Sputniknews – 19/9/17
After being a Lutheran nation for centuries, Finland seems to be taking strides towards secularism. According to recently-introduced early education guidelines, Christian prayers have been effectively banned from Finnish kindergartens. Instead, children will be taught about a variety of religions, as well as atheism and agnosticism.
Until now, many Finnish daycare centers and kindergartens have instructed children to say grace before meals — to ask for God’s blessing, as a traditional nod to the nation’s Lutheran heritage. Starting this year, however, children will no longer hear “amen” before meals, as Finnish early childhood education becomes more secular.
According to the new curriculum from the Finnish National Institute for Education (NIE), saying grace is a religious practice that is no longer welcome in early childhood education, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
Incidentally, this is the first nationwide decision on early childhood education in Finland. Previously, daycare staff would choose for themselves whether to say grace or not. Also, no records of this practice were kept.
Instead of religious teaching, early childhood education in Finland will now provide children with information on ethics and world religions, as well as agnosticism and atheism, with reflects Finland’s state policy of embracing multiculturalism.
“The goal is to support every child in their personal growth and identity formation,” NIE specialist Kirsi Tarkka told Yle. “Ethics teaching is also all about helping children identify with people from different cultures and religious backgrounds. Different beliefs are discussed.”
Although the NIE has yet to produce any official literature on ethics in early childhood education, it has pledged to distribute verbal guidelines by the end of this year. As Tarkka put it, the guide will be made “as clear and concrete as possible.”
This decision received mixed reactions across Finland, where some 72 percent of the population still identifies as Lutheran, despite a marked drop from nearly 90 percent in the early 1990s.
Veteli daycare center in the region of Ostrobothnia is among those that decided to comply and drop grace immediately. Instead, they penned a non-religious food-related nursery rhyme as a substitute. While the children gladly accepted the change, some staffers were far less enthusiastic, manager Auli Honkaniemi said, admitting this was a “big, yet somewhat sad change.”
Despite the wind of change blowing within early childhood education, Finnish Lutheran churches will still offer child care and will be allowed to maintain their tradition of working with daycare centers in the form of numerous devotional ceremonies.
Given the fact than many religious songs and hymns are part and parcel of Finnish culture and history, they will be not banned altogether. Therefore, Christmas church service will still be organized, with the option of alternative festivities for the non-religious or proponents of other faiths.
In Finland’s neighboring country Sweden, the Social Democratic Party has been pushing for a ban on all religious elements at school, including saying grace. Earlier this year, Krubban (“Crib”), a Christian daycare center in the city of Umeå, run by the Salvation Army, was ordered by the municipality to remove all religious elements, such as saying “Amen.”
A total of 5 percent of Swedes pray every day, according to a 2016 survey by pollster Sifo.