Decision-makers are launching a pilot project that will expand preschool education to five-year-olds. Several municipalities across Finland are participating in the experiment, during which decision-makers hope to find the possible effects of longer pre-school education on learning outcomes and gender equality.
By the end of this month, municipalities will find out if policy makers have randomly selected them to participate in the two-year trial. The experiment is scheduled to begin in August 2021 and will involve approximately 10,000 children born in 2016 and 2017.
Mervi Eskelinen, a senior expert from the Ministry of Education and Culture, aims to find out whether earlier start of pre-school education puts children on a more equal footing when they enter the first grade.
"The sooner children with special needs receive support, the more effective it will be. If the child needs extra help, the two-year pre-school can provide support earlier," he explained.
School at the age of six?
Mia HeikkiläÅbo Akademi University’s early childhood education professor said the pilot lacked a clear focus.
"I am skeptical about the need for such a large-scale pilot, if we want to increase equality," he said, adding that the experiment could be one step towards lowering the school age from seven to six.
"It is important that the results are carefully evaluated to see if the project has achieved its objectives," he added.
According to the ministry, a separate curriculum will be created for the test group, in which the results of the exam will be evaluated in a post-study research project.
Heikkilä criticized the project too quickly, as the municipalities selected in January will have to rob to adopt a new curriculum and hire qualified staff by the fall.
Mothers to work
In addition to the pilot program, parliamentary groups do not agree on extending pre-school education to five-year-olds. Christian Democrats have said they want preschool at the age of 5 to be voluntary, while Social Democrats have said they will form an opinion when the results of the tests are published.
Extending compulsory education to five- and six-year-olds would cost local authorities € 90 million a year by 2018 research.
Andreas Elfving, The political leader of the Swedish People ‘s Party, said that efforts to help parents return to work faster are worthwhile initiatives.
"In Finland, mothers stay at home with their children for longer than in other countries, which is one of the reasons why the employment rate is lower here than elsewhere," he said.
Cecilia PaulA mother of three said that forcing parents to bring their five-year-olds to school every day adds pressure to families.
"The difference between day care and preschool is that preschool is mandatory. You have to bring the kids there at a certain time when daycare is more flexible … it’s one of the daily stresses," he explained.
There has long been a shortage of early childhood teachers in Finland, which is why Heikkilä said that he saw many challenges related to staff practice.
"There is no additional staff, there is nothing in the pilot proposal that specifies how the staffing issue will be handled," he said.
Eskelinen from the Ministry of Education, for his part, stressed that expanding the preschool does not mean that children are sitting behind the desk. However, both Heikkilä and Paul said they believe that kindergartens already provide a solid foundation for continuing preschool.
"Kids are already doing a lot in daycare … they practice writing, writing and cutting. All you have to do is ask me" said Paul.
Source: The Nordic Page