Jouni Vettenranta
Jenna Hiltunen
Pekka Kupari
Finnish Institute of Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä

Overview of Education System

In Finland, education is considered a fundamental right of all citizens, and the main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education, regardless of age, nationality, place of residence, financial situation, or mother tongue.1

The Finnish government determines the general objectives of basic education and the allocation of instructional time among the different subjects. The National Board of Education, which reports to the Ministry of Education and Culture, decides the objectives and content of instruction and records them in the national core curriculum. Municipalities prepare their local curricula based on this national core curriculum. More recently, educational policy is working toward accentuating core competencies and defining standards of proficiency levels in core subject areas.

Before compulsory education begins, a child participates in one year of preprimary education (formerly voluntarily, but obligatory since 2015), which municipalities are obliged to provide. Compulsory education usually starts the year in which a child turns 7. The basic education syllabus spans nine years, which nearly all children complete by attending comprehensive school. The upper secondary level comprises general and vocational education. Both have a three year syllabus, and education is mostly free, though students must pay for materials. General upper secondary school ends in a matriculation examination that determines eligibility for higher education studies in both polytechnics and universities. The vocational upper secondary qualification examination gives general eligibility for all higher education.

Languages of Instruction

Finland has two official languages—Finnish and Swedish. Finnish is spoken by 90 percent of the country’s 5.5 million inhabitants. Swedish is spoken by approximately 5 percent of the population, most of whom also can speak Finnish. The constitution of Finland stipulates that the two national languages are equal throughout the country with respect to dealing with authorities and schooling.2

Sami is a minority language that is spoken by approximately 2,000 people living in the north of Finland. Other language minorities include Finnish sign language users, the Roma, Russian-speakers, and more recent immigrant groups. The Sami, as an indigenous people, have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture, as do the Roma and sign language users.

Finnish and Swedish are languages of instruction for all educational levels and school subjects. Usually either Finnish or Swedish is the language of instruction, but some upper secondary vocational institutions and universities are bilingual. Sami is the language of instruction in some basic education, upper secondary general, and vocational institutions in the Sami-speaking areas.3