For children under school age, toddler pedagogy is offered in municipal day care centers aimed at children between one and six years. By toddler pedagogy does not mean daycare that is similar to school, but care that is educationally planned and that includes music, play, crafts and excursions. However, toddler pedagogy is voluntary and fee-based. For private day care, the National Pensions Institution can grant support provided that the producer has the municipality’s approval.
Primary school education in Finland caters for pupils aged 7 to 12. Swedish-speaking primary schools (lågstadieskola) tend, not surprisingly, to be concentrated in those parts of the country where Swedish-speakers form a large minority or a majority of the local population. Swedish is studied as a mother tongue in these schools, and teachers who have a language other than Swedish as their mother tongue must pass a language test in order to work there.
Students who come from bilingual homes often have Swedish as their primary language in education, as it is often thought wise to ensure that the Swedish language, which after all is not spoken as widely in Finland as Finnish, is learnt formally. All Swedish-speaking students take compulsory Finnish courses. Only in Åland is Finnish a voluntary subject.
Secondary education in Finland is divided into lower and upper parts. For the last three years of compulsory basic education, grades 7 to 9, students attend lower-secondary schools (högstadieskola). There were 247 Swedish-language primary and lower-secondary schools in this country in 2017, providing 34,000 pupils with nine years of basic compulsory education. Instruction material in Swedish is produced by Swedish-language publishers in Finland or imported from Sweden.
Upper-secondary education takes place either at upper secondary schools (gymnasiet) or vocational institutes (yrkesskola). These build on the knowledge imparted in lower-secondary schools. This level of education is not compulsory, and students are allowed to abandon their studies at this point.
Upper-secondary education normally takes three years, between the ages of 16 and 19. Students may pass at their own pace through the gymnasium in anything from 2–4 years. At the end of their period here, students take their general education certificate examination (also known as the matriculation exam), or studentexamen.
On passing this examination they are allowed to wear the traditional white student cap, which is ubiquitous in Finland on the first of May. There are 35 (2019) Swedish-language gymnasier in Finland with 6 732 pupils (2015 figures), as well as 28 (2019) yrkesskolor and one specialyrkesskola which provides vocational education for children with special needs.
Higher education in Finland is given at both universities and polytechnic-type institutions (yrkeshögskola). The major Swedish-language university is Åbo Akademi. Other universities are often either bilingual or have Swedish-language groups. Academic degrees may be taken in Swedish at Åbo Akademi in Åbo, Vasa and Jakobstad, at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration (Hanken) and the Swedish School of Social Work and Local Adminstration, part of the University of Helsinki. The important Swedish-language polytechnic is Arcada.
Mercator has noted that Åbo Akademi University has a “special task” in taking care of the needs of education and research among and for the Finland Swedes. For example, it conducts demographical research into the Swedish-speaking population in Finland.
Yrkeshögskola programmes include less academia-orientated subjects such as technical and vocational training, health care, arts, youth work, business and hotel and restaurant management. All Swedish-language vocational schools teach Swedish as a subject.
Concerning Swedish-language institutions there are five music schools, two sports education centres and one summer university in Finland.
Adult education is provided at special centres providing a large number of different courses, many of which teach leisure-time interests such as art education or language courses. Most towns in Finland have some kind of adult-education centre or medborgarinstitut (kansalaisopisto in Finnish), of which a total of fifteen are Swedish-language.
Of special interest for Swedish-speaking Finns are the folkhögsskolor (or ‘folk higher-education colleges’) where young people usually study for a year or two in order to get a deeper understanding of a special interest field such as tourism, photography or music. There are twelve such schools in Finland.