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Finnish Education System & How to Join

Introduction to Education in Finland
Much is made of the Finnish education system in global media. The Education Index, published with the United Nations' Human Development Index, lists Finland amongst the highest in the world. There can be no doubt that the Finnish education system facilitates effective learning, however I believe the high standard of education here is as much to do with Finns themselves as with the system. From youth, learning is respected and in many cases becomes a lifetime pursuit; a high proportion of Finns engage in continuing education throughout their lives. Admirable, self-actualising folks!

Legally, the right to education and culture is recorded in the Constitution of Finland. Public authorities must secure equal opportunities for every resident in Finland to get education, including "post-compulsory" education, and to develop themselves irrespective of their financial standing.

All immigrants of compulsory school age (6-17) permanently resident in Finland have the right to receive the same basic education as Finns. Immigrants of all ages are provided with instruction in the Finnish or Swedish language. The objective is 'functional bilingualism'; a command of Finnish or Swedish while maintaining your native language and culture.

After finishing basic education, you can study at a general upper secondary school or at a vocational institution. You can apply to a polytechnic once you have completed a vocational qualification or the general upper secondary school syllabus, and to a university when you have completed a vocational qualification or the general upper secondary school syllabus and the matriculation examination. Some courses are also available in English. Put on your thinking hat, and welcome to the Finnish education system!

The Finnish Education System

Basic Education: In Brief
As of 2015 preschool education has become compulsory in Finland, generally when children reach the age of six. Following preschool begins 'basic education' at age 7. The scope of the basic education syllabus is nine years, and nearly all children complete this by attending comprehensive school. Basic education is free of charge. Textbooks and other materials are free of charge and pupils are offered a free daily meal. In addition, school health care and other welfare services are free to the pupils.

The Education System
The National Board of Education site includes an overview of the entire Finnish education system, and detailed sections about each level and aspect of the system, including:

Education & Vocational Training

The National Board of Education offers a One-stop Education Portal; a comprehensive point of access to education in Finland with information about Studies offered in English, Vocational Training, Finnish & Swedish studies, and Links to many education resources.

Expat Finland visitors will find particularly informative the English-language PDFs concerning vocational training in Finland in numerous occupational fields, including for example:

Hyria Education
Hyria Education is a multidisciplinary educational institution offering vocational education and training. The five main campuses are located in the Hyvinkää and Riihimäki region. The range of services includes basic vocational qualifications, further vocational qualifications and specialist vocational qualifications in 27 different educational sectors. Hyria also provides training alternatives to corporate and community customers.

Hyria's International Activities
Hyria also engages in international activities, focussing on the mutual exchange of students, faculty and staff in cooperation with foreign educational institutions and networks. Possibilities include work placement abroad and faculty/staff development programs.
Hyria: www.hyria.fi/international_hyria

Application Procedures - How to Join the Finnish Education System

Enrolment in Basic Education / Comprehensive School
Basic education (classes 1-9, for 7-16-year-olds) is provided by some 3200 comprehensive schools in Finland. These schools are generally run by local authorities. There are neither exclusive girls' or boys' schools nor a significant private school system in Finland (less than 2% of children go to private schools). As a rule, schools do not select pupils; every pupil can enrol in his or her neighbourhood school or opt for some other school in his or her home municipality.

For information about enrolment in basic education in your area, visit your local authority's web site (ex. www.hel.fi, www.turku.fi, www.tampere.fi...) and find the Education > Basic Education section, which will be available in English as well as Finnish and Swedish. Enrolment information &/or contact information will be published there.

Applying for Other Levels of Education
At the National Board of Education's site Studyinfo.fi you can find information about upper secondary and vocational school studies and higher education offered in English, and apply for the studies online. Content includes application dates and deadlines, and information for immigrants.

When applying for adult education or education in a foreign language (i.e. not Finnish or Swedish), it is still advisable to confirm the application procedure directly from the educational institution.

Applications to polytechnic Bachelor's degree programmes conducted in English can be made through www.studyinfo.fi. Applications to university degree programmes conducted in English can be made through www.universityadmissions.fi (more information: www.studyinfinland.fi/how_to_apply). You can also apply directly to universities through their Admissions Pages:

See also: Study in Finland: Student exchange and International study programmes.

Religion in Finnish Schools

Religious Education is a compulsory subject both in comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools. Every pupil can receive Religious Education according to his or her own religion if the denomination is registered in Finland, and if there is a minimum of three pupils who belong to that specific denomination.

There are two historically significant churches in Finland: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and The Finnish Orthodox Church. Religion has traditionally been part of the school curricula; the Lutheran faith used to be the only religion taught in Finnish public schools, but increased immigration of non-Lutheran people in the late 20th century led to other religions being included in the curriculum as well. Now there is a rapidly growing number of immigrants and refugees in Finland who represent different religions. As a result, the government has once again re-thought some of its policies relating to religion and education, and especially the role of religion in the Finnish school system.

The relationship between education and religion incites strong feelings. When Finland's Freedom of Religion Act was amended in 2003, those holding fast to traditional values demanded the preservation of denominational religious instruction, whereas more radical elements felt that religious instruction should be eliminated altogether. The result was the concept instruction in one's own religion, which strives to guarantee the rights of minorities and to ensure that the child receives an education in accordance with their family's convictions.

Non-religious pupils study a subject called Life Perspective Studies, which includes ethics, worldview studies and comparative religion.

The Finnish compromise stems from the fact that teaching is not denominational, but rather respects the child's personal background. Religious Education is still a mandatory subject because it is considered to support development of the child's own identity and worldview, which also establishes a foundation for an intercultural dialogue.

Suomen Uskonnonopettajainliitto Ry: Religious Education in Finland
Veera Halonen: The Role of Religion in the Finnish Comprehensive School Curriculum
This is Finland: Religion Lessons Support Kids' Identities

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