The central premise of the Education Ministry working group is to ensure that more children in Finland are placed in child care facilities at an earlier age. The group pointed out that children born into low-income and poorly-educated families benefit more if they are placed in municipal childcare or high quality family daycare. It also cited research suggesting that children in early childhood education groups are better positioned to learn social skills and independence.
Preschool starting at five
The group issued a report calling for free early childhood education for low-income families. It also recommended a gentler increase in payments as family incomes rise. It proposed that the reforms could be funded in part by higher fees for very high income earners.
At present, preschool is compulsory and children get their first foretaste of elementary school at the age of six. However, the working group is proposing that children in Finland should start preschool at the age of five, and it would be optional to start at that age.
Prodding moms back out to work
The working group also highlighted other research showing that children in low-income and poorly-educated families tend to be cared for at home for a long time. The group said that this is largely because going out to work does not materially increase the family’s cash in hand.
In the language of government circles this dilemma is known as an "incentive trap". As far as the working group is concerned, it prevents women from returning to work quickly after having a child. At the same time, many children who would benefit from early childhood education end up staying at home.
The report has proposed cutting the child home care allowance from its current maximum three-year year duration to two years. Correspondingly, the right to remain at home to care for an infant would also be slashed from three to two years. The logic is that when mothers have to return to work, they will then have to organise formal early childhood education early on.
The Education Ministry panel has calculated that the proposed measures would put an estimated 5,500 five year-olds into preschool, while 4,000 mothers would go back to work earlier than before.
The report was compiled by a working group comprising Tampere University Professor Kirsti Karila, research head Tuomas Kosonen of the Labour Institute for Economic Research and Satu Järvenkallas, director responsible for early childhood education and care with the city of Helsinki.