Elementary and Secondary Schools

Basic (or comprehensive) education in Finland is mandatory for nine years, beginning in the year of the child’s seventh birthday.

Finnish National Board of Education: Finnish Education System

The Matriculation Examination Board: The Matriculation Examination

Basic Education

Free compulsory education is provided for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Kindergarten is not part of the school system proper. There are neighborhood day care centers (päiväkoti) for one- to six-year-olds, mostly financed by the municipalities. Mandatory pre-school education (esikoulu) is offered for all six-year-olds either at day care centers or in pre-school classes operating in connection with comprehensive schools.

Basic (or comprehensive) education in Finland is mandatory for nine years, beginning in the year of the child’s seventh birthday. Students may also take an additional year of basic education following the nine mandatory years. In addition to being free of charge, basic education also includes a free meal every day, access to school health care and guidance services, and all necessary textbooks and school supplies.

The core subjects taught to all students in basic education are the mother tongue and literature, the other official language, one foreign language, environmental studies, health education, religion or ethics, history, social studies, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, physical education, music, art and crafts, and home economics. Basic education aims to support students’ growth toward responsible membership in society and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary for academic and personal development later in life.

The new Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (2016) emphasizes the importance of understanding entities rather than concentrating on details, encouraging schools to provide cross-disciplinary education. Schools may decide to, for example, teach multiple subjects together in an area where they overlap.

The comprehensive school (peruskoulu) curriculum is divided into a lower stage (alakoulu) of six years with instruction by class teachers, and an upper stage (yläkoulu) of three years with instruction by subject teachers. Upon completing the nine-year comprehensive school, a student may choose to 1) continue to senior high school (lukio), 2) go to a vocational school (ammattioppilaitos), or 3) start working.

Grades and Descriptions
10 Excellent
9 Very Good
8 Good
7 Average
6 Fair
5 Poor
4 Fail


General Upper Secondary Education

General Upper Secondary Education is designed to prepare students for studies at the university level. At the general upper secondary level students receive a more advanced general education in the same main subjects covered in comprehensive school. The syllabus often includes elective or partially elective subjects of specialization and some vocational education to prepare students for future studies. Students also receive academic counseling at this level.

General upper secondary education concludes with passing the nationally graded matriculation examination. General upper secondary qualification and matriculation examination give general eligibility for university of applied sciences and university studies. The table above shows the grading system used in Finnish general upper secondary schools.

Matriculation Examination

The purpose of the matriculation examination is to discover whether students have attained the knowledge and skills required by the curriculum for the upper secondary school and whether they have reached an adequate level of maturity in line with that school’s goals. Passing the Matriculation Examination makes a candidate eligible for continuing his or her studies at university. The examination is arranged in upper secondary schools.

Grades and Recipients
L Laudatur 5%
E Eximia cum laude approbatur 15%
M Magna cum laude approbatur 20%
C Cum laude approbatur 24%
B Lubenter approbatur 20%
A Approbatur 11%
I Improbatur 5%

The matriculation examination in Finland has a high prestige, and is considered an important rite of passage. Matriculation allows students to wear the white student cap, an important piece of academic regalia in Finnish culture. The Matriculation Examination is graded using the Latin grading system described in the table below. Note that there is a fixed percentage of students who receive each of these grades, so that 5% receive a grade of Laudatur, 15% Eximia cum laude approbatur, and so on.

While the general upper secondary school, or high school (lukio), is designed to prepare students for future studies at the university level, vocational schools (ammattikoulu) provide their students with skills and knowledge in specific fields of work. The Finnish word ammattikoulu literally translates to “profession school”.