Woman and a child.

Pre-primary education available with a text message throughout Helsinki – no application needed

Helsinki aims to be a city that anticipates the service needs of local residents and businesses and provides services at all times without binding them to specific schedules or service points. As a step towards this goal, Helsinki has now been offering parents of preschool-age children throughout the city pre-primary education places in suitable day care centres directly via a text message, without the need to submit a separate application. The idea behind the proactive preschool admission scheme is that the City suggests a preschool for each child, eliminating the need for parents to fill in any forms at all.

“Helsinki wants to be the most functional city in the world, so it must also ensure that its residents can live the most functional daily lives in the world. By anticipating service needs and automating the relevant processes, we can provide local residents with exactly that, and also save both time and money,” Mayor Jan Vapaavuori says enthusiastically.

The proactive application scheme for pre-primary education was piloted in early 2020 in the Kulosaari-Herttoniemi-Laajasalo and Kaarela-Pohjonen areas. At the time, pre-primary education places in nearby day care centres were offered by text message to more than 1,000 parents and guardians of preschool-age children. The trial was a resounding success, as more than four out of five text message recipients accepted the places being offered. The rest of the families decided to agree upon pre-primary education by submitting an application or wanted to make a change to the City’s offer. In the context of deploying the City’s digital services, a traditional service alternative will always be offered alongside the suggestions.

At the beginning of 2021, the proactive application service for pre-primary education expanded to cover all of Helsinki, which means that the service can now be used anywhere within city limits. In January 2021, a total of 5,591 families received text messages suggesting pre-primary education places for their children. The text message arrangement was found to be extremely efficient, as the response rate was as high as 93% of the families and nine out of ten families accepted the offer outright.

“In the future, Helsinki aims to offer an increasing number of its services proactively and automatically, or at least to make personalised service suggestions. The proactive operating model should be utilised especially in the context of statutory services to which local residents are entitled. The City must also have the necessary personal data and permission to use it for the purpose of providing the services.  Proactiveness and personalised services save time and money for everyone,” Helsinki’s Chief Digital Officer Mikko Rusama says.

Services without filling in forms and calling service points

The aim of the City’s efforts to implement digital services is to facilitate the day-to-day lives of local residents. By offering pre-primary education places via a text message, the City makes life and work easier for the parents of preschool-age children and day care centre directors. This mostly eliminates the need to fill in forms, make calls to pre-primary education providers and process applications. Admission are now confirmed in minutes, where before it could take weeks for the papers to be processed and a response to be sent. The traditional text message, which serves as the user interface for the service, has also been designed to be as simple and easy to use as possible and require no separate app.

Despite the automated system, parents and guardians are not required to accept the pre-primary education offers. The official decisions were sent at the same time to those who accepted the offer and those who took part in the application process.

The measures to anticipate service needs will expand to cover early childhood education

Over the course of 2021, the goal is to expand the proactive service offering to cover early childhood education. In the future, the new operating model can also be used for other City services that require separate application or registration. This is how the new digital Helsinki functions.

The scheme to offer pre-primary education places proactively is part of the City of Helsinki’s digitalisation programme. The technical implementation of  the proactive text message solution was provided by BookIT Finland Oy.

More information about the City’s new digital services: https://digi.hel.fi/english/

News article photo: Jussi Hellsten