When internationally mobile families with children relocate to a new country - whether you move with primary school age children or highschoolers - there is no doubt that school plays a very important role in the life of the family.
Many questions about school enrollment arise depending on the country of origin and the child’s current school language, and length and the type of the work assignment of the international talents.
Decisions about school raise many emotions and can even affect the relocation decision. Therefore information about the local education system and school opportunities are a concern to many parents who are weighing the trade-offs they are making when moving. In one way they lose their spot in the ecosystem they are currently in. For example, in a country where going to a particular school means you have a spot in the following school doesn't mean we have the same system here. In those cases, the decision is influenced by how long the family is staying abroad.
Education systems vary around the world and we as parents may have very different expectations about the school system. This may often reflect our own cultural background.
I have just recently relocated back to Finland after living in Kenya for eight years. I have worked in India for six years prior and in Russia for two. In other words, I have relocated with my family thrice. I still clearly remember when my children were preschoolers. I was desperately trying to find a suitable school in Mumbai, India and there were only few international schools in the city. Finding a place in any good school was very competitive. We decided to enroll our children to a local Montessori school for a pre-primary period and it turned out to be a good decision. Our kids loved it and it was a great way to learn about the local culture and to mingle with the local parents.
How about Finland and how does the Finnish education system function?
Finland - the best school system in the world?
We all have probably come across many articles about Finland stated as one of the best education systems in the world and scoring high on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) year after another. I strongly believe it is a great education system providing access to high-quality education and most importantly giving equal opportunities for everyone regardless of social, ethnic or economic background. Education for children with special needs are also provided in conjunction with mainstream education.
The Finnish education system is free and consists of pre-primary and basic education. Pre-primary education is one year and is for six-year old's. This is followed by a nine-year basic education. Free education means that for example, during the pre-primary and basic education, textbooks and meals are free and there are no school fees in the public schools. Education for migrants is provided in the preparatory classes for free, if their Finnish language skills are not adequate to study in early childhood education or in basic education.
English international schools in Finland require an aptitude test and fluent English speakng and writing skills. In the capital area there are public international schools around the areas of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. They follow the Finnish national core curriculum and school’s own curriculum within these parameters. Some of the schools also follow the International Baccalaureate program. There are also international schools that teach in other languages for instance French, German, and Russian.
Applying to a Finnish language public school is an excellent alternative option for school aged children, especially if the stay in Finland is long-term.
There are no entrance tests for Finnish language public schools. This allows the child to integrate into the local society and make new friends in the living area. Children who do not know Finnish usually start with a preparatory class. Preparatory class is a small group where children learn Finnish. After up to one year in preparatory class, the child will be integrated to normal class, as by then the child can follow teaching in Finnish.
Since my educational background is in adult education, I decided to look into this deeper and asked four teachers - who currently hold positions in local schools in Helsinki area - what do they value in the Finnish school system in their daily school environment.
What Finnish teachers would like you to know about the Finnish School system:
- Teachers in Finland are highly educated, enthusiastic and skilled. For teacher’s position a master’s degree is required.
- Students are seen as unique and they are heard and encouraged as individuals. The child’s individual strengths are considered and supported.
- Finnish education system promotes a good, relaxed and encouraging atmosphere between students and teachers, because it promotes good learning results.
- We as teachers have pedagogical autonomy which means we can decide ourselves the methods of teaching and styles.
- Diverse learning environments and methods promotes active involvement of pupils. For example, field trips, cultural exchange programs, and inter-class programs that enrich the learning experience.
- Joy of learning and learning through playing are also important.
- Compared to other countries, in Finland we have less homework assignments, despite that the school days are much shorter. According to teachers, this is a result of effective classwork.
- In our new curriculum we have an integrative approach. This aims that pupils understand the relationship and inter-dependencies between different learning contents. For example, learning takes place through projects, where knowledge and skills of different subjects can be combined.
This blog brings up some of the advantages of the Finnish education system. However, it just scratches the surface of the system. At the end of the day, the decision to relocate with children and decide on the suitable school is complex and many things need to be considered. The decision and choice may be limited by the length of the relocation period, the current schooling language, the persona of the child, the available options in the living area and so on. I would advise you to discuss the options with any friends or colleagues who have relocated to the same place, the HR of your future employer or the relocation consultant that supports you through this change. My advice is to also be open and encourage your children to be brave, learn new things, embrace the adventure – it is an important lesson and life skill they will appreciate later.