Finnish Schools

Figure 1.--This 1903 image shows the children at a rural Finnish primary school. Finland at the time was a Grand Duchy within TsarisT Russia. There does not appear to be a uniform although some of the children are dressed similarly.

We are unsure about Finnish school uniforms at this time. We have virtually no information except for a few imasges. There may have been significant differences before and after independence. Finland until 1918 was a part of Tsarist Russia. We have noted Russian students, at least at the secondary level, wearing uniforms. This may have also been the case in Finland, but Finland had the status of a grand duchy and was somewhat autonomous in Tsarist Russia. The Tsarist regime under Alexander II began a process of Russiufication. We are unsure to what extent Finland was affected. We note primary children who are not wearing uniforms. After independence we are not sure what steps were taken, if any, concerning school uniform. Modern Finnish students do not wrear uniforms.

Limited Information

We are unsure about Finnish school clothes at this time. We have virtually no information except for a few images. Hopefully Finnish readers will provide some information on education in their country.


Sweden was a major power in northern Europe for centuries. The Grand Duchy of Finland was for six centuries ruled by the Swedish monarchy. This was before there were state schools, although Finland like Sweden became Protestant and thus literacy was seen as important to read the Bible. We know, however, next to nothing about education during this period. Tsarist Russia acquired Finland during the Finnish War--an offshoot of the Napoleonic Wars. As part of the Reformation, literacy was stongly promoted in Sweden which included Finland (until 1809). There was a much higher rate of literacy in Finland than most other areas of thg Tsarist Enpire. Tsarist authoritiess permitted an unprecedented level of autonomy. Literracy levels continued tomincrease during the Tdarist era. Finland ahived its independence at the end of World War I (1918). The collapse of the Tsarist Army in World War I and the Russian Revolution gave the Finn's the opportunity to declare independepedence. The Finns were faced with disarming a substantial Russian Army and subsequently Red Guards that attempted to seize power. A 3-month civil war followed. Gustaf Mannerheim's White Army emerged victorious, establishing an independent country (May 1918). After independence we are not sure what steps were taken, if any, concerning school uniform. We have very limited informstion at this time, mostly photogrsphs from rural primary schools where the children did not wear uniforms. We re less sure about city secondary schools. We have some images of primaary schools as there is no indication of any uniform. We do not have any information concerning secondary schools. Finland was devestated in World War II. The resulting poverty is clearly obseveable in the clothing children wore during the 1940s.

Finnish Education

The Finnish school year is 188 working days in 2004. Finnish school authorities refer to comprehensive education and upper secondary education. I'm not sure yet what is meant by "comprehensive" education. Authorities report in 2004 a new framework curriculum for both comprehensive education and upper secondary education. The last reform of the framework curriculum was carried out in 1994. The Finnish system consists of Pre-school, Basic, General Upper-seciondary levels, and Upper Secondary Vocational Trasining. Pre-school education is intended for six-year-olds starting their compulsory education the following year. Basic education means the general education provided for each age group in its entirety. It is intended for children from 7 to 16 years of age, and its completion in comprehensive school takes 9 years. The general upper secondary school offers a three-year general education curriculum, at the end of which the pupil takes the national matriculation examination (ylioppilastutkinto/studentexamen). The matriculation examination gives general eligibility for higher education. Upper secondary vocational qualifications can be completed in the form of institutional education and training, apprenticeship training or competence-based qualifications. Since 1 August 2001, the scope of all vocational qualifications (ammatillinen perustutkinto / yrkesinriktad grundexamen) has been 120 credits / three years. A three-year vocational qualification gives general eligibility for higher education. A Finnish blogger tells us, "Finnish children start school a 7 years of age, a year later than in most other countries. In sharp contrast to many other countries, Finnish primary school children rarely take exams or do homework. This does not begin until they are teenagers. The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16 years old. There is no streaming. Children odf all abilities are taught together in the same classrooms. Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States. Some 30 percent of students receive extra help during their first 9 years of school. Tw-thirds of students go to college, the highest rate in Europe. The difference between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World. Science classes are limited to 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class. Some 93 percent of Finns graduate from secondary school, that is almost 20 percent above U.S. graduation levels. Finland has about the same number of teachers as New York City, but only bout half as many students. 0.6 million students compared to 1.1 million in New York City. There are no private schools. The schools are 100 percent state funded. All Finnish teachers must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized. Teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of graduates.


We do not yet have a large enough Finish archive to develop detailed information on Finish school garments. We have only limited information at this time. We know thatvsome boys wore unifiorms during the Tsarist era. We think this may have been mostly secondary students, but we do not yet have details. We are not sure what happened after Finland became independent (1917). We mostly see children wearing their own clothes, but we have very little information about secondary schools. Given Finland's northerly location, cold weather clothes like coats and sweaters were important school garments. One interesting aspect of Finish schools is the custom of taking shoes off before entering the home. This ciustom was also adopted at school, although we are not entirely sure when this became widespread. It appears to be the standard procedure, at least in primary schools.

Individual Schools

One useful way to assess educational trends over time is to look at individual schools over time. This not only illustrates chrnological trends, but also insights on demographic trends and differences at different levels of education. This helps to hone in on a range of school trends and compare different kinds of schools. We are attempting to acquire images to expand this section.

Additional Information

Related Links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but both sites are highly recommended .
New Zealand E-book: Digital book on New Zealand schools
Boys' Preparatory Schools: A lovely photographic essay on British Preparatory Schools during the 1980s with over 200 color and black and white photographs.


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Created: 3:48 AM 9/17/2004
Last updated: 10:13 PM 11/25/2020