All children must attend school from first grade to ninth grade. First graders are seven years old (one year older than our students). Most children also attend pre-school and day-care which is offered through their municipality.
|6 and 7 year olds visiting the forest|
|5th Grade class learning about seasons|
|2nd graders learning about bones|
However, because of this Finnish youth are very independent. I have seen children as young as about 9 years old taking buses and subways by themselves. They go to these activities alone or go home, often to an empty house.
After 9th grade, if the students want to continue with their education they can go to either a vocational or regular high school. However, they have to apply to these schools. That means that while they have attended their local primary school in their community, they may not get accepted to their local high school. The acceptance of students into high school is based on their previous grades. This is mostly just true when they are in a city like Helsinki that has a lot of schools. Typically country schools would only have one high school so this wouldn't be an issue for them.
|High School Students, Grade 12 in physics class|
|Grade 8, Physics Class|
Now the last thing I want to talk about are the teachers. All educators in Finland must have a masters degree. Many teachers I have met, no matter the grade they teach, have doctorates. Teaching is a highly respected occupation. In addition, it is very difficult to become a teacher. Universities only take top students into their programs. In order to apply into a teaching position (grades 1-6) a candidate must pass a test on assigned written material and an interview. It isn't just about grades, but also about an individuals characteristics that would make them a good teacher. In grades older than 6 they must be qualified in at least one subject area, and most often they are qualified in at least two. So they study their area of expertise for three years, have one year of pedagogical studies and the last year for a master's thesis. Lastly, special education teachers must be classroom teachers first. Then they apply to the special education program and if they get in, they take further studies.