What’s hot this autumn in the Finnish education policy? Here’s an update!
OAJ actively influences educational policies, and plays its part in improving education nationally, regionally and locally. Director of Education Heljä Misukka gives an update on the issues that have kept OAJ busy this autumn.
Education policy: New solutions ahead!
The improvement of the economic situation in Finland increased the expectations for cancelling the cuts to education or at least allocating some additional resources. The budget for 2018 does seem somewhat more positive from the perspective of the education sector, but especially vocational education and training is still facing major financial challenges.
When municipal economy strengthens, teachers are not laid off, but differences between municipalities are growing. Large growth centres invest more than other municipalities in early childhood education and basic education and their development.
Lively public debate is taking place, mainly on OAJ’s initiative, on topics related to the compulsory education reform, such as extending compulsory education until the age of 18 or starting it earlier.
Compulsory education was decreed by law in 1921. In honour of the centenary of Finland’s independence this year, OAJ wishes to promote discussion on the development of the entire education system and on the fact that, in Finland, children start going to school relatively late at the age of 7 and that 15 per cent of each age group does not complete upper secondary education and training.
OAJ is preparing its own solution model that will be published in March 2018. Many political parties are also drafting their proposals in anticipation of the parliamentary elections to be held in the spring of 2019. These solutions may have major effects on the Finnish education system.
Early childhood education has a new Road Map
In June, the specialists appointed by the Minister of Education published their report on how to improve the competence level and how to increase the Finnish degree of participation in early childhood education towards the level of other Nordic countries.
This so-called Road Map contains many of the goals pursued by OAJ, including the significant expansion of kindergarten teacher education at universities – a development that is now being realised. In addition, the Road Map presents means for reforming the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care, developing the personnel’s competence and enhancing the quality and effectiveness of early childhood education.
OAJ is very satisfied with the general discussion atmosphere in relation to early childhood education having become more positive. Most political parties are in favour of free part-time early childhood education, and the Government launches a related EUR 5 million pilot. Amendments to the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care are expected to be published this year.
Basic education: Funding is a huge concern
Public debate on the state and reform of the comprehensive school has been lively. The future of the comprehensive school is contemplated by the comprehensive school forum which prepares theses and guiding principles for the future comprehensive school.
OAJ has strong representation in this work and the first results are expected still this autumn. As the key problems, OAJ has highlighted the lack of equality in the offering of and support for teaching as well as resource differences between municipalities. When it comes to funding basic education, Finland is already roughly EUR 1 billion behind other Nordic countries.
Furthermore, binding quality criteria for basic education would be needed. Public debate has also criticised the new curriculum and the lack of equality in assessments, among other things. There is certainly always room for development in these respects, but these are not top-priority problems.
Upper secondary school: Time to set the quality criteria
The upper secondary school reform properly started this autumn. OAJ participates in the preparatory working group. The Act on General Upper Secondary Education will be reformed and submitted to the parliament in the spring.
OAJ’s goals include setting quality criteria for general upper secondary education and including the student’s right to special needs education and personal guidance counselling in the Act on General Upper Secondary Education. Funding for upper secondary schools must be increased and more versatile manners of studying natural sciences, mathematical subjects and languages must be provided.
Alongside the upper secondary school reform, there is the work being carried out to reform the matriculation examination and to increase its weight in student selections for higher education institutions. At the same time, separate entrance examinations would be streamlined or partly abandoned.
Vocational education and training: Reform and the drastic cuts
Vocational education and training will be renewed thoroughly with the reform act entering into force in 2018. Reforms include the elimination of barriers between young people’s and adults’ vocational education and training and the gathering of education and training offering, funding and guidance into a unified whole under the Ministry of Education and Culture. Another goal is to increase the learning that takes place in working life.
The legislative proposal has the teacher’s role defined as OAJ hoped for, but still some education and training providers are replacing teachers with various instructors and competence coaches who do not have the teacher qualifications required by law.
In the background, there are the drastic cuts to vocational education and training, as a result of which teaching is reduced and the quality suffers. Approximately 700 teachers have already been dismissed from vocational institutions.
Higher education institutions: new vision for higher education
On OAJ’s and other parties’ request, the Minister of Education launched a broad-based preparation process with various stakeholders. On the basis of this preparation, a new vision for higher education institutions was created for Finland.
Demand for this arose from the situation in which completely different solutions are made in different parts of Finland. For instance, universities have acquired universities of applied sciences and as a result, university consortia have been created. OAJ’s concerns include, among other things, the subordinate position of universities of applied sciences, confusion between degrees and the risk that the development of higher education institutions does not focus on teaching but various administrative structures.
The new vision for higher education institutions is good. Its targets include increasing R&D funding and improving the well-being of the personnel significantly. The implementation of the vision is about to start.