Support for learning and school

When the curriculum for basic education in Finland was changed in 2010, changes were also made to how support in learning and school attendance work. The changeover to the new curriculum was completed by August 2011. In the new curriculum the support the student receives is three-tiered: general, intensified and special support.

General support involves individualizing subjects, remedial instruction and and part-time special instruction. It can also consist of student guidance, support for student services and the use of teaching aids. A student receiving intensified support needs regular support in learning or uses several different forms of support. A student’s needs are evaluated in a pedagogic evaluation and noted in the learning plan before the intensified support is started.

A pedagogic investigation into the need for support must be performed before special support can be assigned to a student. The decision for special support governs a variety of aspects of teaching, like the primary teaching group, possible interpretation and aide services as well as which teaching subjects may need to be individualized. The special support decision may also include a decision regarding an extended compulsory education than regular students. Support is registered in the individual teaching plan, which in Finnish bureaucratese is called the HOJKS.

The three-tiered model provides flexible support for the student with special needs. The form and amount of support can be constantly re-evaluated to fulfill the student’s changing needs.

Extended compulsory education for a hearing-impaied child

The decision regarding extending compulsory education is always taken on an individual basis and children with serious disabilities will often have be placed on this track. This includes children with severe hearing loss. The decision is not, however, automatic for all children with hearing loss. Often in mild or moderate cases a student may, with the use of judiciously applied support, be able to complete compulsory education in the prescribed nine years.

An extended compulsory education aims at improving the student’s abilities, so that he or she manages to complete said education as well as possible. Extended compulsory education starts a year earlier than regular, at 6 years of age and lasts 11 years, where the regular version lasts 10 years. It’s important to remember that the extended compulsory education does not necessarily refer to the time it takes to complete the required courses. The student who has been assigned an extended compulsory education will spend 11 years in school only if he or she tarts in preschool at 6 years of age and uses the opportunity to stay in preschool for two years (as allowed by law) or repeats a grade later on.

The decision regarding an extended compulsory education is generally taken before the child starts school, i.e. at 5 years of age.Decision regarding special support are made around the same time. If the decision has not, for some reason been made or the student’s cirtcumstances change during preschool or basic education, it can be done at a later date. In such cases, the decision will not extend the time period the child spends in compulsory education, but it doesguarantee the child is placed in smaller teaching groups. If the child attends school in a general teaching group with one teacher, the maximum allowed number of student is 20.

The implementation of extended compulsory education

There are three different ways to implement an extended compulsory education.

1. The child may attend non-compulsory preschool a year earlier than others, i.e. the year he or she turns 5 years of age. In this case the child’s compulsory education starts at the age of 6 instead of 7. Then the child starts basic education at 7 years of age and it lasts for nine grades.

2. The child may start his or her extended compulsory education during the year when he or she turns 6 years of age. After one year of preschool he or she starts basic education at 7 years of age.

3. The child may start preschool the year he or she turns 6 years of age and repeat preschool the next year. This means that basic education commences a year later than prescribed, during the year when the child celebrates his or her 8th birthday. Starting compulsory education a year late requires an administrative decision.

A student whose compulsory education has been extended and who needs special support will always have a special individual plan regarding teaching drawn up.

Individualized syllabus

The syllabus for a specific teaching subject can be individualized. It means that the education objectives defined for the child match the child’s individual abilities. The objectives must still be challenging enough. The individualization of the syllabus for a specific teaching subject is registered in the decision regarding the need for special support.

Before the syllabus for any subject is individualized, support for learning at school is offered. These include individualizing the speed and scope of the subject, remedial teaching, part-time special education and the services of a teaching aide. Other forms of support include small groups, using a study program custom-made for the student and concurrent teaching provided by a special education teacher. The impact of these support measures is monitored and evaluated on a constant basis.

The educational objectives, substance and the student’s development are described in the HOJKS. The teacher or teachers responsible for the subject are responsible for the substance that goes into the individualized teaching plan.

Evaluating a student who needs support

Learning disabilities have to be taken into account in the student evaluation. This applies to students whose difficulties are mild and do not need special support. Evaluation should take place using methods that allow the student to demonstrate his or her skills as well as possible. Feedback from the evaluation allows the student to identify his or her own developmental needs.

Sources in Finnish:

Opetusneuvos Pirjo Koivula, Opetushallitus: Oppimisen ja koulukäynnin tukea koskeva lainsäädäntö käytännössä. Esitys Satakieliohjelman Satakieliseminaarissa 27.9.2013.

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