Multiculturalism is part of everyday life at schools in Helsinki. Schools support children of immigrant origin in their integration into Finnish school and society.
Children of immigrant origin permanently resident in Finland are subject to compulsory education.
About 4,000 children of immigrant origin study at comprehensive schools in Helsinki. The largest language groups are Russian, Somali, Estonian, Arabic and Vietnamese. The number of native languages taught is about 40.
Preparatory instruction is provided for children and young people who do not know enough Finnish to be able to study in Finnish-speaking teaching groups. Preparatory classes for immigrant pupils have up to 12 pupils, who study the Finnish language and key concepts used in other subjects. Each pupil is provided with a study plan. At the earliest possible stage, pupils start participating in Finnish-speaking teaching groups to study those subjects that they can manage even with limited language skills. Preparatory instruction can last up to one year. When a pupil’s language skills are adequate, the pupil may transfer to basic education to the form that matches their age and abilities.
Instruction in Finnish as a second language
Many bilingual children, those of immigrant origin and those whose mother tongue is not Finnish require support in Finnish language studies. They study mother tongue and literature according to the syllabus covering Finnish as a second language. The objective of instruction is for pupils to be able to study efficiently in the Finnish language and function in a Finnish linguistic community. Each school is responsible for assessing its pupils’ needs for instruction in Finnish as a second language. This education is not special needs education.
Instruction in one’s own native language
Instruction of immigrant children’s own native language supports their mother tongue skills and retention of these skills. All pupils, who speak a language other than Finnish as their mother tongue or at home, may study their own native language or some other language used by their family during the entire period of schooling. The lessons are complementary to basic education. Finnish children, who have learnt a foreign language abroad, may receive instruction in this language to retain their skills, if they wish. Two hours of instruction are provided each week. Lessons are not necessarily given at a pupil’s own school but at some other school after regular lessons. One group includes pupils from different schools.
Pupils exempt from general religious instruction are provided with religious instruction according to their own denomination upon the request of their parents. Some religious instruction is organised in a centralised form, which means that instruction may not be provided at the pupil’s own school. Teaching of ethics is organised for pupils who do not belong to religious communities.