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How To Find A School For Your Children In Helsinki

Helsinki is the capital city and most populous municipality in Finland, with a population of 644,788. Finnish and Swedish are the official languages, but English is also widely-spoken in the city.The land area of Helsinki is 213.75 km2. Helsinki is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland and has 130 kilometres of coastline, making it an east-west wide city.

Helsinki is a great choice for a family with children since it ranks as the fifth safest city in the world. There are no unsafe suburbs in Helsinki, meaning most children walk or travel by public transport to and from school.

The Finnish education system is world-renowned and open to everybody. Teachers are highly-educated professionals. Finland is continuously amongst the highest performing countries in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Most education is publicly funded, meaning you will have no tuition fees to worry about.

According to law, all children aged seven to 16 who are permanently residing in Finland must receive basic education at a public comprehensive school, or at any of the other types of school mentioned below. Completion of comprehensive school usually takes nine years.

Available Options

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There are plenty of educational options to choose from in Helsinki: public comprehensive schools, private comprehensive schools receiving public funding, international schools and language or culture-based schools.

Comprehensive Schools

There are more than 100 public Finnish or Swedish speaking comprehensive schools, two of which – Maunula Primary School and Kulosaari Comprehensive School offer bilingual instruction.

Ressu Comprehensive School is a city-operated, accredited International Baccalaureate (IB) world system school. The curriculum is based on the Finnish national core curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Organisation curriculum. Bilingual instruction is in English and Finnish.

You can enroll your child in a Finnish speaking school even if they don’t yet speak much Finnish. The city of Helsinki provides preparatory instruction for pupils with an international background. Once students speak Finnish fluently, they can transfer to a corresponding comprehensive local or bilingual school.

If your child is enrolled in a Finnish-speaking school without an aptitude test, they will be placed by the city in a so-called local school. This might not be the nearest school to your home, but will be located in your area or suburb. Exceptions to this rule are allowed for certain reasons such as if your child needs bilingual studies or language immersion.

Co-operating Comprehensive Schools

There are more than 10 private comprehensive schools that receive public funding. There is no charge for tuition or study materials. Practically speaking, these are indistinguishable from public comprehensive schools.

Four schools offer bilingual education for students aged 13 to 16:

Apollo School
Helsingin Uusi Yhteiskoulu (HUYK)
Kulosaari Secondary School
Maunula Secondary School
Munkkiniemi School

Pupils for these schools are selected through an aptitude test, which includes proficiency in Finnish language.

International Schools

These schools promote international education in an international environment. Students come to these international schools, which charge tuition fees, from all over the world. Your child must pass an application process to attend one of these schools.

The International School of Helsinki (ISH) has a programme is based on the IB system of education. The language of instruction is English.

The European School of Helsinki (ESH) is a state-supported school that is accredited to the European Schools’ network. The ESH provides teaching in three languages: English, Finnish and French.

The private Kielo International School follows the Finnish national curriculum, with English as their main language of instruction. Students learn Finnish as their second language. This is a primary school for grades one to six.

International Schools With A Language or Culture Based Curriculum

There are private schools whose language of instruction is, for example, English, German, French, or Russian. Acceptance to these schools is through application.

Pros And Cons

Public comprehensive schools and co-operative private schools
Pros: You can simply enroll your child to a local school, and their place is guaranteed. It’s also possible to study in bilingual class or at an IB school. There are no tuition fees.

Cons: It may be challenging to for your child to study in Finnish. Teachers at bilingual schools are not necessarily native speakers. There are aptitude tests for bilingual and IB schools.

International schools

Pros: International schools can be the perfect solution for expat children who are staying just a few years in Finland, as they can smoothly continue their studies in another country. Teachers are native speakers.

Cons: These schools tend to be expensive. Children who do not learn Finnish or Swedish do not necessarily integrate well into Finnish society. Space is often limited.

Language and culture based schools

Pros: Students can remain in a familiar cultural environment. The curriculum can be the same as in their home country. Some of the schools are free.

Cons: A child does not necessarily integrate well into Finnish society if they don’t learn Finnish or Swedish. Space at these schools is often limited.

How to choose

Bear in mind that according to law, all children aged seven to 16 must receive basic education. This applies also to children of an international background with permanent residence in Finland. You must either enroll your child in a comprehensive school or choose any of the other schools mentioned above. If you choose any other school than the local school, you should contact the principal of the local school. Bear in mind that it’s not necessary to enroll in a private school to guarantee a good education for your child.

When choosing a school for your child, it’s important to take into account their age and how long you are going to stay in Finland. The Finnish local comprehensive school might be the best option for a young child who will be staying several years. For a teenager staying a shorter time, this may not be the best solution.

It’s also important to take a look at the map. Helsinki is a wide city and traveling back and forth to school can take a long time.

Have you lived in Finland? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview!

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