Woman and a child with a phone. Photo: Jussi Hellsten.

Pre-primary education admission by text message in Helsinki

Suitable early childhood education units will be offered by text message to children in Helsinki who are starting pre-primary education for six-year-olds in 2021. This means that parents or guardians will not longer be required to submit an application. Parents and guardians will receive a message from the city and can accept the offer right away by responding to the message. For the present, text message offers will only be provided for children who are already in municipal early childhood education. The service is part of Helsinki's strategy to provide more convenient digital services.

“We want make day-to-day activities easier for Helsinki residents and anticipate their service needs. Proactive services will help locals save time and money. Offering places in early childhood education by text message is a very concrete and terrific way to work towards these goals,” says Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori.

More than 90 per cent of children who will be turning six next year already attend municipal early childhood education services such as daycare, so the city already has information on the children’s addresses and the units that provide pre-primary education in their residential areas. These details can be used to direct services to the right customers. What this means in practice is that all parents or guardians of children who will be turning six in 2021 will receive a text message from the city suggesting a suitable pre-primary education placement near their home. The suggested units are selected from each child’s residential area to ensure that the route will be as short and safe as possible. At the same time, the aim is to ensure an uninterrupted path of learning for each child, i.e. a smooth transition to the start of compulsory schooling.

Pre-primary education admission criteria apply to education provided in Finnish and Swedish.

More than four out of five accepted proposed placements in test areas

In early 2020, Helsinki tested the proactive offering of pre-primary education admissions in two early childhood education areas. The trial was a resounding success, as more than 90 per cent of the slightly more than a thousand parents or guardians who received the message responded to it. Over 90 per cent of the respondents, i.e. more than four out of five, also accepted the offers sent. The rest of the families submitted an application to change the early childhood education arrangement or unit offered by the city.

In the future, placement in early childhood education will be offered proactively throughout Helsinki. The only limitation is that the child must already be attending some form of early childhood education organised by the city. The parents or guardians whose children do not attend municipal daycare centres will not receive a text message and must, for now, continue to submit an application.

“The most functional city in the world can anticipate the information and service needs of its residents. Why would we force people to fill in forms if the need for statutory services can be anticipated and we have the data to offer the service or the necessary information? Scaling the text message model for wider adoption will be a big help to thousands of families,” says City of Helsinki's Chief Digital Officer Mikko Rusama.

Traditional admission and transfer applications will still be accepted

​The model of offering places in early childhood education proactively will make things easier for parents, guardians and daycare centre directors alike, because the need to process applications will be largely eliminated. It should be noted that, despite the automated system, parents and guardians are not required to accept the offers and can change the arrangements through traditional service paths.

By means of its digitalisation programme, the City of Helsinki aims to develop services that anticipate the needs of local residents and meet them in a more personalised manner. The technical implementation for the text message pilot was provided by BookIT Finland Oy.

See the City of Helsinki website for more information on admission criteria.