HEI Schools finally takes Finnish early childhood education abroad

Milla Kokko / HEI Schools
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Early childhood education in Finland is famous worldwide but the concept has been hard to export. Milla Kokko, CEO of HEI Schools, explains how it is done.

How did you get interested in exporting education?

"Finland is known around the world for two things: education and design. A lot of work has been done internationally in the field of design but this is trickier in education. The educational system is public and this means that it is difficult to export know-how in the field because solving educational challenges in, for instance, China is not part of the basic function of the state or municipalities.

Up until now, Finnish educational export has mostly meant consulting work. Some teachers and other experts in the field of education have helped out their colleagues abroad, which is obviously very valuable and important, but consulting work is not scalable.

We started to think about how we could offer high-quality early education to as many children and families as possible around the world. It has been clear to us since the beginning that we cannot start running kindergartens around the world ourselves. Instead, we offer a well-planned licence model which local partners can then use to build a HEI Schools kindergarten. The model includes a curriculum with the necessary materials, training for teachers, a spatial concept, teaching material, and hands-on operational support for local entrepreneurs.

We do not claim that we invented the Finnish educational system. Our core know-how is in turning it into a concept and a product."

How did you realise your idea?

"We developed HEI Schools with a cross-disciplinary team. In additional to pedagogical experts, we have had furniture designers, architects, graphic designers, photographers, project management professionals, and many other experts involved including those whom one would not immediately think of in connection with education or the export of education.


The University of Helsinki has been involved since the beginning, and this has been extremely important for us. The whole Finnish educational field is research-based so it is great that we have a research-driven organisation as a founding partner and shareholder.

Milla Kokko
CEO, HEI Schools
Milla Kokko / HEI Schools

The first HEI Schools kindergarten was opened in Northern China in the city of Baotou, which is not the easiest location to start. We realised how easy it is to take care of different matters in Finland. We hardly have any bureaucracy at all. Things run smoothly, and if you need to reach someone it is a matter of hours or days instead of months.

The construction effort of the first HEI School will start in spring in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari district. It is a place that already feels inspiring even if it is still just an empty lot."

In an indoor space, wooden bench and cabinets in the background, 4 small kids are playing. A little girl is standing, facing the camera, shouting elatedly and in front of her a boy hangs from a gymnasts ring.
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What is the significance of this innovation?

"The Finnish educational system is so great that it feels like our responsibility to offer it to as many children as possible.

The benefit of our educational system compared to many other countries lies in having much less traditional teaching, that is, where a teacher speaks and children listen. Instead, learning takes place all the time.

For instance, you can learn mathematics by counting how many peas there are on a plate, or learning English by naming the pieces of clothing you are dressing yourself in. The progress of children can be measured in other ways than to rank them from best to worst.

The educational field often works on a very local level. We want to build a large international network of local kindergartens where both children and adults can learn about different cultures and share things from one's own culture. In addition to China and Finland, HEI Schools locations include Melbourne in Australia. We have schools in a preparatory phase in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and South Korea. All in all, there are now 15 kindergartens in the HEI Schools network around the world."


HEI Schools has built Finnish early education and the educational system into an international export. The aim is to create top-quality early education to reach as many children and families as possible. The HEI Schools package includes e.g. a curriculum, teacher training and the support of the HEI Schools community. The concept has been developed together with the University of Helsinki and a cross-disciplinary team. 

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Teaser text
Early childhood education in Finland is famous worldwide but the concept has been hard to export. Milla Kokko, CEO of HEI Schools, explains how it is done.