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Fourth graders waltzing away during their Independence Day ball at the Finlandia Hall. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

There is a definite demand for education in English in Finland. This need was elaborated at a recent education seminar organized by Indian Women in Finland and Espoo International School, which gathered various spokespeople involved in the world of education, including ambassadors, principals and members of the parliament. In addition, the demand is high for good preschool daycare (päiväköti or kindergarten) in English and several were represented at the seminar.

All Finnish daycare should focus on a play-based learning in a safe, nurturing environment. Eija Rolamo of Albatross Daycare and entrepreneur of the year 2006, provides the Finnish national curriculum in English for a hundred kids age one to six from 14 different nationalities. Cornelia Tuoriniemi from Garden City Playschool highlighted that all staff has to be qualified by the Finnish system, a professional qualification only in Finnish language and so, unfortunately, it provides an effective barrier for recruiting native English speakers that daycare need.

Small Folks Daycare was represented by Suzanne Perkowsky, an immigrant with Indian heritage and previously deputy headteacher at EIS.  Perkowsky shared the advanced plans to start a new school, The International School of Finland, providing further places for the Finnish curriculum in English. More news to follow as premises needed to be confirmed in Espoo and Helsinki.

If parents cannot obtain a place for their children in English speaking education, of course, there is still the world-renowned Finnish school system to fall back on. Even students unable to speak Finnish can start at one of the local schools offering the language integration year and then normally the children are moved into a grade one year below their age.

[alert type=blue ]All Finnish daycare should focus on a play-based learning in a safe, nurturing environment.[/alert]

MP Maria Guzenina. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

For kids born in November or December, this is not a disadvantage and those under 10 years of age appear to rapidly learn Finnish, quickly becoming fluent. In Finnish schools, English as a subject can start at age seven but normally at nine together with access to English language TV programmes and YouTube.  I have met many Finnish kids who speak excellent English.

Anne-Marie Rapo, principal of Espoo International School (EIS), spoke about the education offered in English at the school from years one to nine. For the last intake, the school had two classes in year one but 20 percent of applicants did not get a place.

[alert type=blue ]I have met many Finnish kids who speak excellent English.[/alert]

However, in January 2018 there will be three classes with 75 places available. This demand for places has resulted in the requirement for the entrance English testing and interview for the students in a child-friendly way. Entrance tests cause concern for parents and demonstrate the importance of English speaking pre-school care.

The difficulty of finding a place at the upper secondary school (lukio) or vocational school (ammattioppilaitos) for those not fluent in Finnish was highlighted, only Omnia offering business administration and health studies in English.  Those not fluent in Finnish or Swedish, at this education level the only option was the International Baccalaureate and that normally requires good English skills.

The International School of Helsinki is located in Ruoholahti. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

If any people understand the importance of language it must be the Indians. This was highlighted at the seminar. The constitution of India, as of December 1, 2007, lists 22 recognized regional languages.

There are thousands of different dialects and since its independence in 1946, many debates about the official language of the country. A huge swath of northern India speaks Hindi and form about 56 percent of the population, and so it was originally written into the Indian constitution to be the official language.

However, large numbers of Indians do not speak Hindi, and this caused protests and civil unrest. So, the constitution now does not mention an official language. Hence a legacy from colonial days, English has become the common language of government, education and has also become a big advantage for international commerce.

The languages of computer programming are common worldwide but the industry communicates mostly in English and so people from the Indian sub-continent can easily migrate for employment, many to Finland. Indian families working here in Finland need to find education for their children and then the language dilemma starts. Obviously, if you speak your mother-tongue at home it would be a good idea to place the children in an English-speaking environment for school, particularly if you are employed on a short-term contract.

[alert type=blue ]Indian families working here in Finland need to find education for their children and then the language dilemma starts. [/alert]

In 1980’s Espoo foreigners numbered only a few hundred but now according to the latest Espoo city statistics, over 14 percent of the population speak a language other than Finnish or Swedish. Maria Guzenina, member of the parliament representing the Uusimaa district (SDP), was pleased to speak at the conference about this rapid change and how to cope with the difference. Already Espoo City recognizes English as the third official language. Correspondingly Espoo city has the policy to increase the number of English speaking daycare and school places available.

I discovered several parents quite prepared to move house to ensure their children can be registered at Espoo International School, evidence of the demand for an education in English.  Also, have a thought for the teachers implementing the Finnish curriculum in English because the study material is only in Finnish.  Hopefully, the cities of Helsinki and Espoo will rise to the challenges and keep Finland a desirable place for world trade and investment.

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