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Religion Studies Or Study of Religions?

Education Minister Henna Virkkunen says that the instruction in their faiths that students receive in Finnish schools could be replaced by general studies of religion. She told the syndicated Sunnuntaisuomalainen newspaper supplement that the matter will be reviewed in connection with reforms in the national curriculum.

According to the Education Minister an option to religion lessons would be lessons for all students on the study of religions.

"it is worth considering. At the moment, I don't see a great need to change current religion instruction, as Lutheranism has a strong base in Finnish society. The matter will, however, come up for discussion when the curriculum is revised," Virkkunen told Sunnuntaisuomalainen.

There are around 800 religious communities in Finland. Eleven of these have their own place in the curriculum of Finnish schools.

Major regional differences

Religion instruction can cause problems as early as in pre-school.

The religious instruction included in the pre-school curriculum allows individual daycare centres to decide what faiths are taught. In practice this usually means the same as the faith of those in charge of the centre. There is wide regional variation in pre-school religious instruction.

Secularism and multi-culturalism have made their marks on instruction in daycare centres in the Helsinki area. In contrast, in many other parts of the country the Lutheran tradition holds sway.

One study has shown that while in Oulu Province a prayer is recited at mealtimes in close to nine out of ten daycare groups, in the Helsinki area it is practiced in only one out of ten.