For those who are not speakers of the two largest language groups in Finland (Finnish and Swedish), deciding which school to send your child to is a fraught issue. Many expat or migrant parents are tempted, and even encouraged, to send their children to the international schools in Finland (in Espoo, Vantaa, Turku, Helsinki, and so on). This is due to the perceived ease of having their international child learning in English and having English speaking friends and teachers. There are also other schools in Finland in languages such as Russian, Spanish, French and Chinese.

What is “lukio”?

However the situation for a child studying in a language other than Finnish or Swedish can become extremely difficult when the child reaches the final stage of high school education that prepares them for university, called upper secondary in the UK and “lukio” in Finnish. This is an academic high school that prepares the child for matriculation as a high school graduate and university studies. Unfortunately, while Finland has some great English language IB courses for students of this age (upper secondary/ lukio), there are no general English language studies available. Due to the rarity of IB courses (they provide a different education system that is not the same as Finnish high schools/lukio), this means that students who only want to study at lukio in English are forced to choose IB schools only.

Finland’s educational cliff in the news

YLE news has investigated the issue earlier this year and found that there is a genuine bottleneck for English-speaking students in this situation. You can read the article here. It found that:

“In Helsinki last year, about 100 students finished their English-language schooling last year while 175 completed bilingual Finnish-English basic education, according to figures from the City of Helsinki.

But after that, there is a shortage of places for 16-year-olds in English-language education.

The problem is most acute in the capital, with the city offering 100 places in International Baccalaureate classes and 60 spots in a bilingual Finnish-English stream.” (“This will decide your entire future” — English-speaking kids hampered by Finnish education bottleneck, Ronan Browne, YLE news, 21.4.2023). The article also includes a link to the All Points North podcast “Finland’s educational cliff”.

Matriculation exam can only be in Finnish or Swedish

One of the main reasons for the bottleneck is that from the educators perspective, they are only required to provide studies in Finnish or English because: “The national curriculum requires that pupils graduating from basic education should have the abilities and the knowledge to continue into secondary education,” she explains. “We cannot provide a lukio education completely in English, because at the end, the matriculation exam is in Finnish [or Swedish].” told Satu Koistinen, a pedagogical specialist in languages and foreign language learning for the City of Helsinki, to Yle News.

For more practical information and tips on how to navigate the Finnish school system as an international, check out our online seminar on Monday 27th of November. Find out more and sign up here.