Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Finnish Education for Foreign Parental Dummies - Lesson 5 - Finnish or International School?

Follow our adventures in Finnish education with my earlier posts:
For Lesson 1 on starting to understand Finnish Primary Education please follow this link
Lesson 2 on Esikoulu (kindergarten) here.
Lesson 3 on Applying for Primary School with a Special Needs Child here.
Lesson 4 on Starting Primary 1 at a Finnish school here.


My third child is starting school next year and, of course, we're struggling with a whole new set of dilemmas over her education. Brexit originally was throwing a big spanner in the works as it looked like we might have to leave the country and would have to reintergrate her into a new system that she would have been far behind in, but that problem has been solved now so the question is:

a Finnish school or an International school?

With Mouse it was an easy choice, he didn't speak Finnish and was very scared of going to a school where he wouldn't understand anything, so we found him an English-language school we were happy with and that was that. 

With Foo we had no choice really. He would only receive proper assistance for his special needs at a Finnish school. Mouse's school agreed they couldn't support him and there was only one local one that was doing a small special needs first grade class that year. Job done, once I figured all that out. 

With Bump we have choices. Too many choices. Over the Christmas holiday we were sent a letter saying she had a place in the local school. None of our children attend there, it is an unknown entity to us, but my experience with Finnish school suggests it will probably be a good school. This is the easy option.

But since none of the other kids attend there, it would mean a 3rd or 4th school on my school run, depending on the time of day. This almost automatically ruled it out for me. But Bump would probably know a few of the other kids in her class as some of her nursery friends who live locally would go there. That is a big plus as we struggle socially here. I think it is also much bigger than Foo's school or at least the building when full of kids feels that way. Mouse's school is quite big but the international classes run quite small, so it has a more personal feel.

I have since discovered that one of the reasons Bump's local school seems so big is that it is a peruskoulu, a comprehensive school, and it covers years 1-9, primary and secondary, rather than an ala-aste which is a primary school and is only years 1-6. The boys' schools are both ala-aste, so have 3 less years and the older kids aren't quite so big. Yläaste is a secondary school. So the boys will have to move schools after 6th grade. 

Our second choice is Foo's school. It's small, we know the system, some of the teachers. None of her nursery friends would be there and she'll only know Foo. She will also stand out a bit as there are few foreign children at the school. She will learn to read and write in Finnish, but like Foo she will struggle to learn to do so in English with only one class a week outside the school. She will continue to excel in speaking Finnish and will more easily integrate in our life here like Foo. 

Final choice is Mouse's international school which we now have 4 years of experience with. She will again only know her brother and like him could struggle to make friends outside of school. Foo has local friends who attend his school and often come over after school and at the weekends to play. All of Mouse's classmates live relatively far from us, so we rarely see them unless we organise something. She will learn to read and write in Finnish and English from the beginning. She will be exposed to many nationalities and languages, she will not stand out as the foreigner, but her Finnish will not continue to be as strong as she won't be using it for 4 or more hours a day. 

Again it's the fear of making the wrong decision. We see now that we should have left Mouse in his Finnish nursery so that he would be able to speak the language even if he stayed in his English language school. He is struggling to learn it because he never uses it outside of class. Three years of the language through nursery would have been a good foundation. But we had no idea we'd stay in the country for more than 6 years. Hindsight, it's a kicker.

We know we're planning to stay in Finland for at least a handful of years yet so would it be better to build a good Finnish foundation or do we keep it in mind that we will probably not stay here forever and plan for a broader English speaking future? 

Even Bump can't decide. We need to come to some decision by the end of the month, but I'll need to be organised before that as there's paperwork to sort for changing from your local school. Clock is ticking and I'm still juggling the pros and cons. 

I'll keep you informed.

Edited to add: 25.1 - I've submitted the application and gone with the local school. In the end, I had to admit that we put the boys in schools that best suited their needs at the time and this was the best school for her at the moment. A chance to build local friendships is important with our situation, so I'm just going have to learn to juggle more. We'll figure it out as we go along. 


Edited again: 1.4 - She's been accepted to the local school. I'm still waiting to hear if she's been accepted to the local park's after school club. We had her last assessment meeting with her nursery yesterday. She had a test on her Finnish in January and they are happy with the results and feel she will do well in the Finnish school. A handful of her nursery friends will be attending the same school so they will recommend that they all go into the same class (there will be 2 first grade classes starting next year). So we're over the moon and Bump is very excited to begin school next autumn. 

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