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Government considers extending pre-school education to 5-year-olds

A pilot scheme will weigh the effect of an extra preschool year on learning and gender equality.

Esiopetuksen harjoitusvihko.
A child's preschool notebook. Image: Ville Viitamäki / Yle

The government is planning to run a pilot scheme which would extend preschool teaching to five-year-olds.

The intention of the trial is to determine the impact of starting formal education one year earlier than the current six years. A number of municipalities across Finland will participate in the experiment, during which policymakers hope to discover the potential impact of longer pre-school education on learning outcomes and gender equality.

However, Minister of Education Li Andersson has indicated that a two-year period of preschool education will not be introduced during the current government term.

"I don't think that's likely. We are doing all the necessary research now because it would require big changes," Andersson explained.

Story continues after photo.

Vasemmistoliiton Li Andersson Yle Turun toimituksessa.
Education Minister Li Andersson. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

There is no exact timeline for the pilot at this stage.

An Obligation Act was introduced five years ago, requiring that in the year preceding the start of schooling, each child must attend a compulsory year of pre-school education.

Resistance to change

Juha Parkkisenniemi, Director of Education for the city of Kuopio, told Yle that he has reservations about plans for two-year preschool education, and emphasised that change should be carefully prepared and evaluated.

"For example, one should investigate whether the preschool curriculum is suitable for younger children," Parkkisenniemi said.

The possible changes would also mean additional costs for municipalities, which are often already struggling with budgetary challenges.

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Kuopion kasvatusjohtaja Juha Parkkisenniemi
Juha Parkkisenniemi, Director of Education in the city of Kuopio. Image: Sami Takkinen / Yle

"If pre-school education were to expand, the money would have to accompany it. The state should support the municipalities 100 percent," Parkkisenniemi commented, adding that a change to the current system might require kindergartens to update premises and hire more workers.

Earlier this year, the National Board of Education published a report that suggested comprehensive participation in preschool education by five-year-olds would strengthen learning and increase gender equity.

Currently, many municipalities are also trialing a scheme where 5-year-olds receive 20 hours of preschool education per week.

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