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New school year ushers in multiple changes

Foreign language instruction will now start in the first grade, for example.

Koululaiset koulumatkalla Espoossa 8. elokuuta 2018. Tilanne on lavastettu.
School starts on Thursday in most parts of Finland. Image: Lehtikuva

Young people in Finland will be heading back to school again sometime between 7 August and 14 August, depending on the location and type of the institution in question. The academic year will introduce several new policies affecting learners of all ages.

Early childhood education

New nationwide criteria for early childhood education and care from the National Agency for Education came into effect in early 2019, and providers of such services will incorporate these new policies into their curriculum this autumn.

The new plan places more emphasis on broad-based competencies such as developing thinking skills and good learning habits. Instruction will also focus on teaching self-care, cultural awareness, interaction and self-expression, critical information framing, and IT and communications skills.

A trial that began in 2018 that offers one-third of all five-year-olds free access to early childhood education will continue for another year. Children currently start kindergarten studies at the age of six in Finland, and school at the age of seven.

Comprehensive school

The biggest change in primary schools this year will be that foreign language instruction will begin in the spring term of first grade, at the latest. Earlier, instruction in what is presumably the child's first foreign language began in the third grade in Finland.

This autumn will also mark the final execution of Finland's new core curriculum throughout the entire comprehensive school system. The new plan was taken into use already in 2016 for grades 1-6, and in stages for grades 7-9. The academic year 2019-2020 will finally see ninth graders sign on to the new requirements as well, to complete the transfer to the new requirements.

Upper secondary school, or lukio

Starting this coming term, students of Finland's high schools will be able to resit their matriculation exams – the final tests they take before graduating – as many times as they like, once they have completed all of their classes and received their school leaving certificate. For those who haven't yet completed their studies, it is possible to repeat a failed test three times, where in the past it was only allowed twice.

Future matriculation exams will also pay better attention to factors like reading disorders, illnesses and injuries, and the test environment will be modified accordingly.

New laws on upper secondary school education and matriculation came into effect in early August. Among other things, the acts now require high schools to engage in active cooperation with Finland's universities. Some of the effects will only been seen later. For example, in the coming years, upper secondary school courses will be recorded as study credits, and the number of obligatory matriculation exam subjects will rise from four to five.

The study grant period will be extended from nine to ten months, and teenagers from low-income families will also start receiving a small monthly amount for buying school supplies like textbooks. For students under 18 years of age who are living independently, parental income will no longer have an effect on their levels of study aid.

Vocational education and training

The government earmarked 20 million euros in supplementary spending this June to create 400 new teacher and teacher support positions in vocational education.

The extra study aid to help with the purchase school supplies will also apply to teens in vocational study programmes, and parental income will likewise not affect pupil benefits.

Universities

Starting in the spring term of the coming academic year, the last stage of a reform targeting university applications will come into effect. As of 1 January 2020, universities and universities of applied sciences will admit 50 percent of incoming students exclusively on the basis of matriculation exam results or vocational training grades.

Almost all tertiary programmes in Finland had previously required applicants to attend entrance exams, in addition to submitting their final upper secondary-level results. Now only some subjects will require a supplementary exam.

Transfers to and within higher education will also be made more flexible in 2020. University departments will be much freer in future to accept students that have transferred from other departments and institutions.

The criteria for selecting students to attend universities of applied sciences will also be relaxed starting in the spring. Whereas previously, the applicant was required to have at least three years' work experience or a lower-level degree in the field, starting in January 2020, the work experience requirement will be reduced to two years.

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