Early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Finland has two main
goals. One is to fulfil the day care needs of children under school age and the other is
to provide early childhood education.
Since 1973, the Act on Childrens Day Care has provided a framework for the
implementation of day care. The Act clearly defines the physical setting for the provision
of day care and the educational objectives. According to the act the objectives of day
care promote the balanced development of children together with their parents. For its
part, day care shall provide children with safe and warm relationships; activities
supporting children's development in a versatile manner, as well as a favourable growth
environment based on individual children's circumstances.
Day care in its different forms is the most important area of public ECEC activities. The Finnish ECEC-system consists of municipal and private services.
Municipalities must offer day care in the official languages of Finland: Finnish, Swedish
and Sāmi. Day care should also support the language and culture of speakers of Romany and
children of immigrant background. Municipal day care is provided at day care centres and
in family day care. Several local authorities also organise supervised play activities
open to everyone in playgrounds and at open day care centres. The day care fees are based
on family size and income level. Families with low incomes are charged no fee. Client fees
cover about 15 percent of the total day care costs.
As of 1996, the parents of all children under school age have enjoyed the right to a
place in day care for their child provided by their local authority. Since August 1997, it
has also been possible for families to receive a private childcare allowance in order to
provide their children with private care.
Pre-school education signifies the systematic education and instruction provided in the
year preceding the commencement of compulsory education, which usually
commences in August of the calendar year of a childs 7th birthday. Voluntary
pre-school education that is free of charge is provided in every municipality since August
2001 at an amount of no less than 700 hours per year.
Since the 1960s the possibility for parents to stay at home to care for their
new-born and small children has gradually improved. For this purpose, first maternity
allowance and leave is granted and since 1989 maternity, paternity and parental leaves and
allowances are available. The right to keep one's job during care leave is protected by
law. In addition, since 1985 parents have been able to arrange the care of their children
by means of the child home care allowance. The child home care allowance can be
granted immediately after the parental allowance period ends and can be paid until the
youngest child in the family is three years old or enters municipal day care.
After the parental leave period, families are therefore provided with three different
options until the child begins compulsory school:
Well-educated and multi-disciplinary staff is one of the strengths of the Finnish day
care system. The staff in day care centres is required to have at
least a secondary-level degree in the field of social welfare and health care. One in
three of the staff must have a post-secondary level degree (Bachelor of Education, Master
of Education or Bachelor of Social Sciences). The adult-child ratio in day care centres is
one to seven for 3-6-year-olds and one to four for children under the age of three in
full-time day care. When arranging part-time day care the ratio for 3-6-year-olds is one
to thirteen and for children under three the ratio is the same as in full-time care.
Family care minders must have appropriate training. The adult-child ratio in family day
care is one to four, including the child minder's own children. In addition, part-time
care may be provided for one pre-school or school-aged child.
ECEC is realised in co-operation between various actors forming a wide network that
provides services for children and families. These actors include social welfare, health
care and education authorities, various organisations and communities that work in favour
of children and families and parishes with their ECEC services.
The Finnish ECEC system and the concepts it covers are
illustrated in the following figure.
The ECEC system for children aged 0-6 in Finland
Finnish ECEC may be described through the concept of EduCare, where care, education and
instruction have been combined to form an integrated whole.
ECEC is built on conscious, systematic and goal-oriented interaction and co-operation.
Goals are based on a holistic view of the child's growth, development and learning. This
view, in turn, is based on comprehensive multidisciplinary information and research and a
profound knowledge of ECEC methods.
Growing and learning are understood to constitute a lifelong
process. Upbringing at home and in day care forms the foundation for lifelong learning.
A child is an active learner, whose learning is guided by curiosity, the will to
explore and joy of realisation. Instead of emphasising the individual nature of growing,
communality is brought forward as an important element. The core of learning is not in the
information offered being pre-digested from the outside, but in the interaction between a
child and the environment. Children's self-motivated play is a natural way of learning
things related to their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.
Children in day care must be provided with the special services they need at a
sufficiently early stage. Special support in early childhood education and care is usually
arranged together with other children, however, ensuring at the same time that the child
receives the necessary special services and that the staff have sufficient training. Also
a rehabilitation plan should be drawn up for children in need of special care and
ROLE OF THE PARENTS
The parents (guardians) bear the main responsibility for the upbringing of their
children. Public ECEC services support the parents in the upbringing of the child. The
parents choose ECEC services for their children.
Parents and ECEC workers work together as partners to support the child's growth,
development and learning. This partnership is characterised by interaction on equal terms,
combining the expertise and knowledge of both the parents and the staff.
Parents participate in their child's ECEC and in the planning and assessment of
activities. An individual educational plan is made for every child as a basis for
co-operation between the day care service and parents.
There are about 419 000 children under the compulsory school age of 7 years in Finland.
The proportion of these children of the total population has been decreasing constantly
and was less than one-tenth (8.3%) in 2000. It is estimated that the proportion will
continue to decrease.
About one half of all children under school age make use of municipal day care
services. A total of 85% of all children in day care are in full-day care. Further, well
over 90% of all 6-year-olds take part in pre-school education, and more than half of these
are also in need of day care.
0-6 yearold-children in municipal day care at the end of 2000
||Children in day care
||% of the age group
Day care for children aged 0-6 years at the end of 2000