International school offers an interesting alternative.
IN NORTHERN Tapiola, Espoo, there is a medium-sized white building with a blue roof, the sort of building you would glance at once and never think about again. What many people don’t know is that it is an IB (International Baccalaureate) secondary school (grades 7-9) of 213 pupils from 20 different nationalities, or that the teaching here is entirely in English. This school’s ninth grade classes of 2010-2011 were in the top three when it came to performance on the mathematics national exam, and one of the eighth grade sections of 2011-2012 participated in the EF (Education First) Global English Challenge and was ranked the best school in Finland. This is Espoo International School, EIS for short.
EIS was originally founded because of the growing number of mobile families, especially non-Finnish families who came here to work for Nokia. It celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year, with prominent guest speakers such as Alexander Stubb, Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, and Aulis Pitkälä, Director General of Finnish National Board of Education.
EIS offers English education for non-Finnish as well as Finnish children. The school gained world IB school status last year. After studying at EIS for three years in the Middle Years Programme (MYP), those who wish to continue their studies in IB take the entrance tests to IB high schools. There, they study for three more years in the IB Diploma programme (DP), before graduating with the IB diploma. This diploma is recognised by many prestigious universities around the world, such as Oxford University, London Imperial College and Yale University.
Best of Both Worlds
“Espoo International School follows the National Curriculum for Finnish Basic Education but we deliver that curriculum using the framework of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme,” says Anne-Marie Rapo, Principal of EIS. “This combination enables us to use an internationally recognised system while we remain a Finnish school.”
At the end of the year, EIS students get two report cards instead of one. One is the Finnish report card, which is based on solely marks from tests, homework and class participation, and the other is the IB report card. The IB system grades the students based on pre-set criteria, and the students have to fulfil all the criteria specifications to get the highest grade. This means that while a student may get a ten (the highest grade) on an assignment in the Finnish grading system, it does not always mean that they get the highest grade in the IB grading system, as they may have missed out some other part of the criteria. The grading is strict but fair, as all the criteria are given to the student well before any assessment. A high GPA (grade point average) boosts the student’s chances of getting into the high school of their choice.
Finnish at Heart
At EIS, all the subjects and materials are in English (except language classes), but just like in Finnish schools, Finnish is a mandatory subject for all students. However, EIS provides two types of Finnish classes for its students: Finnish as a mother tongue for native Finnish speakers, and Finnish as a second language for its non-Finnish students. Swedish is also mandatory for EIS students, just like in regular Finnish schools. EIS is funded by the state, so there are no fees paid, and lunch is served for free. However, many students say that the workload is heavier than in Finnish schools, as EIS students have to get good grades for a good Finnish report card, as well as fulfil all the criteria for a good IB report card.
Why choose EIS? Why not choose a regular Finnish school? After all, they provide the same quality of education, and a Finnish school is probably less gruelling as there are no pressures to fulfil IB criteria. One of the obvious reasons for non-Finnish children is the language barrier. It is not very easy to learn Finnish in a short time, and it is very hard to survive in a classroom if you don’t understand anything the teacher is saying.
PHOTOS: JIMMY LITARDO
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