The standard of education and schools in Helsinki and Finland as a whole is regarded as among 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 welfare extends to quality education and learning support for foreigners.
Children may have longer recess periods and less homework than in other countries, while teachers are highly valued and well paid. Education in Finland may come across as unorthodox, but the country has a proven track record of academic excellence and a culture of individual attention that 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 can pick up the language quickly. That said, multicultural preparatory education programmes implement bilingual support to better integrate children and families into Finnish society.
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. These schools are free, and attendance is compulsory.
Primary education in Finland is called basic education or comprehensive school. Starting in the year a child turns 7 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, with 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.
- The official website of Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture is a useful resource for specific and general information on the education system.
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. The differentiating factor between public and private schools in Helsinki is that private schools may have more difficult entrance requirements and admissions processes.
Many private schools are faith-based, and parents following a religion may prefer these. 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 foreign 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 that 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.
- Learn more about the different International Schools in Helsinki
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. Special education is available and accessible at every level of education, aiming to integrate all students. Learning environments strive to remove physical and learning barriers by providing support and early intervention.
Municipalities and schools are required to provide special-needs support and individualised learning plans, cooperating with teachers, teaching assistants, specialised professionals and families.
Nurseries in Helsinki
The Finnish education system covers early childhood education and care (ECEC) as well as pre-primary 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.
- Visit the City of Helsinki’s Early Childhood Education website to see a list of municipal daycare centres in the city.
Tutors in Helsinki
Adults and children can easily find tutors 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 increasingly 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.
What do expats say about Finnish schools?
"Schools are great in Finland. If the kids do not speak the local language, they will be put in preparatory education first before putting them into the basic primary education where Finnish or Swedish is the language of instruction. I don’t have any experience with this because our kids were born here and speak the language.
Schools in Finland are great. Primary school has very short days, and they have a lot of free time and playtime. They also have a warm lunch every day – they do not have to bring money and pay for their lunch. Every student in the class has a lunch break together with their teacher. " Mercy is a Filipino expat in Finland. Check out her interview with Expat Arrivals where she talks about her experiences in Helsinki.
►See International Schools in Helsinki for more education options
►Parents should have a look at Areas and Suburbs in Helsinki to find a school closest to where they live
Photo credits: Student learning braille by Eren Li; Tutors by ThisIsEngineering. Both sourced from Pexels
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