30 July 2015

Finnish school system basics

[This post has no photos as of yet, but will receive them later on. As of now, my computer is not cooperating well, since somebody (read: me) spilled a glass of water on it. Please bear with me until the problem is solved!]

Since in my previous post I talked about my university entrance examination and about the Finnish higher education application system, this felt like a good time to take a deeper look into Finland's education system. This blog is not just about my life, but I also want to feature things from the Nordic life style. Obviously since this is still my blog, these things will be talked about from my point of view and personal experiences. For more proper text, try Wikipedia or something. If you want to read about these things from somebody's who has experienced these things point of view, this blog is here for you. Hmm.. I think I just wrote something that should be in this blog's introduction (once I finally finish that)!

I do not want to write a dry, boring post and will of course feature my own comments and experiences. The main focus is on the high school system, since this post is part of my high school related posts and it is the one I mostly want to talk about.

[Here will be a photo]

In Finland students start their schooling the year they turn 7. There are few exceptions, like when your birthday is very late that year, but I do not know much about that. In example, I started the first grade on 1998; I was still 6 years old when the school began, but turned 7 in couple of months. Before the beginning of the primary school, children can take preschool for a year. Preschool is not a very serious thing, since you basically have some lessons in the middle of your kindergarten day. At least, this is how it was back in 1997, but it could have changed. I think I actually could have read that the preschool is nowdays mandatory, but I am not sure.

The primary school in Finland consist of 9 grades, three of which are upper level. The school year runs from around mid-August till late-May or early-June. The school year is divided into two parts: autumn semester and spring semester, the Christmas holiday being the divider. At the end of the autumn semester, you receive a mid-term diploma and the real diploma for that year you get at the "spring festival", which is kind of a graduation party thingy.

The difference between the first 6 and the last 3 grades of primary school is not too big. During the grade 7-9 you have more options (like choose between some subjects) and it is less class-formed; In the first grades you basically have all the lessons together with your own class. In some, most I think, places you will change the school after sixth grade, since they usually have separate schools for upper and lower grades. Many still have the same school mates, since students just usually switch to the nearest school. And of course it gets a bit more serious in the upper levels, but otherwise it is pretty much the same throughout the primary school.

[Photo to be placed here]

After graduating from primary school, Finnish youth has couple of options (I am obviously speaking on default standards here): go to high school, go to vocational school, go to work or something else. In Finland you are only required to study primary school, but after that school becomes voluntary. Since it is very hard to get a job without education and you are 15-16 when you are out of primary school, youth usually goes to either high school or vocational school. This is of course if they get in, since many schools, high schools in particular, have high grade point requirements to get into the school.

High school and vocational school are considered the "second degree". They both last 3 years on average, though you can sometimes speed up your studies, ie. by taking more classes at a time. And of course you can study on a slower pace. Particularly in high school you can affect the speed of your studies with your course selections, while in vocational school it is more predetermined. It is said that high school is more of academic studying, while in vocational school the focus is more on the practical sides. Some people argue over which one is better; in high school you study many subjects, though the hardness of the studies is respected and it is better degree while applying to higher education. Vocational school focuses only on your study subject and you graduate with a profession. In my opinion, both have their sides, but on default I would say: if you want to study on an upper level (university, etc.), high school is a better option.

I will talk more about high school after these two paragraphs, but first let's take a look of options after second degree phase. Like on the secondary level, the highest level is divided into universities and polytechnics, aka. academic vs. practical studying once again. You could say that from high school you go to university and from vocational school to polytechnic, though this is not accurate by all. Of course some do not even study on a higher level, especially after polytechnic. There are entrance examination to everything, besides high school, and you tend to need high GPA, so not everyone who wants to get to study in a university or a polytechnic.

You apply to universities and polytechnics through same means, so they basically are very similar study options. Only majors differences are that for my knowledge polytechnics have less possibilities for master's degree -likes, while in universities master's degree is the main thing. In Finnish universities you actually get accepted to both bachelor and master degree the same time, so you do not have to apply again for the master's program, if you wish to carry on studying. Bachelor's degree takes 3 years, master's 2, though this can be affected by your course choices and studying speed. On default, getting polytechnic degree takes more time than university. My knowledge for the higher education comes from secondary sources, since I have not studied in it, so I do not think it is fitting for me to say much about it in this post.

[Another photo spot; please bear with me!]

And now finally the high school part. If a student goes to high school straight from primary school, they usually start high school at age of 16. Besides regular high schools, there is also ones for adults, usually known as "evening high school", since the classes usually are held at evening, due to many of the students being at work during daytime. Many evening high schools have an age limit of 18, so underage students can not get in, unless perhaps in a some special circumstances. In Finland, there is also an option to study both high school and vocational diplomas at the same time, though this usually takes longer and is obviously harder. Those studying for a so called "double degree", usually take their high school lessons at the evening high school, even if they are underage.

As it is clear from reading this blog, I studied in an evening school, so mostly my experiences are from there. Though the differences are not that big, since we are talking on the basic level. The biggest difference is that in evening high school, you need less courses to graduate and the unnecessary crap is cut out (aka. gymnastics, arts...). In Finnish high school, students continue mostly the same subjects as on the primary school. Here is a list of the subjects and on parentheses how many courses you need to study each:

Mother tongue and literature (6)
Second national language (6)
Foreign language (6 on A level, 5 on B level)
Mathematics (10 on higher level, 6 on basic level)
Physics (1)
Chemistry (1)
Biology (2)
Geography (2)
History (4)
Social studies (2)
Philosophy (1)
Psychology (1)
Religion / Ethics (3) *you can pick which of these you study
Gymnastics (2)
Music / Art (1-2)
Health education (1)
Student counselling (1)

I think that gives you an approximate idea what Finnish students study in primary school and high school. You need 75 courses to graduate, so you need to take electives besides the mandatory courses. Since besides getting the high school diploma, Finnish students need to also take part in "finals" aka. matriculation exams, many students take electives on those subjects they take their finals on. There are electives outside this list too, but mostly it is these subjects.

The "finals" are held twice each year and you can decide when you part-take, though mostly students take their finals on the spring they graduate, though many spread their final examination, ie. taking half in Autumn, half in Spring. You need to write at least four subjects; Mother tongue and literature (in Finland there is three national languages) is mandatory unless you are a foreigner as then you must write Finnish as secondary language. The other three mandatory subjects you pick from: Second national language (Swedish to most), Foreign language, Mathematics or one from most of the other subjects. You can not ie. write multiple foreign languages as mandatory subjects. For example my subjects were Mother tongue and literature, English, Mathematics and History. The Finnish high school finals seem to be impossible to put in short, but I hope you got at least some idea.

I think that is most of it. This post only dealt with basics of Finnish education system; There are of course many other things that could have taken noticed, like the double degree option and apprenticeship, but this post is already very long as it is and I do not want to bore people. I know I said I would feature my own experiences too, but gosh how long this post is already! Perhaps I will make a sequel, if anybody wants me to. More information is of course available in the depths of the internet and you can always ask me, if there is something you want to know more about!

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