Support for Pre-Primary Children and Families
Finland offers a wide range of supports to families with young children, starting with four months of paid maternity leave and nine weeks of paid paternity leave, followed by eight months of paid parental leave, which can be taken by either parent. Full-day childcare for children eight months to 5 years is heavily subsidized and virtually free for low-income families in Finland. About 52 percent of 0-3 year olds, 74 percent of 4-year-olds and 79 percent of 5-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education and care in 2015.
Finland has comparatively high standards for early education teachers. Lead teachers and heads of childcare centers in Finland have BA degrees. There is a requirement that every third staff person in a childcare facility have primary teacher certification, which requires a BA degree.
In 2016, Finland put in place national Curriculum Guidelines for Early Childhood Care and Education, following a transfer of the responsibility for childcare to the Ministry of Education. This was intended to raise and standardize the quality of care throughout the system. Municipalities are responsible for monitoring childcare centers to ensure that they adhere to regulations about staff-child ratios, health, hygiene and safety and staff qualifications. In addition to programmatic monitoring, Finland’s evaluation agency, the Finnish Education Evaluation Center, undertakes periodic thematic evaluations of the early childhood system with the aim of making recommendations to improve the overall system.
Supports for Disadvantaged Populations
Finnish schools not only provide education, they provide many other important resources and services for their students, including a daily hot meal, psychological counseling, and health and dental services.
The Ministry of Education allocates additional funds for immigrant students who have been living in Finland for less than four years, for low-income students, for students in single parent families and for students with parents who are unemployed or undereducated. Municipalities can distribute these funds to schools as they wish but they all allocate more funding to high-need students, which often includes hiring additional staff to support these students.
Supports for Struggling Students
There is a particular focus on prevention of learning difficulties in Finland, and a high level of resources are directed at this in primary schools. All Finnish schools are assigned specialists to address learning needs of special needs students, who are broadly defined as any student who needs learning help. These are full-time teachers who work with students individually and in small groups, as needed. Teachers refer students for this support and it is provided flexibly. In 2015, almost a quarter of all Finnish students received such support and almost half of Finnish students receive some sort of academic support at some point during their schooling. If students are determined to need more thant this part time support, they are referred for full time “special education” service.
Teachers are important in the process of diagnosis and intervention, but it is not up to them alone to identify students for additional support. Each school has a group of staff that meets twice a month in order to assess the success of individual classrooms and potential concerns within classrooms. This group, which is comprised of the principal, the school nurse, the special education (or learning support) teacher, the school psychologist, a social worker and the classroom teachers, determines whether problems exist, as well as how to rectify them. If students are considered to need help beyond what the school can provide, the school helps the family find professional intervention.
Students who need more than part time support in the classroom are referred for full time services. About 16 percent of students receive full-time services. Most receive these services in mainstream schools, but a small percent of students with physical handicaps, including severely delayed development, severe handicaps, autism, dysphasia, and visual or hearing impairment (1.2 percent of the school population in 2015) are served in special schools funded by the national Ministry.