New concept to bring the Finnish day-care system to the world

Focusing on taking the Finnish early education system abroad, HEI Schools, a start-up founded in cooperation with the University of Helsinki, has drafted a framework agreement with the city of Baotou, China, on establishing an HEI Schools pilot day-care centre.

Founded by the University of Helsinki in cooperation with education, design and concept experts, HEI Schools (Helsinki International Schools) is working on an early education concept which could be used to offer Finnish expertise to the international market based on a easy-to-scale franchising model. In addition to the agreement with Baotou, an international day-care centre called HEI Schools Pohjantähti will be opened in Koivuhaka, Vantaa in the new year, in cooperation with the Finnish day-care chain Pilke. The concept’s developers believe the model will be popular, particularly in Asia and North America.

Highlighting Finnish research-based education expertise

Finland is listed as the world's top country in many early education rankings. The international education market is growing rapidly, and there is a great deal of demand for Finnish expertise. The country has an excellent reputation in early education, but the lack of a transferable model has prevented Finnish early education know-how from spreading internationally. HEI Schools is rising to this challenge by creating a comprehensive concept and product package.

“We’re well aware that Finland’s education success rests on our excellent academic research and education as well as the exceptional work of our teachers, and this must continue to be the case in the future,” explains Lasse Lipponen, professor of early education.

“Thanks to our concept development, we can now offer Finnish expertise to the international market in a format that can be used anywhere in the world.”

HEI Schools will license this model to local operators around the world. The franchising agreement includes a curriculum, teacher training, facility planning, learning material as well as implementation support and continuous further development of the model. The model is based on putting children in the centre, creativity, progressive inquiry and empathy skills in pedagogy, facility planning and learning an international culture.

The Baotou pilot is a basis for further opportunities in the Chinese market

Since June 2016, HEI Schools has actively built a network of partners in China with the intention of launching an international pilot day-care centre under the HEI Schools concept. For example, the company is cooperating with researchers from Beijing Normal University (BNU) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

HEI Schools selected China as the location for its first international pilot because the country is experiencing a continuous increase in demand for early education. Like many Asian countries, China is searching for an alternative to its learning culture which is characterised by an emphasis on performance, authoritarian attitudes and rigorous testing. This tradition is now being challenged by a focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing, enthusiasm for learning and the ability to think creatively and act.

The opening of the HEI Schools Baotou day-care centre has been slated for September 2017.  The agreement between HEI Schools and Baotou includes the curriculum and teacher training for the pilot day-care centre, facility planning for the learning environments as well as selection of learning material until the end of 2018.

For the first two years, Finnish early education professionals will be recruited to the concept day-care centre to work side by side with their Chinese colleagues. The intention is to spend the two years boosting the quality of early education in Baotou and bring international influences to early education expertise.

In addition to the HEI Schools cooperation, the city of Baotou is more extensively interested in the Finnish education system and the potential cooperation enabled by the HEI Schools project.  

“This is an important project for creating a new form of Finnish early education export, and for education export in general,” says Jari Strandman, CEO of Helsinki Innovation Services Ltd (HIS) and member of the board at HEI Schools. 

“The University of Helsinki will also gain visibility and possibly new international students."

The HEI Schools team includes Lasse Lipponen, professor of early education at the University of Helsinki, Pilvi Torsti, DPhiland MinEdu state secretary (2013–2015), Milla Kokko, head of strategy at hasan&partners and Anne Rusanen, designer.

More information:

Pilvi Torsti, phone. +358 40 7191 206, email

Early education rankings: