Kids of ex-pats living in Finland can go to school in English, French, German or Russian. Helsinki and other urban areas offer the largest selection.
Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Since neither is spoken by many people outside the Nordic countries, the Finns are aware of the need to learn other peoples’ languages. Today, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually every Finn up to middle age at least can communicate in a foreign tongue, most often English.
So, visitors to Finland are not expected to speak Finnish or Swedish. Indeed the locals would be surprised if they did. That’s fine for foreign adults working temporarily in Finland, advancing their careers, but what if they have school-aged children with them? Where can they go to school?
If Helsinki, the capital, is their destination they would have a wide choice of schools where the language of teaching is not Finnish or Swedish. For teaching in English at all age-levels there are the International School of Helsinki and the English School. In addition, a number of other schools that offer instruction in English at the upper secondary level, enable pupils to study, for example, for the International Baccalaureate (IB) examination, the Advanced International Certificate of Education or (at the English School) the American Advanced Placement program.
The Deutsche Schule Helsinki has a good reputation for academic achievement. It employs German as the language of instruction and students take the Reifeprüfung as their matriculation examination.
French is quite well served, bearing in mind that contacts between Finland and France have never been really extensive. That is despite the oft-cited exceptions of Olavus Magni, the Finnish clergyman who was rector of the Sorbonne briefly in the 15th century, and the community of fin-de-siècle Finnish painters who honed their skills in Paris, Brittany and Normandy. The Lycée franco-finlandais d’Helsinki covers the same syllabus as the equivalent Finnish grades. The upper classes accept students from abroad if there is room and the applicants can demonstrate adequate proficiency in French and Finnish in aptitude tests.
The Ecole francaise Jules Verne consists of a preschool and grades 1 to 9 and the language of instruction is French. The school follows the French curriculum and the lesson quota of the French education system. The teachers are native French speakers.
There are two schools in Helsinki that offer instruction in Russian. They are Suomalais-venäläinen koulu and Myllypuro primary school. The latter teaches Russian speakers in grades 1 to 6 . Suomalais-venäläinen koulu has both Finnish and Russian speaking students.
The City of Helsinki Education Department’s advice and service unit is the best source of information about schools in the capital and it also provides general information on the Finnish education system.
Adjacent to Helsinki on the west side is the spacious city of Espoo, where the Espoo International Upper Secondary School opened in August 2001. As the school’s website states, “Espoo International offers three years of study (with English as the language of instruction) leading to an Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE), administered by the University of Cambridge.” Cambridge, England, that is.
Bordering Helsinki to the north is Vantaa, the city where Helsinki-Vantaa international airport is located. It is also home to the Tikkurila International School which was founded in 1992. As the school’s website explains, “The original purpose of the school was to offer an English language alternative school to parents who had worked or planned to work or study abroad. Later, because of increased demand, the school also accepted children whose parents wanted an alternative to traditional education in the elementary school.
Turku is a fascinating, photogenic town in SW Finland. It is Finland’s former capital and the country’s oldest seat of learning. The first Finnish university was founded there in 1640. Given this distinguished history as a centre of education, it was appropriate that the Turku International School opened in August 2003. It was founded by the City of Turku. Under an agreement between the City and the University of Turku teaching in the international school will be taken care of by Turun normaalikoulu, which is Turku’s teacher training school. The official language of the international school in English. In its own words, “The school is intended for foreign-born children living temporarily or permanently in the Turku region, Finnish children returning to Finland after residing abroad and Finnish children competent enough to receive education in English.”
A number of other schools in Turku have classes that teach subjects in English at the secondary and upper secondary levels but these lessons are designed principally for local children, speakers of Finnish and, or, Swedish.
Are there any other international schools outside the Helsinki and Turku districts? Indeed there are. Virtual Finland took a sample of three other important Finnish towns, Tampere, Jyväskylä and Oulu, all regional centres, and found that all of them do offer schooling in languages other than Finland’s two official ones. But the level and extent of instruction they provide vary.
For the offspring of internationally mobile parents, Oulu offers education in English in the International School which implements the IBO Primary Years Programme (PYP) for grades 1-4 and Middle Years Programme (MYP) for grades 5-9. The IB Diploma programme can be studied in the upper secondary school Oulun Lyseo. The city also offers immersion classes in Finnish for immigrants to ease their integration into Finnish school life.
Tampere has the International School of Tampere, founded in 1990. It was established in response to the difficulty of attracting foreign researchers and other academic staff because the town could not provide instruction for their children in English. The city also has a helpful online library guide in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Kurdish, Persian, Russian and Somali.
Jyväskylä, home of the late great architect Alvar Aalto, offers English-speaking classes for the children of foreign parents living permanently or temporarily in Finland as well for Finnish families returning from abroad with children already proficient in English.
In the west-coast port city of Pori the International School, Cygnaeus, was founded to meet the educational needs of three types of pupil: Children born outside Finland who now reside in the Pori area temporarily or permanently; Finnish children who have lived outside Finland for an appropriate length of time, and children fluent enough in English to accept it as their principal language of instruction.
By Joe Brady, October 2001; updated October 2004