Finland - Preprimary & Primary Education
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PREPRIMARY & PRIMARY EDUCATION
General Survey: Preprimary and primary education has two major divisions, preprimary and comprehensive schools. In 1998, there were 124,600 preprimary pupils attending programs in municipal and private schools, as well as preprimary education programs held at comprehensive school. These programs are not officially a part of the Finnish education system, but plans are underway to reform preprimary education.
The classification of schooling into primary and secondary schools does not fit the Finnish model. Finns distinguish between compulsory schooling and upper secondary schooling. The compulsory schooling is divided into two parts: primary school and lower secondary school. Primary schooling begins the year the student turns seven years old and is provided at no cost to the pupil. There are no admission requirements for primary school. Instruction is arranged in schools near the pupil's home. There are about 4,200 comprehensive schools throughout the country with about 380,000 pupils. The comprehensive schools are organized in forms or total class instruction units. Primary school goes from form one through form six.
There are three additional years of comprehensive education but this part of the child's education is completed in what the Finns call lower secondary school (grades seven to nine). Lower secondary pupils study in subject area classrooms rather than in forms or age-based classes. Students in lower secondary school can take an extra tenth year of schooling to satisfactorily complete their curriculum. Pupils are required to complete the curriculum in order to complete their compulsory education.
Curriculum—Examinations: The government determines broad national objectives and the allocation of teaching time. The National Board of Education decides on the objectives and core content of instruction. Within these parameters, the local educational authorities and individual teachers prepare the basic local curriculum. Pupils in the primary schools and lower secondary schools study their mother tongue and literature (Finnish or other national language), foreign language (beginning at the third form), environmental studies, civics, religion or ethics, history, social studies, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, physical education, music visual arts, crafts, and home economics. Language instruction accounts for about one-third of instructional time in comprehensive schools. Science and mathematics makes up another third of instructional time. Instruction in the social sciences and the humanities comprise about 12 percent of instructional time. The remaining instructional time is divided among art, physical education, and other courses, including religion or ethics.
Local schools and teachers determine the granting of the final certificate upon acceptable completion of the syllabus for the comprehensive school. There is no national testing for completion of compulsory education. Pupils rarely interrupt or repeat a form. Almost all Finnish children complete comprehensive school. In 1996, some 99.7 percent of pupils finished comprehensive school. Finland has the highest percentage of pupils completing compulsory education in the world.
Urban & Rural Schools: Accessibility of schools is, on the average, good even though Finland has a low population density. More than 80 percent of comprehensive school pupils live less than five kilometers from their school. In northern Finland, the distance pupils have to travel to comprehensive school increases to between 50 and 75 kilometers. Pupils may have to travel as far as 100 kilometers to lower and upper secondary schools. Only a fifth of all pupils live in rural areas so the number of students who travel any distance to school is limited. Transportation is provided for all pupils living over five kilometers from their school.
Teachers: Comprehensive schoolteachers are required to obtain a master's of education degree. Only 10 percent of applications to teaching positions in the comprehensive schools are accepted because of the stringent selection criteria. Teachers salaries range from US$15,000 to US$25,600 (Nelson 1994).