Curriculum, subjects, number of hours
National core curriculum
The national core curriculum for basic education (Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2014) is formulated by the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI). It includes the objectives and core contents of different subjects, as well as the principles of pupil assessment, special needs education, pupil welfare and educational guidance. The principles of a good learning environment, working approaches as well as the concept of learning are also addressed.
EDUFI introduced the current national core curriculum for basic education in 2014 and it has been implemented in grades 1–6 since August 2016. In grades 7–9 the curriculum is implemented gradually during the years 2017–2019.
The preparation of the core curriculum was carried out in working groups that focused on the structure and objectives of the curriculum, conceptions of learning, support for learning and the different subjects taught in basic education. Each working group consisted of educational officials, researchers and teachers. The preparation process was interactive: all education providers could follow the preparation and give feedback during different phases. Pupils and their guardians were also encouraged to participate.
The education providers, usually the local education authorities and the schools themselves, draw up their own curricula within the framework of the national core curriculum. The curricula of each municipality and school steer instruction and schoolwork in more detail, taking local needs and perspectives into consideration.
In the local curriculum the objectives and contents specified in the national core curriculum, as well as other factors bearing on provision of education, are specified. The local curricula must define for example the values, underlying principles as well as general educational and teaching objectives. Further, questions such as the language programme, the lesson-hour distribution to be observed locally, cooperation between home and instruction of pupils requiring special support or belonging to different language and cultural groups must be addressed.
Syllabus of basic education
The Basic Education Act regulates the subjects included in the curriculum and student counselling. The Government decides on the overall time allocation by defining the minimum number of lessons for core subjects during basic education.
Starting from grade 7 there are more optional subjects included in the curriculum. The curriculum also includes a period of introduction to working life.
The syllabus of basic education includes the following subjects common to all pupils:
- mother tongue and literature (Finnish or Swedish)
- second national language (Swedish or Finnish)
- foreign languages
- environmental studies
- health education
- religion or ethics
- social studies
- physical education
- visual arts
- home economics
- guidance counselling
In addition, optional subjects are studied. The school or the municipality make the decisions considering the provision of these.
Distribution of lesson hours for basic education
The Government decides on the overall time allocation. The present distribution of lesson hours was confirmed by the Government in September 2018 (see table 5.2 below) and it was implemented together with the national core curriculum in 2018.
The subjects or subject groups in basic education are grouped into sections combining several grades. For each section the minimum number of lessons has been defined in terms of annual weekly lessons. There are 38 weeks in a school year, so one annual weekly lesson adds up to 38 lessons. At least 45 minutes of a 60-minute lesson should be dedicated to instruction.
For example, in mathematics the distribution of lesson hours means that there must be at least 38 x 32 lessons = 1216 lessons during the nine years of basic education. These 32 lessons are divided into three sections: at least six annual weekly lessons (= 228 lessons) must be taught during grades 1–2, 15 (= 570) during grades 3–6, and 11 (= 418) during grades 7–9. Local authorities or schools may decide on how to allocate the lessons to different grades inside a section.
Teaching methods and materials
Teachers can choose the approaches and teaching methods they apply in order to achieve the objectives stated in the curriculum. The national core curriculum includes very general guidelines for choosing the methods. According to the core curriculum the chosen approaches and methods should, for example, create a desire to learn, motivate the pupils to work purposefully and develop skills for acquiring, applying, and evaluating information.
The national core curriculum emphasises the active role of the pupil. The teacher’s role is to be the one who directs the studies and plans learning environments. The core curriculum stresses that teaching and working methods should foster the readiness to learn and the development of cognitive skills as well as the skills to acquire and adapt information. Teaching must also take into consideration the individuality of the pupils and the meaning of social interaction in learning.
Developing schools as learning communities and emphasizing the joy of learning and a collaborative atmosphere, as well as promoting student autonomy in studying and in school life – these are some of our key aims in the reform. In order to meet the challenges of the future, there will be much focus on transversal (generic) competences and work across school subjects.
In the new national core curriculum, the learning goals of the transversal competences are described as seven competence areas. The areas are
- Thinking and learning to learn
- Cultural literacy, communication and expression
- Managing daily life, taking care of oneself and others
- ICT skills
- Entrepreneurial and work life skills
- Participation and building sustainable future.
Local authorities and schools are encouraged to promote the development of these competences and to consider their own innovative ways in reaching the goals. The core curricula for subjects have been written so that their learning objectives include the competence goals which are most important for the said objectives. The competences will also be assessed as a part of subject assessment. In this way every school subject enhances the development of all seven competence areas. This is a new way of combining competence-based and subject-based teaching and learning.
In the reform, the emphasis set on collaborative classroom practices will also be brought about in multi-disciplinary, phenomenon- and project-based studies where several teachers may work with students studying the same topic. According to the new national core curriculum, all schools have to design and provide at least one such study-period per school year for all students, focused on studying phenomena or topics that are of special interest for students. Pupils and students are expected to participate in the planning process of these studies. When pupils are allowed to be active in planning of their school work, especially the multi-disciplinary study projects, studying becomes more inspiring and meaningful.
Learning materials are mostly produced by commercial publishers. EDUFI produces materials with a small circulation and for minority groups. There is no inspection of learning materials. The schools and teachers themselves decide on the material and textbooks used.
The education providers acquire all the learning materials needed. Textbooks and other materials are free for the pupils. Teachers and education providers may utilise a national website Edu.fi that is updated by EDUFI. The website contains information and support for teaching, such as online learning material.
There are no official recommendations regarding homework. The Basic Education Act, however, does specify that after the school day, travelling to and back from school and completing homework, the pupil must have enough time for rest, hobbies and recreation.