Students are taught handwriting between Grades 1 and 6 based on the Perusopetuksen mallikirjaimet, or Model letters for basic education. In this approach, connected letters are not taught, though joining may occur as a result of fast handwriting.
In Finland, the Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö – OKM, or Ministry of Education and Culture, is responsible for all publicly funded education and for preparing legislation pertaining to it, while the Opetsushallitus, or Finnish National Agency for Education, is responsible for pre-primary, basic, general, and vocational upper secondary education. Pre-primary education starts when children are 6 years old, followed by nine years of basic education between ages 7 to 17 years. After basic education, students may attend upper secondary education or vocational training. Pre-primary and basic education are compulsory, and a majority of schools offering them are publicly-owned and funded.
Finland’s National Core Curriculum provides broad directions for the methods and materials to be used for teaching, and comprises separate documents that outline in detail the needs for different levels of education. Handwriting education falls under The National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014, which is published by the Opetsushallitus, and was last updated in 2020. According to this document, students learn to draw and write with uppercase and lowercase print script letters in Grades 1 and 2, along with developing keyboard skills; and by Grade 6, they are expected to have clear and fluent handwriting.
Finnish authorities have taken an active role in handwriting education since 1931, much longer than their counterparts in other Scandinavian countries. Starting in 1931, they have released models for handwriting education in 1950, 1991, 2001-2002, and most recently in 2015.
In August 2015, a prototype for handwriting education called Perusopetuksen mallikirjaimet, or Model letters for basic education, was implemented as part of the latest version of the national curriculum. Perusopetuksen mallikirjaimet features simplified print letters only, and in this new approach connected letters are not taught, though joining may occur as a result of fast handwriting. School educators must teach handwriting according to Perusopetuksen mallikirjaimet, though they can choose their own teaching methods and materials.
Government involvement in handwriting education
The teaching of käsiala, or handwriting, in schools in Finland has been marked by the consistent involvement of government authorities that can be traced back to 1930, when architect and calligrapher Toivo Salervo (1888–1977), who worked for the Opetushallitus, created a cursive handwriting model for primary school education. The model was calligraphic and rooted in the style of the English roundhand. It was slightly modified by Salervo himself in 1950, and remained in use for over half a century.
The education system in Finland was reformed in 1986, and as part of this change, engraver and calligrapher Toivo Heiskanen developed a new handwriting model for teaching. Heiskanen’s letters were generally simpler and less decorative than Salervo’s. The slant was reduced, and most loops in letters were eliminated. This model was adopted in 1991.
The simplification of handwriting models for education received another boost at the turn of the century with the release of a report called Käsin kirjoittaminen vuonna 2000, or Writing by hand in 2000. It was published by Pohjoismainen käsinkirjoittamisen ideointiryhmä, the Nordic Handwriting Ideation Group, a group of experts that studied handwriting in Nordic countries. Among other things, the report recommended that handwriting education should start with unjoined letters. Between 2001-2002 Heiskanen and calligrapher Liisa Uusitalo developed two new models that could be used to teach handwriting: one with upright simplified print letters, and the other with slanted unjoined letters with a small exit stroke in the style of a pre-cursive. The former gained a large degree of adoption in the country.
In the mid-2010s, OPH commissioned designer Jarno Lukkarila of Typolar to produce a new handwriting model called Perusopetuksen mallikirjaimet. Finally in August 2015, with the implementation of 2014 national curriculum, and the adoption of this model in which only unjoined letters are taught, the teaching of connected cursive writing in schools effectively ended in Finland.
Sample pages of Loikka 3 Kielitaito (OPS16): Suomen kieli ja kirjallisuus. Oona Heiskala et all, 2022. Otava Oppimisen, Finland.
Sample pages of Tsemppi Käsiala A. Päivi Miettinen, 2020. Otava Oppimisen, Finland.