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Education services and the coronavirus

Current issues
Schools, educational institutions, early childhood education and care and organisations participating in international projects should take active measures to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The Finnish National Agency for Education does not provide instructions for matters related to health care as this is the responsibility of the Finnish institute of health and welfare and other public health authorities. Health authorities are also the ones to decide on prevention measures such as the possible closing of day care centres, schools and institutions or isolating or placing pupils or staff in quarantine.
Kina

Prevention is crucial

During an epidemic it is essential to focus on preventing infections and the spreading of the virus. It is therefore vital to make sure that the instructions issued by the health authorities are followed also in education and early childhood education and care, and the instructions are discussed with staff, children and youth. This way we can slow down the spread of the epidemic and protect the vulnerable parts of the population.

Always contact the healthcare authorities by phone if you suspect an infection. The best way to get up-to-date information is to follow the health authority's website (link to Finnish institute for health and welfare below).

The Finnish National Agency for Education has opened an email address info@oph.fi for advice on the coronavirus and education services. The service is meant for education providers, schools and organisations taking part in international programmes, and it operates during office hours (8.00-16.00). In questions related to health, contact healthcare professionals and visit the website of the Finnish institute for health and welfare.

Absences of students and staff

It is recommended that all pupils and students returning from a trip abroad stay at home for two weeks after their return. Being absent and returning to kindergarten or school should be agreed upon with the principal or teacher, who take a decision on the matter.

The situation with the coronavirus may also lead to some parents seeking a leave of absence for a child who has not been abroad, who is not ill or has been quarantined. Being absent requires a permission and this can only be given for specific reason.  In considering the request the teacher may seek the advice of healthcare professionals.

Teachers give pupils assignments for the duration of the absence. Remedial instruction can be provided later to answer any needs for support caused by the absence.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Education and Culture recommend that staff in early childhood education and care institutions, schools and universities have a low threshold for staying at home, in case they have returned from a trip or experience flu symptoms.

Read more about the effects of the virus on public services on the website of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Prepare to adopt flexible forms of operation

Normal schoolwork and the activities in early childhood education and care or vocational education and training may have to be organised in a different way from normal, possibly for a longer period of time. The starting point in the arrangements is to aim at deviating from normal operation as little as possible. The Finnish National Agency for Education urges organisations to plan the operating methods, for example, for the following situations in advance:

  • A large number of pupils or teachers are absent.
  • A pupil or a member of staff falls ill during the school day.
  • Teaching must be organised for a pupil who is quarantined or isolated.
  • Whole schools or kindergartens are closed

In practice, the measures that may need to be taken include changes to the places or methods of instruction, combining of teaching groups, changes to working hours and preparations made for arranging remedial teaching for pupils who have fallen behind. If necessary, the annual plan for the school is changed and decisions are made on pupil-specific special arrangements (Basic education act, section 18), such as remote teaching in basic education. For example, if a pupil in pre-primary or basic education is admitted to hospital or otherwise to specialised medical care, the municipality in which the hospital providing the care is located is obliged to arrange teaching to the pupil to the extent the pupil’s health allows it (Basic education act, section 4a).

In general upper secondary education and vocational education and training, students’ independent work can be increased in addition to the above-mentioned changes. Furthermore, contact between the educational institution and the workplaces should be ensured in vocational education and training and preparations for possible exceptional circumstances should be considered in advance. Workplaces should be informed of the operating practices of the educational institution and the ways of communicating information in problem situations should be agreed on.

In basic education, the lost school days must be replaced by the addition of a maximum of six days (Basic education act, section 23) if, for a compelling reason, it has not been possible to arrange teaching on the statutory school days and the curricular objectives cannot be otherwise achieved. Increasing the number of school days can therefore be considered as the last resort if measures such as enhancing the teaching and the provision of remedial teaching are not sufficient. The education provider decides on the addition of school days and their placement.

The Finnish National Agency for Education recommends, that schools and educational institutions prepare for unexpected situations so that at the end of the day staff take with them any equipment they may need to work form home. Also pupils and students may be advised to carry home materials they need to study at a distance or work independently.

Organizing camp schools or other school trips

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs at the moment recommends avoiding all travel abroad. It no longer updates travel advice separately for different countries because of the coronavirus. The Finnish institute for health and welfare is no longer classifying specific regions as epidemic regions. The Finnish National Agency for Education does not provide any extra instructions concerning travel abroad in addition to those provided by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Finnish institute for health and welfare.

Travel related to camp schools, class trips and other tuition outside the schools is decided on by education providers. It should be kept in mind that education providers have a responsibility for the safety of the learning environment. This responsibility also extends to activities and trips outside the schools.

Celebrations and social gatherings

Regional State Administrative Agencies issued an order on 13.3.2020 banning public gatherings of more than 500 persons throughout continental Finland. Although this does not directly apply to schools, the Finnish National Agency for Education recommends that the same principle is followed in schools if possible.

The Finnish National Agency for Education recommends that kindergartens, schools and education institutions plan their activities so that large common gatherings or other situations, where a larger number of people get together, are avoided.

This can be achieved for example by staggering school meals and breaks so that the number of people staying in the same space or area is smaller. End of year celebrations can be organized in different compositions so that for example different year classes celebrate at different times.

Cooperation with the other authorities and with pupils and their guardians is important in preparedness

It is a good idea to cooperate with the local health authorities, including school and student health care, in the planning of preparedness and operating practices related to preparedness. Cooperation also includes general observation of the state of health of pupils, students and staff and notifying health care, if necessary. Compliance with the possible orders given by the healthcare authorities regarding quarantine or isolation must also be monitored and health care must be informed if a pupil who has been ordered to quarantine comes to school. Student welfare services such as psychosocial support should be offered to pupils and students as required regardless of their place of study.

In addition to agreeing on the measures required in exceptional circumstances, it is a good idea to be prepared to discuss the situation with pupils and students as well as with children in early childhood education and care, taking into account their developmental level. In addition, all staff should be familiarised with the operating practices and guardians should be informed about the operating methods. Pupils, students and their guardians should also be told who they can contact locally in questions related to school attendance, early childhood education and care, and student welfare.

Instructions regarding Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes

The epidemic affects Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps mobilities and projects as public services, schools and higher education institutions in many countries have been closed because of the epidemic. Many countries have also limited travelling to or from abroad.

Read more about the impact of the coronavirus on Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes

Instructions for individuals whose participation in an international mobility programme is financed with a grant

If you have any questions about how to deal with issues arising from the coronavirus with regard to your grant, please contact the Internationalisation services for higher education studies unit:
•    EDUFI traineeship, Public official exchange and Finnish language and culture: kv-hakulomake(at)oph.fi
•    EDUFI Fellowship, EDUFI Winter School and The Finnish Government Scholarship Pool grant: Paivi Jokinen firstname.lastname(at)oph.fi

Events organized by the Finnish National Agency for Education

In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Finnish National Agency for Education cancels all events of over 500 participants planned until the end of May. In addition, some events planned for June are either cancelled or postponed.