Music Education in Finland

I. Political Framework. 2

II. School System and Structure. 3

III. Music Education in Schools. 8

IV. Music Curricula. 9

V. Critical Comment and Future Development 14

I. Political Framework

Finland is a representative democracy with a semi-presidential parliamentary. According to the constitution, the president is the head of state and responsible for foreign policy (which excludes affairs related to European Union) in cooperation with the cabinet.

The state organisation is divided into six administrative provinces (“lääni”), though they have little significance. Police, prosecutors, and other state services operate under the administration of the province, which is again divided to administratively insignificant districts. After 1997 reforms the provinces have been Southern Finland, Western Finland, Eastern Finland, Oulu, Lapland, Åland. The province of Åland Islands is autonomous. As of 2008, there were 415 municipalities and most were under 5000 residents.

II. School System and Structure

The Ministry of Education is the highest education authority in Finland, supervising publicly subsidised education and training provision, from primary and secondary general education and vocational training to polytechnic, university and adult education.

The Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education are responsible for implementing education policy and for administering the education system at the central government level. However, many matters are decided by the education and training providers themselves, that is, local authorities and their consortia. Pre-primary and basic education and upper secondary general and vocational education are governed by objectives set in legislation and by national core curricula. General education and vocational training are co-financed by the government and the local authorities.

Even though many or most schools were started as private schools, today only around 3% learners are enrolled in private schools, which could be compared to 8% in Sweden. Pre-school education is rare compared to other EU countries. Formal education is usually started at the age of 7. Primary school takes normally six years, the lower secondary school three years, and most schools are managed by municipal officials. The flexible curriculum is set by the Ministry of Education and the Education Board. Attendance is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 16. After lower secondary school, learners apply to further studies. Trade schools provide for vocational training, though they can be used to enter tertiary education as well. Academically-oriented gymnasiums prepare for “Abitur” and further tertiary education.

In 1992, the government passed the Act on Basic Arts Education: to ensure an opportunity for goal-oriented progressive teaching in all fields of the arts and subsequently in 1995 the National Board of Education approved curriculum based guidelines for teacher implementation of the above.

Learner assessment is divided into assessment during course of studies and final assessment. The final-assessment criteria define the level of knowledge and skill needed for a grade of eight (8). The learner has acquired the knowledge and skills required in basic education adequately, earning a grade of five (5), if he or she is able to demonstrate to some degree the performance level required by the criteria.

III. Music Education in Schools

Within the school system, about 43,000 children and adolescents are involved in basic arts education (the “general arts curriculum”) in the field of music. Contemporary school music can justly be described as multi-valued; learners are introduced to as wide a variety as possible. The aims defined for the comprehensive school emphasise fostering positive attitudes, raising an interest, learning to listen, training of skills, and interacting by means of music. One of the central cross-curricular subjects, both in the comprehensive and upper secondary school, is education for international understanding.

Finland’s national heritage is the thread running through the entire curriculum from the comprehensive to the upper secondary school. Cultural identity as expressed through folk arts (dance, music, crafts) is an extremely important part of Finn’s lives and powers their drive to excellent music and arts education. Folk music enjoys wide popularity and continues to evolve with each generation.

Funding for music education activities can be roughly divided between the government (44%), local authorities (40%) and private funding (16% in the form of student fees, etc.).

IV. Music Curricula

As regards the curriculum in music, the keyword now is variety. Music classes used to be called “singing lessons”, but this term was officially dropped, and, alongside vocal music, increased importance is now placed on instrumental music, listening to musical performance, physical expression and various forms of creative work.

The number of weekly hours depends on the school. The minimum in grades 1-6 is a total of 6 week-hours, i.e. 1 hour per week per year. Schools are free to decide on the number of weekly hours in any subject, within certain limits. Music classes, which start at grade 3, usually provide 4 hours per week of music teaching. Grades 7 to 9 usually only have 1 week-hour of compulsory music teaching, mostly given in the seventh grade, after which music becomes an elective subject.

In the first four grades, development of the learner’s musical expression through playful and integrating activity is central. The instruction has to give the learners experiences with a variety of sound worlds and music, and encourage them to express themselves and give real form to their own ideas.

In music instruction in the fifth through ninth grades, the musical world and musical experiences are analysed and the learners learn to use musical concepts and notation in conjunction with listening and playing music. The final-assessment criteria for a grade of 8 are:

The learner will

·       participate in group singing and know how to sing, following a melody line and with the correct rhythm;

·       master, as individuals, the basic technique of some rhythm, melody, or harmony instrument so as to be able to play in an ensemble;

·       know how to listen to music and make observations about it, and present justified opinions about what they have heard;

·       know how to listen to both their own music and music produced by others, so as to be able to make music together with others;

·       recognise, and know how to distinguish between, different genres of music and music of different eras and cultures;

·       know the most important Finnish music and musical life;

·       know how to use musical concepts in conjunction with making and listening to music;

·       know how to use the elements of music as building materials in the development and realization of their musical ideas and thoughts.

After comprehensive school, learners may go on to a music-oriented upper secondary school. There are 11 of these in Finland, one of them Swedish-speaking, with a total of 2,100 learners. Some music-oriented upper secondary schools may offer other programmes such as visual arts. Also, ordinary upper secondary schools may give emphasis to music. The national curriculum allows up to five courses in music, and even more can be provided in exceptional cases. In upper secondary school, at least one 38-hour course in music is given to all learners, after which learners may choose to continue to study music or drop out.

V. Critical Comment and Future Development

The Ministry of Education has granted municipalities and private education providers special state subsidies totalling EUR 118.8 million for developing teaching, support measures and guidance counselling for learners in particular need of support. These measures will be targeted, among others, at developing the teaching and teaching methods for pre-school aged children through to year nine. The focal point in the teaching of children who need special support will shift to providing the child with support at a very early stage before the needs escalate.