State: Parliamentary democratic system
Population: 5.5 million
Religion, largest groups: 67 % Lutherans, 1 % Orthodox, 1 % Muslims
The Catholic Church has a membership of around 14,000. The Protestant denominations, for example Pentecostalism, Baptists, Methodists, the Salvation Army and Adventists total membership remains around 1% of the population. Number of Jews is about 2,000.
Education: See the whole structure and description of Finnish educational system.
Pre-primary education is provided in schools and day care centers. It starts a year before children go to the basic education. The aim of pre-primary education is to improve children’s capacity and skills for school and learning. Participation in pre-primary education is compulsory. (Curriculum for pre-primary education, in Finnish)
Children start basic education at the age of 7. Finland has nine years of compulsory schooling run primarily by local authorities. The majority of Finnish schools are public – there are only few private schools. The government contributes to the financing of all schools. In general, Finnish schools are not based on religion or supported by the religion. However, there are a few Christian schools in Finland and there are also some other faith related schools. For children, school and educational equipment (books, pens etc.) are free of charge. (Information about the core curriculum for basic education New national core curriculum for basic education: focus on school culture and integrative approach | Finnish National Agency for Education (oph.fi))
Nine years of basic education can be continued in two major ways: either in vocational training or in general upper secondary education. Both vocational and upper secondary studies make it possible to continue one’s studies in university of in the university of applied sciences.
Legal basis of Religious Education
Since 2003 religious education in basic education and in general upper secondary education in Finland has been provided “according to one’s own religion”. According to the Basic Education Act (section 13) “the instruction of religion is arranged in conformity with the religious community of the pupils as instruction of the religion to which the pupil belongs in accordance with separate syllabi”. Those pupils who are not members of any denomination or religious group are provided instruction in Ethics (also called Worldview studies).
However, RE in Finland is non-confessional and an RE teacher does not need to be a member of any religious denomination. Before year 2003 RE was defined denominationally. The Finnish model of RE is related to the Act for Religious Freedom (2003). The previous law term established freedom from religion, but the current law is made on the basis of a positive right: freedom for religion.
In pre-primary education there is no RE mentioned in National curriculum (2014), but there is an introduction to different worldviews (religions and none) as a part of the detailed contents of the curriculum.
In the Finnish context most pupils take part in Lutheran RE. A non-Lutheran pupil can also take part in Lutheran RE, if their parents/guardians request. Also, at the request of parents/guardians, schools must also offer instruction in a non-Lutheran religion (e.g. Islam, Catholicism, etc.) if there are at least three pupils of that religion in the municipality. The religion in question must be registered as a religion in Finland, and the pupils’ family must belong to the denomination. However, some Christian minority groups are taking part in Lutheran RE lessons (in spite of the option mentioned above).
The status of the Orthodox instruction differs from other religious minorities. If there are at least three Orthodox children in a municipality then pupils’ instruction is automatically provided and parents request is not needed. All RE must have a curriculum. The teacher needs to have a qualified training for RE and they are required a university diploma (Master’s degree).
Religious education or ethics is compulsory both in basic education (7–16 years) and in general upper secondary education (16-18/19 years). In vocational education there is no instruction in RE or worldview studies. The aims of the Finnish RE in general are to familiarise the pupil with his or her own religion, Finnish spiritual tradition, other religions as well as cultural and the ethical dimensions of religion.
2. Religious Education in the School System
In Finland the curricula are made by National Agency for Education. In current curriculum of basic education (2014, 2020) there are 10 different curricula of RE. Because RE is related to one’s own religion, every RE version has its own name: Lutheran, Orthodox, Islam, Catholic, Jewish, Adventist, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Pentecostal and Krishna religion.
In basic education there are specified common tasks and key contents in RE for the grades 1–2, 3–6 and 7–9. The contents consist three orientations: the pupil´s relationship with his or her own religion; world religions; and a good life. All these – the task, objectives and contents – are common for every religion taught at school to ensure a common basis of the subject. In addition, each religion has defined corresponding issues from the perspective of the religion being taught, based on a common framework.
In general upper secondary education there are 8 different national curricula of RE: Lutheran, Orthodox, Islam, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i and Krishna religion. The curriculum (2019) contains two obligatory courses in RE. The first compulsory course deals with religion as a phenomenon and focuses on the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The second compulsory course concentrates on the details of each religion, such as history, traditions, sacred life and dogmas and a national and global position.
The two first advanced courses are almost identical in terms of goals and contents among the five religions. One deals with religions in Japan, China and India and the other with religion in Finnish society. The third advanced course is “Religions in arts and popular culture”, but the Orthodox one is called “The Arts in Orthodoxy and other Religions.” The fourth advanced course is “Religions, science and Media” and following the previous principle when naming the courses, the Orthodox one is called “Orthodoxy and Religions in Media.” At upper secondary level (Lutheran and Orthodox) RE can be part of the Student Matriculation Exam.
Current developments and challenges
The status of RE as a content in school system is quite established in Finland but on the other hand there has been vivid discussion about the model of RE. Multicultural development and amount of different religious traditions have aroused the question: would it be easier to be all together in RE (and even secular ethics), not in separate groups. Some teachers have made more cooperation among different groups and pupils have come together in RE lessons. From the point of view of denominational minorities the common subject can be a threat, if the content of the new subject is determined by majority. However, the whole new subject would demand the change of both school laws and the law of religious freedom. Recently there has been also a discussion, if secular ethics should be available to choose for all pupils and students in spite of their religious backround.