Growing number of international schools emerging in Finnish cities
Foreign-language education now competitive edge for municipalities
By Marjukka Liiten
Numerous international schools have been established in Finland over the past few years, and new schools are emerging all the time.
The trend is being driven by large cities, which consider an international school to be an attractive element for the municipality. These schools are designed to serve migrating families – both foreigners who come to Finland to work, and returning expatriate Finns.
Within a period of a few years, international schools have been opened in Espoo, Turku, Tampere, and Oulu, and many other municipalities are now eager to follow their example. The international school in Vantaa opened its doors over ten years ago, and it now boasts some 300 students.
For example, Kuopio is considering establishing an international school. Two of the city’s schools currently offer classes taught in foreign languages.
Many municipalities in the Uusimaa region of Southern Finland have also planned a joint international school project.
The new international schools are not officially international, as they follow the Finnish curriculum. However, the education may include "foreign" elements from the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme, for example.
There is also some debate on whether Finland, admired around the world as the winner in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, should import any elements to its curriculum when the current concept is worthy of export.
The schools are made international mainly by the fact that all of the classes or at least a clear majority of them are held in a foreign language, most often in English. A part of the students are also foreigners, some with no Finnish skills whatsoever.
The schools differ in whether they accept students who are completely Finnish but would simply like to internationalise at home. A test of language skills must be passed in any case.
For example, the Turku International School has several students who have one English-speaking parent, or whose family is moving abroad in the near future, reports school principal Vesa Valkila.
Around half of the school’s one hundred students are of foreign nationality.
Of the two hundred students in the Oulu International School, the majority hail from Finland, but the remaining group features over twenty different nationalities.
Elements from the IB programme are added to the Finnish curriculum in Oulu, principal Raija Perttunen explains.
Among others, the ”Finland in the Global Economy” report commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office has demanded that more and more classes be held in foreign languages in Finnish schools.
Some of the foreigners who move to Finland to work bring a school of their own along with them. The children of the French construction crew working on the fifth nuclear reactor at the Olkiluoto power plant will be taught according to the French curriculum in Rauma. German children are schooled in Pori.
The education authorities do not have any up-to-date figures on the amount of teaching in foreign languages. According to language immersion coordinator Merja Meriläinen from Kokkola, there are over 200 schools in Finland that teach classes in foreign languages.
This figure includes language immersion day care centres. In addition to Swedish and English, classes are taught in German and in French.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 13.2.2005
More on this subject:
Teachers of Espoo International School represent seven nationalities
BACKGROUND: Language immersion from the 1980s
MARJUKKA LIITEN / Helsingin Sanomat