HEI Schools Guangzhou in Southern China opened its doors just this week, in a newly renovated building with lots of space and light. The beautiful 250 children capacity school is run by a local owner and teachers as well as two temporary Finnish teachers, pedagogical director Anna-Maija Kuokkanen and teacher Tiia Sääksjärvi.


HEI Schools Guangzhou opening also gained national interest with the Finnish national public service broadcasting company YLE. A story about HEI Schools and HEI Guangzhou was broadcast on national TV news on October 18th, 2018 as well as on the YLE website: https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-10460123.


Mandy Chao from China chose a Finnish kindergarten for her daughter. She wanted her child to have fun at kindergarten and where: “she is allowed to have her own opinion”.

The middle class in developing countries is growing at a fast pace. Parents are paying up to 1,000 euros a month for childcare.

  Zilin Liu, one year and 10 months is able to stack, build and play. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Zilin Liu, one year and 10 months is able to stack, build and play. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Forest Hu just opened a Finnish kindergarten in Guangzhou China this week. It is the first of its kind to open in this southern Chinese city with millions of inhabitants. There are several British and American kindergartens catering to a population wanting more high quality education. Forest Hu became interested in Finnish pedagogy when she was studying economics and pedagogy at the University of Hong Kong. Finnish early childhood education is highly regarded worldwide compared to other methods.

Government officials, educational professionals and parents are all interested in the Finnish early childhood education model.

  The co-owner and director of Guangzhou kindergarten, Forest Hu believes that an international education adds to the creativity of the children. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

The co-owner and director of Guangzhou kindergarten, Forest Hu believes that an international education adds to the creativity of the children. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

The kindergarten is operating in a newly renovated building with lots of space and light. There are 4 children playing in the space including Mandy Chao’s 4 year old daughter Cindy.

Chao chose a Finnish kindergarten because she wants her child to have fun at her kindergarten. Here children are more free than in a chinese kindergarten. They are allowed to have their own opinion and choose what they want to play. Chao is impressed that within the Finnish model teachers obtain information about the children directly from their parents. When educators understand more about their students they can individually cater to each student, that is what I want for my child.

  Mandy Chao chose the Finnish kindergarten for the freedom it gives her child. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Mandy Chao chose the Finnish kindergarten for the freedom it gives her child. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Currently, the director’s goal is to fill all 250 places with the doors open for all interested parents. The Finnish education model has a good reputation in China, but parents are still reticent to adapt a new method for their children’s education. Parents want the newly renovated building to have adequate time to ventilate before the children start school to ensure the cleanest, healthiest environment for their children. The building renovations were completed one month before classes began for the students.

Security cameras and guards are important in Chinese kindergartens

The safety of children is a major concern for Chinese parents. They want all the table edges to be covered and soft along with knowing how many security cameras and guards will be monitoring their children. Security cameras are common in Chinese kindergartens and many parents are able to watch their children’s activities live throughout the school day. At Hu’s kindergarten she will install security cameras, but her hope is that the parents will have trust in the safety of her kindergarten even without the cameras. In Finland, it is not common to use security cameras in kindergartens.

  Yiuxuan He, 2 years and 10 months old, has just started at the Finnish kindergarten in Guangzhou. His teacher Lucy Lu is encouraging him to play. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Yiuxuan He, 2 years and 10 months old, has just started at the Finnish kindergarten in Guangzhou. His teacher Lucy Lu is encouraging him to play. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Parents are worried that the Finnish kindergarten model will not give their children the best start on their educational journey

Forest Hu’s kindergarten follows the pedagogy of the new start up, HEI Schools that partners with the University of Helsinki to bring the Finnish model of early childhood education to the world. HEI Schools works with local operators, both public and private, opening schools globally. In September 2017, the company founded it’s first kindergarten in Baotou China now with over 100 students. In both Guangzhou and Baotou there is a Chinese kindergarten director as well as a Finnish pedagogical director. In Guangzhou, Forest Hu is both a co owner and director working along with Finnish pedagogical director, Anna-Maija Kuokkanen. Anna-Maija explains that Chinese parents are still quite skeptical if the Finnish model gives their children the best foundation despite having the best reputation in education.


The export of education in Finland is growing:

  • Education Finland is a part of the Finnish national agency for education to promote the export of education.

  • Offering early childhood education all the way through to higher education.

  • 92 member companies in total with 7 companies offering primarily early childhood education.

  • Member companies report a revenue of 310 million euros in 2017 with a 16% growth rate.

  • A majority of companies are still in a start up phase with a revenue of under 100,000

Source: questionnaire from Education Finland in 2017 with 95% of the companies submitting their information

  Anna-Maija Kuokkanen is responsible for the Guangzhou kindergarten’s pedagogical content. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Anna-Maija Kuokkanen is responsible for the Guangzhou kindergarten’s pedagogical content. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Reading poems out loud and playing piano are respected

In China there is a lot of competition for entrance into the best schools. Prospective students are subject to rigorous testing of their memorization, english language, music and mathematic skills for private school entrance. Kuokkanen has the answer for Chinese parents in the HEI Schools model combining local features with Finnish pedagogy. We have our own curriculum, but we also take the local needs into consideration.

The middle class in Guangzhou are wealthy and parents are willing to pay for the best education for their children. At Forest Hu’s new kindergarten the monthly tuition is 1,000 euros a month, which is in line with similar area kindergarten fees. In the future, more and more Chinese families will want internationally branded education for their children.

  Guangzhou Finnish kindergarten teachers: Lucy Lu left front and Micky Chan right front, Tiia Sääksjärvi and Vicky Lo middle row and top is Lisa Ding. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Guangzhou Finnish kindergarten teachers: Lucy Lu left front and Micky Chan right front, Tiia Sääksjärvi and Vicky Lo middle row and top is Lisa Ding. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

The growing middle class wants quality in education.

The Growing middle class is also something that FinlandWay International Preschool in Espoo is interested in catering to. In 2018 they started their operations in Lima Peru with 5 kindergartens and now a 6th school has opened in Sao Paulo Brazil totalling over 500 students in attendance. The Finnish concept is brought to the local market with a franchising or licencing model. In our target market the public sector in not always able to offer high quality education whereas the private sector is usually the only option offering parents the best solution in education. We offer a good price to quality ratio for the masses, says CEO Noora Laitio.

  CEO, Noora Laitio noticed that there was a void to fill with Finnish early childhood education while at IFC. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

CEO, Noora Laitio noticed that there was a void to fill with Finnish early childhood education while at IFC. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Parents are paying several hundred dollars a month for early childhood education.

In South America and Asia early childhood education fees are not subsidized. This payment can be up to a quarter or a third of the families monthly income, says Laitio.

  Educator Pilvi Lindberg is teaching Finnish pedagogy to Brazilian early childhood teachers. Picture:  Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Educator Pilvi Lindberg is teaching Finnish pedagogy to Brazilian early childhood teachers. Picture: Matti Hämäläinen / Yle

Similar to China, Peruvian early childhood education has been focused on memorization more than learning through play. Laitio says that the reputation of Finnish education has raised a lot of interest for parents in South America, but they still need proof of its excellence and connectivity to their own educational structure. The Finnish teachers create stories to introduce concepts through play. Numbers learning does not only happen through memorization, but can be taught through playing store.

“During play children have the courage to try and make mistakes.”

Jonna Kangas


The company’s pedagogical director Jonna Kangas is a professor of early childhood education at the University of Helsinki. She says that children build confidence through play. Play is a safe environment to try new things and experience new roles. Through play children have the courage to try, make mistakes and to build resilience.


New kindergarten to open in Vietnam

Now the company is expanding its operations to Vietnam where they are starting to offer early childhood education in partnership with Quality Training Solutions Vietnam. It is one of the leading educational organizations in Vietnam that also has partner companies in Europe, USA and Australia. In March the first kindergarten will open in Saigon. Registration has just opened this fall for prospective parents. For both Hei Schools and FinlandWay International preschools they currently employ Finnish pedagogical directors whereas their long term goal is to train local educators in the Finnish pedagogical model. In Peru, the local staff is fully trained in the Finnish model.

This is a translation from the article published on 18.10.2018 in Yle website, originally written in Finnish by Journalist Ulla Manninen and translated by Tiina Daifi and Pamela Lewis.