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November 5, 2010

Nordic Neighbors Differ on Key Human Rights Issue

In northern Europe, two nordic countries strongly differ in their response to homeschooling. Finland provides a warm reception to parents who chose to educate their children at home, while neighboring Sweden continues down an increasingly dangerous path of ostracizing and persecuting families who seek to exercise their right to homeschool. Recent troubles endured by Swedish homeschoolers—such as the denial of due process rights, fines, court proceedings and flight—demonstrate Sweden’s hardline attitude and behavior.

Swedish homeschoolers are wondering if, in the wake of a new education law that effectively outlaws homeschooling, they will have to choose between homeschooling and their homeland. Swedish homeschoolers will find a different attitude in both of their neighbors, where homeschooling is allowed and even encouraged.

In Finland, for example, the constitution and education law both protect educational freedom. Finnish parents may choose to educate their children “otherwise” than at public school.

In a recent meeting with Finnish homeschoolers, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education Timo Lankinen affirmed that the Finnish Constitution “fully supports” homeschooling. Lankinen emphasized that this crucial point must guide all discussion about homeschooling in Finland. He added that homeschooling deserves more attention than it has received so far from the current Finnish administration. Lankinen and other Board of Education representatives also acknowledged that Finnish education law limits authorities to a supervisory role of homeschoolers. These high officials agreed to help negotiate in situations of conflict between homeschoolers and local officials.

Although representatives from Suomen kotiopettajat, the Finnish Home Educators Association, had sought an “equitable distribution” of school materials to both public and homeschooled students, the national authorities state that such decisions are under the jurisdiction of the local authorities. Practically speaking, this means that some Finnish municipalities use central funds to provide textbooks to public and homeschooled students alike, while others do not. However, President of Suomen kotiopettajat Juhani Paavolainen notes, “We understand that changing attitudes toward a pro-homeschool interpration of the law meets with strong resistance even in the National Board of Education.”

Board members from Suomen kotiopettajat expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved at the meeting. Paavolainen comments, “The atmosphere in the meeting was very good and showed mutual respect.” As a sign of goodwill, the current article on homeschooling on the Finnish Board of Education website will be revised to reflect these positive developments. Homeschoolers will meet again with Director General Lankinen in six months.

The positive relationship between Finnish authorities and homeschoolers reveals the unnecessary antagonism shown by Swedish officials towards homeschoolers. HSLDA calls on Sweden to observe the positive relationship between homeschooling and the state in its neighbor, Finland, and to stop its harsh treatment of homeschool families.