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Helsinki recommends remote learning ahead of autumn matriculation exams

Helsinki and other large cities want to ensure that exams can proceed without disruptions caused by coronavirus outbreaks.

Opiskelija opiskelemassa matematiikkaa.
Some upper secondary school students will begin their matriculation exams from 14 September. Image: Sami Takkinen / Yle

Helsinki city officials are calling on upper secondary schools to provide at least two weeks of distance learning before students take their matriculation exams. The city is hoping that keeping students out of school prior to the tests will ensure that exams are not disrupted by coronavirus.

The exam season for students planning to graduate next year will begin early, with the first tests scheduled for as early as 14 September.

"I have sent out a recommendation to schools and principals that they should think about and consider this option," Helsinki upper secondary school education manager Harri Korhonen said.

In June, the city outlined a policy according to which the academic year would begin with distance learning. Second-year upper secondary school students as well as matriculation exam candidates can however alternate between remote and contact learning as needed.

"Ultimately, how this is implemented and the groups that will be affected are all up to each school," Korhonen said.

Helsinki has also sent out the guidance to principals of the city’s private schools.

"The capital region is an area in which coronavirus is spreading once more and this matter is therefore extremely important in Helsinki," Korhonen added.

No rites of passage for exam candidates

According to Tarja Aro-Kuuskoski, principal of Helsinki’s art-focused upper secondary school, the school has two primary objectives.

"To get students in and out."

Aro-Kuuskoski said she did not hesitate to act to ensure that exams would proceed as planned at the school. In addition to distance learning, exam candidates have been prohibited from participating in an unofficial tradition in which the exam candidates or abit as they are often known in Finnish (short form of abiturientit ) camp out in the city’s parks.

"I have forbidden them from camping and they understood that this is a really dangerous situation. Hopefully they will also exercise caution in their private lives," the school principal said.

The precautionary measures are also designed to protect teachers and ensure that they are healthy enough to supervise the tests.

The Matriculation Examination Board changed the autumn examination schedule so that exams for general subjects will take place over four days instead of two, while tests for advanced foreign languages would be split into two days.

According to Aro-Kuuskoski, as a result of the state of emergency declared last spring, 6,000 more students signed up for exams this autumn compared to the same time last year.

Other cities plan distance learning

Meanwhile Helsinki’s Harri Korhonen said that on Friday he participated in a remote meeting involving a national network of school principals organised by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.

He said that other large cities are also planning to provide distance learning for matriculation exam students ahead of the tests.

"The issue is on the table in the capital region, but similar plans are being drawn up as far as Oulu and Jyväskyklä," he noted.

Some upper secondary schools in Helsinki have already communicated their plans to students and their parents.

"It’s still not finalised in some schools, but I would assume that this will be implemented in all schools in some way," Korhonen added.

Korhonen said that only time will tell if the same policy will be needed ahead of exams due next spring. He said however, that the transition to distance learning will be significantly better than in March, when the practice was relatively new.

"I am quite confident that there will be no major pedagogical problems. The fact is that schools will likely have to work with this system again."

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