Functions of municipalities and joint municipal authorities
Education and culture
Early childhood education and care
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) means systematic and purposeful education, teaching and care of a child with special emphasis on pedagogics, as defined in the Act on early childhood education and care. In Finland, public ECEC is provided by local authorities or private providers within child day care or pre-primary education settings and in various open play groups and other club activities.
The parents of a child under school age have the right to place the child in day care arranged by the local authority once the parental leave ends. In the year before compulsory schooling begins, a child is entitled to pre-primary education arranged free of charge by the local authority. In addition to their statutory services, local authorities organise play groups and diverse club activities for children.
Public ECEC services form a key part of the services and support systems for families with children. The goal is to support parenthood and children's upbringing, with the emphasis on encouraging children's natural and spontaneous play. ECEC comprises purposeful activities guided by the National curriculum guidelines on early childhood education and care in Finland.
ECEC and basic education organised by local authorities form an integrated, functional continuum. Care, education and teaching are the key elements of child day care and pre-primary education which together constitute ECEC. Pre-primary education is closely linked to both ECEC and elementary education.
Parents and guardians are offered a range of flexible options. ECEC lays the foundation for a child's balanced growth and development, which together with pre-primary education and basic education promote child welfare, care and learning. Close co-operation between ECEC, pre-primary education and school allows children to move flexibly and safely from day care to pre-school and eventually to basic education.
The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities participates in legislative and other development work to improve the arrangements for the care of small children on the basis of equality, family preferences and the needs of children of different ages.
The Finnish school system is based on a uniform 9-year compulsory basic education, which provides a general education and general knowledge and is given in comprehensive schools. Most comprehensive schools are maintained by local authorities, and basic education is financed jointly by local authorities and the State. The educational objectives and basic principles and values are outlined in the National core curriculum for basic education and in the overall distribution of lesson hours. The education providers, usually the local education authorities, draw up their own curricula for basic education based on the national framework.
Education is compulsory for every child who is a permanent resident in Finland. Local authorities provide basic education for school-aged children and preschool education during the year prior to the beginning of compulsory education. Compulsory education begins the year a child turns seven and ends when the child has completed the basic education syllabus, or after 10 years. Local authorities may arrange before- and after-school activities for pupils in the 1st and 2nd grades and for disabled pupils.
In Finland, the entire age group receives a uniform basic education. Education is based on a pupil’s own development and needs. Teachers must have a university-level academic degree and complete pedagogical training. Pupils with difficulties in learning and adjusting to school are provided with remedial teaching, special needs education and other support services. Special needs education is given by special needs teachers and other support personnel, whereas pupil welfare is ensured by school psychologists, school social workers and classroom assistants. There is close co-operation between the school and social welfare services, and between the school and the home.
Finnish basic education ranks amongst the best in international comparisons of learning performance (OECD, PISA Survey). The excellent results can be attributed to Finnish local self-government, which has made it possible to organise basic education in a way that meets the needs of pupils of all ages, while also taking local conditions and perspectives into consideration. Other factors contributing to pupils’ good performance include teachers’ high-level pedagogic skills and the consistent quality of schools irrespective of their location. Education, and the high level of competence acquired through education, are seen as the necessary foundation for the competitiveness of Finnish society and for other economic prosperity. International comparisons have shown that the costs of education per pupil in Finland are quite reasonable.
Upper secondary education
Upper secondary education is divided into general upper secondary education and more work-oriented vocational education and training.
After successfully completing basic education, students can apply for upper secondary education through a joint application system independent of where they live. Both routes of education give eligibility for higher education.
General upper secondary education
General upper secondary education takes two to four years to complete. It gives eligibility for studies in universities and universities of applied sciences. At the end of their education, students usually take the national matriculation examination. General upper secondary school students are offered the option of including courses provided by other education providers, such as vocational schools, or studying for a complete qualification as well as for the matriculation examination. Students in vocational institutions have this same right.
Vocational education and training
There are 52 different vocational upper secondary qualifications to choose from. The education normally takes two to three years and provides good basic skills needed for the trade and more specialised competence in a chosen field. After completing vocational upper secondary qualifications, students can either go to work or continue their studies. The qualification includes vocational skills demonstrations in practical work situations and on-the-job learning. Vocational education can also consist of vocational apprenticeship training and competence-based qualification.
Providers of upper secondary and vocational education need an authorisation granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The majority of general upper secondary education and vocational education and training is provided by local authorities, and especially for the provision of the latter local authorities have set up joint municipal authorities together with one or more other municipalities. The responsibility for financing is shared by the central and local governments.
Finland has 26 universities of applied sciences. The majority of them are multiprofessional, regional higher education institutions focusing on close links to the labour market and on regional development. Universities of applied sciences provide education leading to higher education degrees with vocational emphasis.
Of Finland’s 14 universities, two are foundation universities governed by the Foundations Act, and the rest are corporations under public law.
The core task of universities is to carry out scientific research and to provide higher education based on this research. They interact with the surrounding society and promote the social impact of research findings.
The system of higher education comprising universities and universities of applied sciences is developed to make it competitive on the international stage and flexible in terms of meeting regional needs. These development targets are based on the Government programme and action plan and on other strategic objectives placed on universities by Parliament and the Government.
Library network and cultural services
The network of Finnish public libraries is among the most extensive and most used in the world. Library services, which are run by local authorities and available in every Finnish municipality, are offered to users free of charge. About 80 per cent of residents use the services.
Today, libraries still perform their traditional role of lending books and other materials, but they have also become learning environments for people of all ages. They offer comprehensive information services and electronic materials. Libraries contribute essentially to the development of information society by promoting virtual and interactive web-based and other services.
Local authorities run art institutions, provide extensive art education, support art and cultural heritage and provide opportunities for cultural and artistic activities. The diverse range of cultural services improves substantially the vitality and well-being of municipalities and regions. Culture is part of a municipality’s identity; the cultural sector and services also employ people and promote creativity and innovation both locally and regionally.