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School start times may be pushed back to nine a.m.

Sleepyhead school-goers may soon be able to bid a fond farewell to early-morning rises in Finland, as a new report on comprehensive school education proposes moving the start of the school day back to nine a.m. A product of an expert working group, the report also seeks to increase the amount of extra-curricular activities taking place in Finnish schools in the mornings and afternoons.

Oppilaat viittaavat luokassa.
Finnish schools may soon host more extra-curricular activities, if the new proposal gains ground. Image: Marjut Raunio / Yle

A working group under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Culture presented its final report on Thursday to the Minister of Education Krista Kiuru. In the report, various experts evaluated the state of Finnish comprehensive schools in 2015. They came up with a set of proposals to develop the current academic system, and hopefully, help Finns reclaim their top position in international aptitude tests.

One of the central areas for reform the report tackles is the structure of the standard Finnish school day: when school should start and when it should finish. A debate has been going on for years about whether the school day should start later, to coincide with changes that have occurred in the culture.

“We more or less unanimously came to the conclusion that the school day should begin no earlier than nine in the morning,” said Auli Pitkälä, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, at the official handing over of the report.

No decision just yet

Minister Kiuru would not take a stand on the new school starting time proposal just yet, stressing that changes that might be implemented cannot create a problem for parents, many of whom begin their workdays at eight a.m.

“Schools could offer extra-curricular activities in the morning, for instance,” she did however say.

Both the minister and the working group share a common goal: to transfer more of children’s free-time activities to school premises. Finland currently arranges afternoon programmes at some primary schools, but the report calls for serious consideration into whether schools doors could be kept open even longer for sports clubs and the like.

Families with young children would benefit, as they would no longer have to use valuable family time for carting children back and forth to activities.

Neighbourhood schools still number one priority

The report also proposes several improvements for Finland’s teachers, including more opportunities for advanced training and increased decision-making power in the school. Certain changes to teacher working patterns are also recommended, but what these changes would mean in practice is still unclear.

The working group remained undivided on one key principle: that Finland’s school system should be founded on equal access to high-quality education in neighbourhood schools. The quality of education children in Finland receive should never be determined by such things as domicile or income, the report insists.

The report finishes by calling for more in-depth study into the contribution comprehensive schooling makes to Finland’s national economy, by putting in place better means for follow-up analysis.

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