Parenting in Finland: 'I don't have to search for a school. They're all good'
Ulla Siimes (38) is a mother of two boys, Urho (4) and Sisu (2), and lives about 30km from Helsinki. She is the head of the Finnish Parents' League and has worked as a music teacher.
"I feel lucky being a parent in Finland. I got a Baby Box when I was pregnant. I was on maternity leave for about nine months. My husband got paternity allowance and he took care of our kids for almost a year and got child homecare allowance for that.
"We do get child benefit for the kids and private day care allowance for our kindergarten fees. I feel that society supports us as parents and as a family. Our kindergartens are good and reliable - and so are the schools. I don't have to search for the best kindergarten or school, I just pick the nearest one and know that it's likely to be a good one. Teachers in both are well educated.
"Education is free at all levels and most education is publicly funded so every child can get a good education. In pre-primary and basic education, the textbooks, daily meal and transportation for students living further away from the school are free for the parents. Also, every pupil has the right to educational support. The same opportunities to education are available to all citizens irrespective of their ethnic origin, age, wealth or where they live.
"In schools teachers have masters' degrees and they are very autonomous: they decide how to follow the curriculum, what kind of books or devices they use and how they work with different issues. There are no ranking lists or tests.
"But of course there are also disadvantages in our system. In Finland fewer children attend early childhood education than in other EU countries. Finland also uses less budget money for early childhood education than most OECD countries. We talk quite a lot about how to combine work and family life - despite all the benefits for families with children, it's not always easy."