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Finland revises ruling: Pupils in grades 1-3 can go back to school

The education ministry underscored that the updated policy is entirely voluntary.

Lapset palasivat kouluun lähiopetukseen 14. toukokuuta. Kuvituskuva. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

Pupils in grades 1-3 — whose parents want to send them back — will be able to go to school, Finland's education ministry announced on Friday.

The decision reverses an emergency law declaration issued by government last week which said only students in that age group whose parents' jobs are critical to the functioning of society were allowed to attend school, with the rest to receive tuition remotely.

The measure was brought in to try and promote social distancing to control the growth of the coronavirus epidemic.

The change will take effect on Monday, March 23. Last Wednesday schools across the country closed their doors until 13 April.

Attendance not mandatory

The Ministry of Education and Culture emphasised that the updated policy does not make it mandatory for young students in that age group to go back to school. The government still recommends distance learning for all — including those in grades 1-3.

The ministry justified lifting of the restriction on the grounds that the definition of critical job areas has led to confusion and mixed interpretations. Critical jobs include nurses, doctors and police, cleaners, as well as workers in the grocery store, food production and food transport sectors.

The government estimated that this move would not likely have a significant impact on the number of students who head back to classrooms.

"Parents have acted in accordance with government's policies and switched their children to home care and remote education very extensively," a ministry statement read.

Primary and upper-secondary students are currently being offered remote lessons.

However, children with special needs and students enrolled in extended compulsory education can also attend school.

Daycares still open

Daycare centres are still being kept open as usual. But the government said that was done to ensure that children whose parents are unable to provide care in any other way are still being minded. The parents are encouraged to look after their children themselves, but if there is no other option they can utilise daycare centres.

At a press conference on Wednesday, education minister Li Andersson said she hopes municipalities would look into reduced daycare fees in cases when kids had not attended daycare at all, adding that the question of fees in such cases is being discussed.

The minister clarified that daycare centres are to remain open to ensure the basic functioning of society, and to prevent the possibility that young children would be sent to elderly grandparents who face an increased risk of serious complications from coronavirus infections.

Education minister: municipalities not obliged to serve school meals

Education minister Andersson had earlier stated that municipalities would not be obliged to provide school meals for children studying from home. She also added that if schools do organise meals for pupils studying remotely, they must ensure large groups of pupils do not sit and eat together.

"We encourage municipalities to be very cautious because the purpose of these containment measures in the coming weeks is to reduce close contact with young children. If municipalities continue to provide school meals to everyone, the risk of close contact with children will also increase," Andersson said.

While these regulations are already in force, the parliamentary follow-up review is still pending and is expected to be completed next week.