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Cuts threaten children’s swimming instruction

In 2004 the Finnish National Board of Education approved a new core curriculum stating that swimming instruction should be a part of comprehensive school physical education. Specifically, children should learn to handle emergencies near water and swim continuously for 200 metres by the age of 11. Fulfilment of this schooling requirement varies greatly in Finland at present, and swimming instructors are concerned about what the incoming government’s municipal spending cuts will mean for the future of the programme.

Lapsia uima-altaan reunalla uimakoulussa.
Image: Sanna Kähkönen / Yle

The Finnish National Board of Education has mandated that primary school children participate in municipally-funded swimming lessons. From first to fourth grade, the pupils learn to feel comfortable in the water and learn basic swimming skills. In fifth to ninth grade, the goal of instruction is to develop the pupils' swimming technique and learn basic lifesaving skills.

The Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation (FSL) recommendation in order for children to meet this Education Board requirement is six hours of swimming instruction per academic year.

The need for swimming instruction in Finland has clearly risen, but the central region of Pirkanmaa is just one of Finland's areas where supply doesn’t meet demand. Some schools aren’t able to meet the six-hour recommendation and must make do with more infrequent instruction. The FSL is concerned that municipal savings may even be reflected in increased numbers of drownings in the future.

80 percent of 6th graders can swim

The FSL says the ability to swim is always important in a country like Finland. Tero Savolainen, FSL’s swimming instruction designer, says shrinking resources should at least be directed towards non-swimmmers.

“We carry out evaluations of swimming skills every five years or so. Over the last 10 to 15 years, only 80 percent of the sixth graders that participate can swim. The others absolutely cannot,” he says.

Savolainen says many municipalities have cut back on swimming instruction.  

“There's been less swimming instruction in recent years and instruction is increasingly targeted at just a few classes. We have negotiated with some cities and convinced them to keep the amount of swimming instruction at present levels, but there is clear pressure to reduce the training, which is a real risk. Some localities offer enough instruction for children to learn how to swim and others do not.”

Swimming instructors and the school’s physical education instructors agree that most young children are keen swimmers, and no one skips the lessons until they are in their teens in upper secondary school. Experts say instruction should focus on pupils in kindergarten and the first years of school for this reason. If children learn to enjoy water sports when they are young, there is a far greater chance they will stick with the swimming lessons when they are older. There should be time to have fun and play and encourage the kids, in addition to teaching the proper swimming techniques.

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