Press releases

A reprimand to the Finnish National Board of Education for Hymn Quiz arrangements in comprehensive schools

Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja issued a reprimand to the Finnish National Board of Education for the manner in which it organised the so-called Hymn Quiz (Virsivisa) in comprehensive schools in cooperation with the Church Council and the Parishes' Centre for Child Work.

Three complaints were filed with the Parliamentary Ombudsman concerning the organisation of the quiz.
The complainants claimed that by participating in the organisation of the quiz, the Finnish National Board of Education violates the duty of impartiality of public authorities. The complainants also felt that organising the quiz in connection with school subjects is inconsistent with the non-denominational ethos of basic education.

Children learn hymns for the quiz

The Hymn Quiz, which targets pupils in grades 3 and 4, has been organised every second year since 2003. The quiz has three levels; the children learn 20 hymns for the local level, and five more for the regional level and the finals.
Teams of three pupils are sent to participate in the quiz. Last academic year, there were 4,500 participants in a total of 66 municipalities. This amount is less than five per cent of the schoolchildren in the relevant age classes.

For the first level of the Hymn Quiz, the pupils mainly learn some of the better known hymns, but also some less common ones. As they progress to the next levels the share of less well known hymns increases.

Genuine freedom of choice is essential

Pajuoja's assessment is based on the national core curriculum for basic education, the Constitution of Finland and a report of the Constitutional Law Committee from 2014.

He notes that the newsletters sent to the schools by the Finnish National Board of Education and the Parishes' Centre for Child Work contained conflicting information.

In its letter, the Finnish National Board of Education stressed that participation in the quiz was voluntary.

Teaching of religion must not be denominational

When assessing whether or not the Hymn Quiz was denominational in nature or not, he concluded that singing hymns fundamentally contains a strong element of practising religion.
- According to the organisation arranging the Hymn Quiz, the mission of the competition indeed is to strengthen children's Christian identity and ties with the parish, Pajuoja notes.

The Deputy-Ombudsman considers that instruction should clearly be delivered in accordance with the national core curriculum. Teachers have a duty to comply with the curriculum, which may not contain religious education with a denominational ethos.
- Participation in the Hymn Quiz also means that one area of religious education is emphasised at the cost of other contents of the subject, Pajuoja finds.

The guardians' conviction should be respected

In Pajuoja's opinion, it is absolutely necessary to safeguard the full realisation of the pupils' freedom of conscience and religion and to respect the conviction of the pupil's guardians in the arrangements of the Hymn Quiz.

- The education provider should inform the guardians early enough in advance about participation in the quiz. At the same time, it must be ensured that participation genuinely is voluntary and consistent with the beliefs of the pupil's family.
Additionally, the quiz should not disrupt the instruction of pupils who do not take part in it, and alternative activities should be organised for them.

Counsellor of Education was disqualified

Pajuoja also found that Counsellor of Education Pekka Iivonen was disqualified as a public servant from managing communications about the Hymn Quiz to the schools. Iivonen is a Board member in the Parishes' Centre for Child Work, the organiser of the quiz.

The full text of Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja's decision no 2469/2014 (in Finnish)
Further information is available from Legal Advisor Piatta Skottman-Kivelä, tel. +358 (0)9 4323347.