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Updated recommendations for early childhood education and care, schools, educational institutions and higher education institutions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

Ministry of Education and Culture 4.8.2020 17.30 | Published in English on 6.8.2020 at 9.31
Press release

The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare have updated the instructions related to the coronavirus epidemic they issued to education providers and educational institutions in the spring. The most important thing is, also from now on, to prevent infections, ensure good hygiene, avoid unnecessary close contacts, and arrange teaching premises more spaciously than usual. By following these recommendations, the risk of infection and the spread of the coronavirus can be reduced.

The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare have updated their recommendations to help reduce coronavirus infections and limit exposure to the virus in contact teaching and early childhood education and care. The recommendations will support local actors in seeking the best ways to organise teaching and early childhood education and care in a safe and well-functioning manner.

In the next few weeks, early childhood education and care and basic education will resume and students will return to educational institutions. Although the coronavirus situation has remained calm in Finland during the summer, compliance with the recommendations is important especially in areas where infections have recently occurred. It is important that early childhood education and care, schools and educational institutions also prepare for the possibility of a change in the epidemiological situation. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health monitors the development of the coronavirus epidemic.

Those who are symptomatic must remain at home and other selected items from the recommendations  

Nobody should go to early childhood education, school or workplace if they have any symptoms of respiratory infection until the possibility of a coronavirus infection has been ruled out by tests. The recommendations emphasise good hand hygiene, cough hygiene and enhanced cleaning.

It is good to arrange teaching premises more spaciously than usual and avoid or reduce unnecessary physical contacts. Early childhood education and care should, to the extent possible, be organised so that groups are not mixed or combined. Staff members in early childhood education and care should also work with one and the same group of children. In primary schools, the different teaching groups should be kept separate throughout the school day. In lower secondary schools and in optional subjects, the teaching groups may change if the teaching cannot be organised any other way. Safe distances of 1 to 2 metres should be maintained in contact teaching in general upper secondary schools and vocational education and training institutes, higher education institutions and liberal adult education.

Providers of general upper secondary education and vocational education and training and higher education institutions may flexibly decide on safe and appropriate teaching methods and arrangements. If teaching is arranged for a large number of people, it is advisable to use remote connections.
Activities should be staggered with the aim of ensuring that there are as few people in the same space as possible. Staff members should also avoid assembling, which means, for example, that teachers should hold their meetings primarily remotely. Large gatherings are not recommended. School meals should be arranged individually with the students’ own class or group. If necessary, empty premises suitable for teaching may be used for teaching purposes.

Children starting school or early childhood education and their parents will be given an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the activities in advance, provided that good hygiene is ensured and there are not too many people in the same space at the same time. Children may bring along an important toy and take it home at the end of the day.

If someone in early childhood education and care, in a school or in an educational institution is diagnosed with COVID-19, those who might possibly have been exposed to it must be tracked down and quarantined for 14 days. Those infected with COVID-19 must be away from school or early childhood education and care for at least 14 days from the onset of symptoms, and they must have been asymptomatic for at least two days before returning to school or early childhood education and care.

Government aid and temporary legislative amendments to support the safe organisation of teaching  
 

In June, the Ministry of Education and Culture granted EUR 84 million in discretionary government grants to offset the impact of the coronavirus crisis on early childhood education and care, pre-primary education, and primary and lower secondary education. Discretionary government grants for providers of general upper secondary education may currently be applied for from the Finnish National Agency for Education. Similar additional funding is available to providers of vocational education and training. It is important that the necessary support measures can be launched as soon as possible. The aim is to ensure that the coronavirus epidemic will not have any permanent effects on the skills and wellbeing of children and young people.

Temporary legislative amendments have also been introduced to prepare for possible changes in the development of the coronavirus situation. The aim is to enable the safe organisation of teaching.  

If contact teaching cannot be organised safely, exceptional teaching arrangements could be temporarily introduced in primary and lower secondary education by decision of the education provider. An assessment of the safety of contact teaching will be made in cooperation with the regional authorities responsible for communicable diseases based on a decision to be issued under the Communicable Diseases Act. Contact teaching and distance learning can be alternated, for example by placing groups in distance learning on alternate weeks. Exceptional teaching arrangements do not apply to pupils in years 1–3, pupils who have received a decision on special-needs support, or pupils in extended compulsory education or preparatory education. Students have the right to school meals, support for learning and school attendance, study guidance, and student benefits during exceptional arrangements.

The Act on Vocational Education and Training has been temporarily amended with regard to the demonstration of skills and competence. If, for reasons attributable to the coronavirus epidemic, a demonstration of the professional skills and competence required to pass a qualification module cannot be conducted in authentic work situations and processes, a student may demonstrate his or her professional skills and competence by performing other practical tasks that are as similar to authentic work situations and processes as possible. In addition, the demonstration of skills and competence can be supplemented with other types of competence assessment more flexibly than at present.

In higher education institutions, a student may register as a non-attending student during the first academic year if he or she is prevented from starting his or her studies due to an official regulation related to the epidemic or for another epidemic-related serious reason. If studies are delayed due to exceptional teaching arrangements introduced by a higher education institution because of the coronavirus epidemic, this will be taken into account when deciding on the extension of the right to study.

The temporary amendments made to the Basic Education Act will remain in force until the end of 2020. The amendments made to the Act on Vocational Education and Training, the Universities Act and the Universities of Applied Sciences Act will remain in force until 31 July 2021.

Instructions and other documents
•    Recommendation from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture to providers of education and early childhood education and care during the COVID-19 epidemic, 4 August 2020 (PDF) (in Finnish)
•    Recommendation from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture to educational institutions and higher education institutions on the prevention of infections during the COVID-19 epidemic, 4 August 2020 (PDF) (in Finnish)

The Finnish National Agency for Education has compiled support material for education providers. The material provides information on how to prepare for the exceptional teaching arrangements, organisation of teaching, support for learning and school attendance, student welfare, school meals, school transport and other school activities that may be affected by the coronavirus epidemic during autumn 2020.

•    Instructions and support materials provided by the Finnish National Agency for Education (in Finnish)

Inquiries
Eeva-Riitta Pirhonen, Director General (early childhood education and care, basic education, liberal adult education), tel. +358 295 330 258
Mika Tammilehto, Director General (vocational education and training, general upper secondary education), tel. +358 295 330 308
Tapio Kosunen, Director General (higher education), tel. +358 295 330 440