Local & Regional Finland, Winter 1997-98
Hannu Taavitsainen


Eeva Ahtisaari concerned about 7-to-12-year-old schoolchildren
Children's Loneless may lead to serious problems



Eeva Ahtisaari, the wife of the President of Finland, is concerned about the future of schoolchildren. At her instigation a small working party has started looking into problems of 7-to-12-year-olds, and she intends playing an active role in highlighting the matter in the future.

"Visits to the regions are encouraging"

President Martfi Ahtisaari has become well known not only for his numerous foreign trips but also for his visits to the regions in various parts of Finland, which on average take place once a month. Mrs Ahtisaari, who has accompanied her husband on at least every other trip to the regions, thinks that the visits are encouraging.

The presidential pair feel the visits are interesting and encouraging. According to Eeva Ahtisaari they have shown that in Finland there is an unusual amount of good entrepreneurship and care for other people, mutual solidarity.

"Finns care for each other," Eeva Ahtisaari stresses.

The First Lady of Finland makes her own visits to the municipalities. In addition, she has plans to visit schools.

"… Finland should create a ministry for family affairs that would monitor municipal services on behalf of the state authorities."

Mrs Eeva Ahtisaari intends to do her best to bring about an improvement in afternoon care for 7to12yearolds and in communication between school and home.

In the edition of Local and Regional Finland published by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities at the beginning of November Eeva Ahfisaari raised the issue of two major problems relating to school where she wants to see an improvement. Referring to comprehensive surveys by Professor Lea Pulkkinen at the University of Jyväskylä, she drew attention to the situation among 7to12yearold children: in many Finnish families children have to be on their own for an exceptionally long period of time after school.

"If a child doesn't have an adult nearby that he or she can talk to about things or worries, the consequences could be longterm," she warns. The self esteem of young people left without the security and supervision of an adult won't grow.

The longterm research initiated by Professor Lea Pulkkinen in 1968 shows the risk of asocial behaviour increases in children suffering from loneliness. The lack of a safe adult relationship is seen later in the form of problems with intoxicants and a weakening in physical and mental health. The research also reveals that brothers and sisters at home are no substitute for contact with an adult.

Professor Pulkkinen considers more than ten hours of being alone per week to be the critical limit. Some Finnish schoolchildren are alone or in the company of their peers up to 30 hours a week.

Gap between home and school must be eliminated

Eeva Ahtisaari is also hoping for an improvement in the co-operation between horn and school. She is surprised at the gap that in many cases these days prevents the natural contact between parents and teachers in Finland. According to her findings, some parent do not dare to come near the school.

"I hope the school will take the initiative in the matter. The head of the school and the teachers must open up contact."

Eeva Ahtisaari emphasizes the responsibility of the school for starting the co-operation She thanks schools in Finland for arranging meetings meant for parents. At the same time, however, she wants meetings held for those parents whose children have problems.

In Mrs Ahtisaari's opinion, teachers an parents must be able interrelate their knowledge better to support a child's growth Teachers and other school staff represent the specialists in education. Parents, for their part, know the emotional development of their child.

Mrs Ahtisaari regularly organizes her 'Eeva sessions'. A year ago last autumn the theme was the state of the family. Involved a the time were Professors Pulkkinen from Jyväskylä and Tuula Tamminen from the University of Tampere.

Eeva Ahtisaari has established the small working party as a continuation to the session. Also taking part besides the above mentioned professors is Lasse Siurala, who is the director of youth work for the City of Helsinki. The aim of the party is to find practical means of improving contact between school and home.

Municipal services monitored by state

A survey on children and the recession produced a year ago by the research centre in the Finnish social affairs and health sector showed that the recession has caused a large random variation in services produced by the municipalities for families. There are surprising differences in the standard of day-care and school services between municipalities and even inside municipalities.

Eeva Ahtisaari regrets the randomness of the services. She refers to proposals that Finland should create a ministry for family affairs that would monitor municipal services on behalf of the state authorities.

"My impression is that the child health centres and daycare services work reasonably well in Finland. I'm most concerned about the next stage i.e. children from the ages of 7 to 12."

In Mrs Ahtisaari's opinion, new resources must be found for children's afternoon activities. She refers to Professor Pulkkinen's proposal that school days could be slightly longer than at present in Finland.

"The research also reveals that brothers and sisters at home are no substitute for contact with an adult."

If school started at 8.30, it could continue until 3.30 in the afternoon. Within the framework of a longer school day the work could be made wider. Mrs Ahtisaari thinks that the academic side should be interspersed with hobby lessons.

Hobby activities should also be arranged for children after the actual school day.

"Adults' life dictates family life too much"

Eeva Ahtisaari hopes that all the facilities for hobbies available in the municipalities might be included in the work supporting children and schools. In addition to sport, music and other cultural activities, she also wants to see crafts and hand skills developed.

"Adults' work and leisure time have dictated family life too much. We should focus on children," the First Lady of Finland states.

She thinks that it is important for parents to set clear limits for their children. She considers the ideal situation for rearing children to be one where the child is allowed opportunities to develop within clear limits.

In the interview Mrs Ahtisaari takes a stand on the current debate in Finland concerning welfare. She hopes that while material needs are emphasized the municipalities will remember human needs as well. The most important point for her is caring for people's welfare.