[Finland, Japan] Key elements of Finnish ECEC in Japanese ECEC --Sameness and difference in ECEC beyond culture - Projects



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[Finland, Japan] Key elements of Finnish ECEC in Japanese ECEC --Sameness and difference in ECEC beyond culture


Let's begin with the memories of a Finnish girl who spent time in a Japanese daycare center.

I was 4 years old when my family moved to Japan, Kyoto. I have very good and warm memories of hoikuen (daycare center). I always felt safe and secure, because the teachers and nurses were so friendly and nice and they treated me. I remember how the fellow children in hoikuen were also so nice.

Playing, exploring, sports and artistic expression were daily practices, including dividing us into small groups for different activities. For me, it is really difficult to see so many differences between Japanese hoikuen pedagogy in the year of Showa 53 and Finnish Early Childhood Education pedagogy 2016, because I see and remember my childhood in Japan through the Finnish ECEC pedagogy. And I see how the key elements of Finnish ECEC were present: children's participation and characteristic ways of acting: playing, exploring, sports and artistic expression. I flip the pages of the album that I got from the hoikuen and the memories come back to me: I can see photos of how we played different instruments. We performed nice plays in happyokai (Children were dancing, singing and playing some instruments on the stage, I was a rabbit). I see photos from undokai (sports festival) and I remember the joy of good spirits and trying our best. We took field trips to pick seasonal harvests: sometimes onions and sometimes strawberries. How exciting it was; to see the wonders of nature and feel the sweetness of fresh strawberries. We swam in the pool (puuru asobi) and I remember how we basked in the sun afterwards to get dry. We were allowed to play with mud and feel the joy of exploring the mud. We did mochi tsuki (rice pounding) and learn the cultural aspects also during Children's Day and mamemaki (soy bean throwing to drive out the evil). The big red fire fighters truck visited our hoikuen. We visited schools and sang the song "ichinen sei ni nattara, tomodachi hyaku nin dekirukana"(I wish I could make a hundred friends when I start first grade at elementary school).


For me, in my memories, the most important similarity is the aim of pedagogy: children's well-being and learning through children's natural characteristic ways. Also I can remember the joy of learning and how the teachers were always there for us to listen what we had in mind. Of course these are only my memories, but my memories are good and I feel thankful for the time in Japanese hoikuen. I believe one reason that I am a kindergarten teacher in Finland is my good memories from hoikuen and my faith in childhood pedagogy. I know (personally) how children can learn, even many languages. In three months I learned the Japanese language. I can remember the moment when I realized that word hoshi means star. We were painting black color and clipping and gluing silver paper stars on it. A star, hoshi! I was so excited and thrilled and happy!

(Anne Valpas)

Finland is well known for its rich nature with forests and lakes. A difficult natural environment has contributed to their wisdom regarding the way of life which applies to child rearing. A healthy and happy child is the main goal of Finnish ECEC and children are allowed to be children and grow up unhurried at their own natural pace (Hujala et al. 2016).

This article will introduce about current trend of Finnish ECEC service and its core ideal. Then we will return to the memory of the Finnish girl once again and rethink the meaning what we can know and learn from a different culture.

Current Finnish ECEC and Educational Reform

The roots of the Finnish ECEC system are embedded in and related to the development of Finnish society such as social policy, family policy and recently educational policy and should be understood as part of the welfare society (Hujala et al. 1998). They have integrated center-based ECEC which is called päiväkoti for the entire ECEC age group (from age 0-6). They receive children from birth up to the beginning of primary school. There is no division between the kindergarten and daycare center systems such as in Japan.

Päiväkoti has been implemented under the social service sector in each municipality based on the Act on Children's Daycare (1973) for a long time. In 2004, they formulated the National Curriculum Guidelines on ECEC. Since the beginning of 2007, municipalities have been able to choose the administrative agency under which they organize their early childhood education service. Since 2013, ECEC has been regulated by the Ministry of Education and Culture. A revised Act on Early Childhood Education and Care that replaced the Act on Children's Daycare was adopted in spring 2015. Based on the new legislation, the Finnish National Board of Education became the national expert agency for ECEC in August 2015 and started the preparation of a National Core Curriculum for ECEC.

These legislative changes reconfirm children's subjective rights and consider ECEC as pedagogical and educational service (Hujala et al. 1998). Pre-primary education participation for all children aged six years of age became compulsory in August 2015 (children start basic education in Finland in the year in which they turn seven). The new National Core Curriculum for Pre-primary Education (2014) will be implemented as from 2016.

New National Core Curriculum

In the recent curriculum reform 2016, early childhood education and care, pre-primary and basic (primary and lower secondary) education are integrated and progress consistently according to child development.

The objectives for learning are described as six areas of competence, which are closely interconnected (Figure 1, Halinen et al. 2015, Finnish National Board of Education 2014). The overall objective of ECEC, following the lifelong learning path of Finnish education in general, is to support children's growth as human beings and to enhance such competences, which are required for members in a democratic society, and to support the ideals of sustainability (Halinen, Harmanen & Mattila 2015).

FIGURE1 Six areas of competence in Finnish ECEC
Source: Halinen et al. 2015, Finnish National Board of Education 2014

These learning concepts in the new curriculum are not new; many of the ideas being stressed are ones that many teachers have used on a daily basis so far. They reconfirm children as active agents and learning through holistic experience such as connecting various phenomena.

The Finnish ECEC is based on an integrated approach to care, education and teaching, the so-called "educare" model (National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health 2003). The key element of play and learning through play is essential.

In Finland enhancing learning-to-learn skills are at the heart of ECEC pedagogy and didactics.

Instead of strict learning goals, Finnish ECEC aims to promote age and developmentally appropriate growth, health, and wellbeing of children, and to support the prerequisites for lifelong learning in rapidly changing society (National Core Curriculum for ECEC, 2016).

Finnish education path aims to gradually support children's positive self-image by encouraging children to recognize and appreciate the different features of their personality: their uniqueness, strengths and development potential (Halinen, Harmanen & Mattila 2015). This is in line with early educational ideals in other Nordic countries, with an emphasis on the evolving social competence and self-concept (Einarsdottir, Puroila, Johansson, Broström & Emilson 2015).

The question guiding the pedagogy is not WHAT, but HOW. Instead of asking what children should learn, the focus in Finnish ECEC on how children are learning. While acquiring new knowledge and skills, the essential concept is how they learn and could use this knowledge to promote and regulate their own leaning in the faced situation (OECD, 2016). Trust, communication, knowledge and material resources are the fundamental prerequisites for children's participation focus. Empowerment of children is the concern and the aim of children's participation (Turja 2016).

We could understand the journey of Finnish ECEC as a paradigm shift from social services which are based on an adult point of view to pedagogical and educational services which put more emphasis on children's viewpoint. The movement with curriculum reform reconfirms that children are active agents in lifelong learning and the period of early childhood is essential for growth as human being and a member of the society. However, despite legislative changes and some shifts in parental perceptions, the educational function of early childhood services has not yet become an established part of how citizens perceive the sector (Karila 2008).

Sameness and Difference

We saw an overview of trends in the Finnish ECEC system. We could become aware of the considerable difference between Finnish ECEC and Japanese ECEC in the sense of history, cultural background, social systems and how the government provides public funds for ECEC (The government spent 12.6% of the annual government budget on education compared to 9.1% in Japan, which is low among OECD member countries (OECD 2014)). Child care fees in all day care programs cover an average of 14% of the actual costs; the rest is funded by taxes, while Japanese parents cover about 40% of the actual costs in daycare centers (each expense is calculated for the parental income and children's age) and 50% in kindergarten; the rest is funded by the government, municipality and local authority (Cabinet Office 2016, OECD 2015). Moreover, Finnish educare programs are mainly organized by municipalities (92%) (Japanese public kindergartens; 37%, public daycare centers; 36%, public centers for early childhood education and care (unification of the kindergarten and daycare center systems)16%). The adult-child ratio is quite low compared with the Japanese ratio (age 3-5, adult-child ratio is 8-1 in Finland). One group (7-8 children) is provided small rooms with proper care given to colors and sounds so that children can concentrate on playing.

These are the ways in which Finnish ECEC has long sought to listen to children. Children are listened to not only directly by teacher but also considered in the spatiotemporal environment, which is made possible by the support of the government through taxes. This is one noticeable difference between Finnish and Japanese ECEC.

However, interestingly, according to the memories of one Finnish girl, she couldn't sense any major difference between Japanese ECEC and Finnish ECEC from her perspective. The Japanese hoikuen had well-equipped environment and materials for play; she could play with friends in a small group, and whenever she had a problem, the teacher was always there. The warm memories cover her handmade album.

We could see similarities in the way of thinking about how to support children's subjective growth in new national curriculum in Finland. To listen to children thoughtfully and reflect on our stance as one human who stands by children, a common language may well appear to us who live in a different culture.

  • Cabinet Office (2016) Comprehensive Support System for Children and Child-rearing (2016.4) http://www8.cao.go.jp/shoushi/shinseido/
  • OECD (2012) Japan-country note -Education at a Glance 2012: OECD indicator http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG2012%20-%20Country%20note%20-%20Japan%20(JPN).pdf
  • OECD (2014) Japan-country note -Education at a Glance 2014: OECD indicator http://www.oecd.org/edu/Japan-EAG2014-Country-Note-japanese.pdf
  • OECD (2015) Starting Strong IV: Monitoring Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264233515-en.

  • Einarsdottir, J., Purola, A-M., Johansson, E.M., Broström, S. & Emilson, A. (2015). Democracy, caring and competence: values perspectives in ECEC curricula in the Nordic countries, International Journal of Early Years Education, 23:1, 97-114.
  • Finnish National Board of Education (2016). Early Childhood education and care. http://www.oph.fi/english/education
  • Finnish National Board of Education (2014). Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet. [National Core Curriculum for Basic Education].
  • http://www.oph.fi/download/165207
  • Halinen, I., Harmanen, M. & Mattila, P. (2015). Making Sense of Complexity of the World Today: Why Finland is Introducing Multiliteracy in Teaching and Learning. In V. Bozsik (Ed.) Improving Literacy Skills across Learning. CIDREE Yearbook 2015. Budapest: HIERD, 136-153.
  • National Core Curriculum on Early Childhood Education and Care. (2016). The Finnish National Board of Education.
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  • OECD (2016). DeSe Co: Definistion and Selection of Competences. http://www.oecd.org/edu/skills-beyond-school/definitionandselectionofcompetencies
  • Turja, L. (2016). Lasten osallisuus varhaiskasvatuksessa. [Children's participation in early childhood education.] In E. Hujala & L. Turja (Eds.) Varhaiskasvatuksen käsikirja. [The Handbook of Early Childhood Education.] Jyväskylä: PS-kustannus, third updated edition, original in 2011, 41-54.
Anne Valpas (M.Ed.) is Head of Municipal ECE department in city of Kurikka, Finland. Anne spent her childhood in Japan. She is Associate Editor of JECER Journal of Early Childhood Education Research (www.jecer.org). She has over twenty years of experience both on the national and international levels of ECE and development work abroad, including pedagogical work with children, leadership tasks, and project coordination work. The international experiences and development work have enhanced her knowledge of Finnish ECE in comparative settings, and contributed to her current position as a leader of municipal ECE services, where one of her main interests is the development of quality practices and increasing children’s participation as part of everyday pedagogy. She recently earned a Master’s degree from University of Tampere, and her thesis examined the effectiveness of ECE in-service training in multicultural and international environments.

Chika Inoue is a lecturer of teacher’s training school in the department of ECEC at Tokoha University Junior College. She studied at the University of Tampere as an exchange student. Her current research interest is how the teacher’s embodied responses to children encourage them and their growth in daily practices. In connection with this, she also researches teacher’s planning and implementing process.