EVALUATION RESULT: 5-year-olds’ ECEC participation rates increased, impacts of the experiment vary by population group and municipality

Early childhood education Virpi Pietiläinen

FINEEC evaluated the achievement of objectives in an experiment where free of charge ECEC is offered to five-year-olds. While the experiment increased children’s participation in ECEC, this did not apply to all children. 

Commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) evaluated the experiment of offering free of charge early childhood education and care (ECEC) for 5-year-olds.  The aim of the experiment is to increase ECEC participation rates and to promote equality in education. The current evaluation report concerns the experiment’s second phase, which took place in 2019–2020.

The second phase had 26 participating municipalities, which were Espoo, Halsua, Harjavalta, Helsinki, Hämeenkyrö, Joutsa, Järvenpää, Kempele, Kirkkonummi, Kitee, Kotka, Lahti, Laitila, Leppävirta, Loviisa, Miehikkälä, Mäntyharju, Oulu, Rusko, Salo, Somero, Sonkajärvi, Tammela, Toivakka, Turku and Virolahti. The participating municipalities offered 20 hours of free of charge ECEC to the families of five-year-old children. In addition to the participating municipalities, reference data were collected across Finland.

Participation rates are increasing

The evaluation indicates that five-year-old children’s participation in ECEC increased more in the municipalities taking part in the experiment than in reference municipalities. Compared to the situation before the experiment started, the ECEC participation rate of five-year-olds went up by approx. 15 percentage points in the participating municipalities and 6 percentage points in reference municipalities. In particular, the experiment on free of charge ECEC increased the participation of families with a low average income. On the other hand, the experiment did not increase the ECEC participation of families in the lowest or highest income classes.

– In both the highest and lowest income classes, the participation rate in early childhood education and care was already quite high, and in this sense, it is obvious that the rate cannot go up indefinitely, explains Anna Siippainen, a Senior Adviser at FINEEC.

Regional differences

The evaluation results indicate that the experiment increased five-year-old children’s participation in ECEC especially in densely populated municipalities. Client fees alone cannot explain the differences, as there are regional variations in ECEC participation. So, what causes the differences in participation rates?

– If we wish to promote ECEC participation, identifying local barriers to participation would be important. To resolve them, discussions and decisions at both national and local level are needed. Regional variations will also be examined in more detail in the evaluation of the experiment’s third phase, says Siippainen.

A decision to continue the experiment is contained in the Government Programme of Prime Minister Marin. The third phase of the experiment, which began on 1 August 2020, has 26 participating municipalities. Some of them are new participants, while others have also been involved in the earlier stages of the experiment.

The results of the evaluation will be published at a webinar organised by FINEEC at 9:00–11:00 on 18 September 2020. To find out more about the event and to register, visit FINEEC’s website.


Siippainen, A., Paananen, M., Metsämuuronen, J., Repo, L., Sarkkinen, T., Alasuutari, M., Koivisto, P., Saarikallio-Torp, M. & Kirjavainen, T. (2020) The second phase of an evaluation of an experiment on free of charge early childhood education and care for five-year-olds: Participation in early childhood education, costs and organisation of the experiment.  Helsinki: The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre. 14.

Further information:

Senior Advisor Anna Siippainen +358 295335566, anna.siippainen@karvi.fi