Quebec - Finland educational expedition: answers to your questions (part 1)

Several of you have sent us questions to ask Finnish education professionals. Here are some of the answers you've been waiting for!

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ATTENTION! The English translation is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)

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Our collaborator Marc-André Girard is on an educational expedition to Finland and document it here!

(co-written with Marie-Andrée Croteau)

Several readers have asked us a number of questions for Finnish education professionals. Here are the ones we have received responses to so far. We're halfway through our expedition, and we're hopeful that the other answers you've been waiting for will come later this week.

Let's go in no specific order:

Does the school close for storms in the winter?
To our surprise, the answer is no! The school is always open, regardless of the type of weather: snow, ice, cold. We were told that the closure of schools during the pandemic was the first time in a very long time that the school had to close.

One exception: on the southwest coast of Finland, off Helsinki to the coast of Turku, there are just over 450 islands that are permanently inhabited. Since students have to travel by boat to get to school, sea conditions can occasionally prevent them from going to school. Their education is therefore dependent on navigation conditions and maritime safety.

Do the students play outside even if it is very cold?
When we were in eastern Finland, we could see the students playing outside in -20 ° C excluding the wind chill. Schools have all the autonomy necessary to set the threshold at which the student does not go out because of the temperature. It seems that southern schools usually have a lower tolerance for cold than northern schools in Lapland!

Is there a school bus network?
There is no yellow bus network like the one we know in Quebec. At least not in urban areas. Less than 3 km from the school, students from Kindergarten to Grade 2 walk or are escorted to school by their parents. The distance increases to 5 km for students in Grades 3 to 12. However, students living further than these distances in rural areas can obtain bus tickets to board a “regional” bus, organized by municipal authorities. These tickets are free.

For disabled or injured students for a fixed period, the taxi network is accessible and paid for by the school.

Is school free in Finland?
Yes, completely free. As previously stated, transportation to the school is free when required. Also, the law has changed over the past year. From now on, digital devices required by the school, as well as books and manuals are also free, which was not the case before.

There is one exception: schools that have a particular educational project can ask parents to buy the necessary equipment related to this project: musical instrument, sportswear, etc.

Are there private schools in Finland?

Contrary to popular belief, there are around 70 Finnish private schools spread out mostly in the south of the country, out of a total of over 3200 total schools. Many are religious or cultural in nature. Some of these schools are publicly funded.

Are there school service centers or school boards?
No. Schools are the responsibility of the city or the regional body. Essentially, they are the ones who are responsible for the school, which enjoys great autonomy with a view to decentralizing powers.

Is it true that students do not wear shoes at school?
There is no national rule in this sense, but it is indeed a cultural element. Many wear sandals, slippers and also “Crocs”. However, some schools impose this rule; they have a vestibule when entering and the pupils leave their boots or shoes there before entering the school.

The same goes for school personnel. It is therefore not uncommon to see them well dressed, but with slippers!

With our North American eyes, we asked the killer question: what do they do if there's a fire alarm and it's -10 ° C? We were told: "well ... they are going out"!

Is dinner included at school?
Yes, Finnish schools offer free lunch to students. It is a buffet style meal with two choices of hot meal, salad and bread. However, it is not free for staff members unless they have to eat with the students for a professional reason: educational activity, supervision, etc.

Finnish school is compulsory at what age?
School is compulsory from the age of 7 for admission to the 1st year. However, Finnish kindergarten is compulsory, unlike in Quebec. Over the past year, the age for school attendance has increased from 17 to 18. More information in this item appeared earlier in the Expedition.

Can a pupil resume his school year?

It is indeed possible, although rare. As in Quebec, it is a situation of last resort and what is best for the student is considered.

Is there a phenomenon of dropping out of school in Finland?

Yes and it varies according to the course of the students. See this item appeared earlier in the Expedition.

Do teachers have to have a master's degree in education?
Yes, see the previous article here. They all have a research profile in addition to that of a practitioner.

Is there a quota for the initial training program?
Yes. About 10% of candidates are admitted to teaching. University studies are free. Yes, see the previous article here.

Note that there are also two phenomena similar to those observed in Quebec: there are teachers who drop out profession and there is also a shortage of teachers in some parts of Finland. However, the school benches in the Faculty of Education are busy, so this shortage is not a long-term problem for the moment.

How much are teachers paid?
On average, a Finnish teacher earns around € 3,600 per month up to a maximum of around € 5,700.

A school principal can earn up to almost € 8,000 per month. It should be noted that the salaries of the directors are negotiated every two years with the administration of the municipality and bonuses exist depending on the influence of the school and the involvement of the administration in various extracurricular tasks in connection with the improvement of conditions of student learning and teaching of teachers.

Are there two teachers per class?

Sometimes yes. There are teacher assistants, remedial teachers and the equivalent of special education technicians who can be added according to the needs of the students. The socio-economic background of the school is taken into account and these aids are allocated either to the group or to a few regrouped groups. It is very rare that such a resource is allocated to a single student!

What is the number of students in class?

There is no class limit or ratio, except in kindergarten. However, there is an element of Finnish law that dictates that pupils must be safe and well in school. We can therefore conclude that it is unlikely to place 40 or 50 pupils per class! The number of students in a class depends on the municipality, the size of the premises, the age of the students and the number of teachers available. One exception: there is a maximum of 20 students in a special class, sometimes less, depending on the student profiles. According to our observations, we can report:

Kindergarten: 10 students per teacher. Since classes frequently exceed this number, there are two teachers in the group;

Grades 1 to 6: between 22 and 24 students per group with a teacher;

7th to 12th year: it depends on the courses (compulsory or optional) and the number of students can vary greatly, for example from 5 or 6 students to more than 30!

Are teachers unionized?

Yes, they are and their role is similar to those in Quebec who work in education. However, they do offer additional insurance for teachers, such as personal travel insurance. School principals are also unionized.

Further answers to your questions will follow shortly. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us using the links below.

To track the shipment:

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You can also contribute to the financing of the Expedition (until December 22):

(Editor's note: The École branchée is happy to be a media partner of this expedition! Note that we are not, however, associated with the fundraising campaign.)

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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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