In June this year my family and I moved back to Europe after spending more than 10 years in Southeast Asia. We decided for various reason to move back to Finland. We have family and relatives here and one of the factors that brought us back was to be closer to the family.
A second factor that led to our decision was also the quality of the Finnish schooling system which is consistently ranked together with Singapore at the top of international rankings such as OECD’s PISA.
Our daughters have started school in a local primary school in the Philippines in Dumaguete where we lived between 2009 and 2013. When we moved to Jakarta in the end of 2013 they attended for the first time an international school which they enjoyed.
Their main language of communication is English. They speak also well Finnish and some Italian. When we were doing some research to choose the city where to move in Finland we found that at least three cities (Helsinki, Tampere, and Turku) have public (i.e. free) schools where the language of instruction is English for primary and lower secondary.
We chose to move to Tampere and registered our daughters to the Finnish International School of Tampere. The school year started on 10th of August. Few days before that the families of the newly enrolled children were invited for a meeting with the principal and some of the teachers.
These are my first impression from that meeting and the first week of schooling of our daughters:
– There are about 700 students in the school. Some come from families where both parents are from overseas. Others are from families where one of the parents is from Finland. The majority, however, are from Finnish families that have decided that the children would get their education in English and therefore become very good English speakers.
– Finnish is taught to all foreign students as a second language for several hours a week.
– After the first day of school both my daughters were amazed that the teachers had asked the students to call them by their first name. There is no Mr, Mrs, Miss, or even worse Dr., followed by the family name. Just the first name. Plain and simple.
– There are the usual subjects such as Math, History, Science, etc. School subjects, however, include also wood work, working with textile, and home economics which is compulsory for all students and is about learning to cook food, bake bread and cakes, make jams, iron clothes, and use a sewing machine.
– Students are given a personalised learning schedule depending on the extra subjects they have enrolled to. This means that school days do not start always at the same time. School can start on Monday at 8am, on Tuesday at 10, on Wednesday at 9, etc.
– The city of Tampere has an online platform for all schools where parents, students and of course teachers are registered and can communicate with eachother about absence, problems, test results, etc. At the same time the city education office can gather data about enrolment, nationalities, students and teachers ratios, etc.
– School day ends at 2 or 3pm. Lunch is provided for free at school.
– At the meeting with the teachers, the mother of a new American student asked at what age are kids expected to go to school alone in Finland. The principal replied that in Finland that would be from the first grade. Our daughters are of course older than that and are learning about using the public busses to go to school. I went with them for the first couple of days and (coming from Jakarta) was really surprised to see very young kids getting into the bus, tapping their bus cards, and be alone or with friends on their way to/from school.
– Every 45-50 minutes there is a break and the students are expected to get outside their classroom to stretch their legs. Once a day they are expected to get also outside the building and out into the school yard. Some of the parents asked at what temperature during the winter kids are kept inside. The teachers said that that happens only very rarely when it is exceptionally cold, but up to -15 C and with the right clothes, the students are brought out to get some fresh air every day.
So, these are my very first positive impressions of the best school system in the world. No doubts I will learn more as the year progresses. There must be something that does not work well, but so far I could not see it.