises the diverse learning needs of children, including children with multicultural backgrounds who do not speak Finnish or those with special needs or talents. It follows that special education is available and accessible at every level of education, aiming to integrate all students. Learning environments strive to remove barriers, both physical and learning, by providing support and early intervention.
Municipalities and schools must provide special needs support and individualised learning plans, cooperating with teachers, teaching assistants, specialised professionals and families.
Homeschooling in Helsinki
As the quality of education is high in Finland, most parents send their children to school and few families homeschool their children. That said, homeschooling is possible and getting permission from public authorities is not always necessary.
The local municipality must decide with the parents how to supervise and assess the process. A teacher is normally assigned to this. Parents must select a curriculum and how to educate their children as well as how often they must take assessments, usually once or twice a year.
For more information, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a useful organisation and website to look at for homeschooling regulations in different countries.
Nurseries in Helsinki
The Finnish education system covers early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as pre-primary education, the year before beginning basic education. Learning and development are valued in Finland and there are national guidelines for early education for centres to follow. Expat parents can find bilingual daycare centres as well as Montessori nurseries in Helsinki.
Local municipalities are accountable for providing this education and parents normally pay a fee based on their family income and size as well as how much time the child spends in the ECEC centre.
Tutors in Helsinki
Adults and children can find tutors easily in Helsinki. In today’s online world, there are many online platforms, such as Apprentus, to connect tutors with tutees, adapting the searches to specific subjects and needs. Expats can arrange to meet tutors in person or online. Online learning is becoming more and more popular, and tutors can be found all over the world. It may be useful to get a tutor to learn some Finnish and overcome some language barriers when settling in Helsinki.