The Finnish school system has been intentionally developed towards the comprehensive model which guarantees equal educational opportunities to everyone irrespective of domicile, gender, financial situation or linguistic and cultural background (section 25 Basic Education Act, herein BEA). With this objective in mind, accessibility of education is ensured throughout the country. Finland does not have segregated educational services for different genders, i.e. no girls’ and boys’ schools. Basic education is provided completely free of charge (including teaching, learning materials, school meals, health care, dental care and school transport – section 29 to 33 BEA).
Basic education is an integrated nine-year structure intended for the entire age group (section 9 BEA). Schools do not select pupils; instead, every pupil is guaranteed access to a school within their own domiciled area. Even children with the most severe intellectual disabilities fall within the framework of common basic education (section 15, 16 and 17 BEA). At the same time responsibility for basic education was given almost exclusively to the providers of education, i.e. in practice to municipalities (section 4 BEA). Only a few special schools and university training schools remained as state maintained schools. Schools continued to follow the nationally accepted curriculum defined and approved by The Finnish National Board of Education (herein FNBE).
The education system is flexible and its administration is based on intense delegation and provision of support. Steering is based on objectives set out in the Basic Education Act and Decree and within the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education. Responsibility for provision of education and implementation of objectives rests with local authorities (municipalities). FNBE gave only very broad aims and contents for the teaching of different subjects. The providers of education and finally schools set up their own curricula on the basis of the national core curriculum. In these plans local needs could be taken into consideration and special features of the school could be made use of.
New allocation of lessons for basic education was adopted in 2001 and the new National Core Curriculum for Basic Education was introduced as from 16th January 2004. While there are no programs for gifted children, teachers are free to devise ways to challenge their smartest students. The smarter students help teach the average students. Students must learn two foreign languages -- Swedish is required by law (section 12 BEA), and most also take English. In addition, other mother tongues, e.g. Saame, the Roma language, sign language or ‘some other language which is the pupil’s native language’ can be taught when there are at least three pupils who’s parents would like their children to be taught in their native tongue (section 12 BEA). Art, music, physical education, woodwork and textiles (which is mostly sewing and knitting) are obligatory for girls and boys. Hot and healthy school lunches are free.
Activities at all levels are characterised by interaction and partnership building. In order to develop the school system, there is co-operation between different levels of administration, schools and other sectors of society. Finnish school authorities also co-operate a lot with subject associations and teacher and rector organisations. This has secured strong support for development measures.
Plenty of attention is focused on individual support for pupils’ learning and well-being and relevant guidelines are included in the National Core Curriculum. Every pupil receives support to help them perform their studies successfully. Only 2% of pupils have to repeat a year. Years are mostly repeated during the first or second school year. Only 0.5% of pupils fail to be awarded the basic education certificate. More than 96% of those completing basic education continue their studies at upper...