Finland’s classrooms gradually reopen again on May 14, following school closures that started last month across the country to stem the spread of novel coronavirus. The exceptional arrangements for education were extended until 13 May. While schools were closed, teaching organised in alternative ways by means of distance learning and other similar arrangements. The Government recommended that children in early childhood education and care, pre-primary education and in years 1 to 3 of comprehensive school education stay at home, if possible.
On 31 March, the Government issued a decree on the use of powers under the Emergency Powers Act (decree on continuing the use of powers under the Emergency Powers Act), and, on the basis of it, a decree on the application of the Emergency Powers Act on 6 April, which makes provision for continuing the measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. The decree entered into force on 14 April 2020.
The decision to extend the exceptional arrangements was based on an assessment made by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare on 29 March of the measures needed to contain the COVID-19 epidemic.
The aim was to slow down the spread of coronavirus infections by reducing contacts between pupils, students, teaching staff and other personnel at all levels of education.
Regarding early childhood and care, the provision of care continued. Early childhood education centers remained open, but the Government recommends that parents or other guardians arrange the care of their children at home if this is possible.
Municipalities are not obliged to organise early childhood education and care remotely.
In pre-primary education, the provision of education continued in the form of contact teaching. Municipalities are not obliged to arrange pre-primary education remotely, but they may do so if they wish.
A clarification of the decree was made so that pupils in education preparing for basic education have the right to receive contact teaching. Pupils in preparatory education are pupils in basic education who have an immigrant background. The focus in their education was on studying Finnish and Swedish, and on providing skills for pre-primary or comprehensive school education. The purpose of these changes was to give support to pupils whose parents are not always able to help their children in distance education. The change concerned about 3,000 pupils.
The decree also stipulated that pupils in grades 1 to 3, pupils receiving special support, pupils in extended compulsory education and pupils in education preparing for basic education have the right to take part in distance learning if their parents are able to keep them at home. The right to distance learning was not mentioned in the previous decree.
The Government recommended that those entitled to contact teaching take part in distance learning whenever possible.
For comprehensive school grades 4 to 10 the decrees remain unchanged. Teaching in grades 4 to 10 were arranged in the form of distance learning and exceptional teaching arrangements.
The principles governing school meals remain unchanged. School meals must be provided for pupils participating in contact teaching. For pupils attending distance learning, school meals may be arranged only to the extent that it is feasible.
However, the education provider can always, in cooperation with student welfare, identify pupils for whom a daily school meal is very important and organise a meal for them even in situations where it is necessary to restrict the provision of meals significantly in order to avoid close contacts. This way it was possible to safeguard school meals for pupils at risk of being deprived of sufficient nutrition.
Student welfare is organised to the extent that it is possible.
General upper secondary schools, vocational schools and higher education institutions
The decrees concerning general upper secondary schools, vocational schools and higher education institutions remain unchanged, with the exception of some specifications related to vocational schools.
The specifications of vocational education and training are related to assistive services and aids required for demanding special support and learning. This concerns especially students who need assistance the most. In addition, an exemption provision is no longer necessary for drawing up and updating personal competence development plans.
The provisions on liberal education and basic education in the arts will remain unchanged. Facilities remained closed and contact teaching in them was suspended.
The Emergency Powers Act and the statutes adopted by virtue of it also apply to the Åland Islands, even though the content of Åland’s legislation does not fully correspond to the content of the national laws referred to in the Emergency Powers Act and the decree on the application of the Emergency Powers Act.