OAJ is an active influencer of education policy. Heljä Misukka, OAJ’s Director of Educational Policy, is currently attending The ETUCE Special Conference in Athens, Greece. Read up on the current issues of education policy in Finland.
Towards the parliamentary election with the slogan “Education is key”
This past autumn has been busy in term of discussions on education policy in Finland. One of the main reasons for this is the parliamentary election coming up in April 2019. On the World Teachers’ Day, OAJ announced its own election objectives together with the slogan “Education is key”.
OAJ wishes to emphasise that many complex issues both at the global and the national level can be solved by investing in early childhood education, education and training, research and science. OAJ will be campaigning actively over the coming months, as the past two parliaments have cut billions of euros from education.
Based on the parties’ election programmes, it is very likely that, in the future, preschool education will last for two years and begin free of charge at the age of 5 instead of the current age of 6. This is the first public proposal made by OAJ. Increasing the length of compulsory education has also raised considerable debate among decision makers, and it is likely that compulsory education will be enhanced in some ways.
New direction for early childhood education
The new Act on Early Childhood Education passed on 1 September 2018 contains many of the significant goals pursued by OAJ, such as professional titles for persons working in day-care centres (varhaiskasvatuksen opettaja, sosionomi and lastenhoitaja) and a personnel structure, in which 2/3 of the staff have a higher education degree and each group has at least one teacher with a university degree. Directors of daycare are required to have a Master of Education qualification.
As the transfer period for the new law is as long as 12 years, OAJ aims to promote the use of the new titles and personnel structures in municipalities as soon as possible. OAJ itself has started using the title varhaiskasvatuksen opettaja (early childhood educator) in-stead of the old lastentarhanopettaja (daycare teacher).
Amongst policymakers, early childhood education is receiving positive attention in general. Free early childhood education for children under five is currently being piloted in 20 municipalities for approximately one fifth of the entire age group. The intake for early childhood educator training programmes in universities has also been permanently increased.
Improving basic education: part-time support for students and sufficient resources
Basic education has been developed in the Peruskoulufoorumi (basic education forum), where OAJ is represented. The forum has promoted e.g. the importance of part-time support for students and sufficient resources in basic education. However, the forum’s role is limited to the creation and visualisation of a shared objective. The implementation of this objective would require policies supporting it.
The equality of student assessment has become an area of development in Finland, and OAJ has also promoted it. The crux of the issue is that similar levels of skill and knowledge may be rewarded with very different grades. Assessment processes have also become more complex, resulting in considerable amounts of extra work for teachers. The assessment guidelines included in the syllabus will be further developed and improved. In particular, the criteria for minimum skill levels for pupils promoted by OAJ are likely to advance.
The Finnish Government has agreed to increase the minimum number of lessons for basic education. This has been one of OAJ’s long-term objectives. The lessons added to the syllabus at this time were immediately allocated for the teaching of a foreign language right early on in basic education. In the future, all children in Finland will start learning a foreign language in the first grade.
Reform of general upper secondary education: more guidance from start to finish
The new Act on General Upper Secondary Education was passed in Parliament this spring, and it will enter into force in autumn 2019. The students’ right to special needs education proposed by OAJ was included in the Act on General Upper Secondary Education and, moreover, personal guidance counselling will be enhanced. In the future, all upper secondary schools will be required to offer higher education studies in cooperation with higher education institutions. Development for this collaboration is currently ongoing.
The government bill concerning the matriculation examination reform will be completed in November. The weight of matriculation examination will be increased in student selections for higher education institutions. The majority of student selections for higher education institutions will be based on the matriculation examination by 2020 at the latest. Separate entrance examinations will be streamlined or partly abandoned completely. Syllabuses for upper secondary schools will also be revised.
Vocational education and training were renewed thoroughly in 2018
Vocational education and training were renewed thoroughly with the reform act entering into force on 1 January 2018. The reform included 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.
The objective of the reform is to increase the learning that takes place in working life. The teachers’ role was defined in the new legislation as OAJ hoped for, but some education and training providers are still attempting to replace teachers with various instructors and competence coaches who do not have the teacher qualifications required by law.
The reform is in response to the drastic budget cuts directed at vocational education and training, as a result of which teaching is reduced, and its quality is weakened. Approximately 1,600 teachers have already been dismissed from vocational institutions, and the situation has become challenging. OAJ has raised public attention for the dire results of these budget cuts.
A vision for higher education has been created
In collaboration with various interest groups, a vision for higher education has been created in Finland, and the vision’s implementation is now being prepared by a number of teams focusing specific themes. The vision’s objectives include increased funding for research and training, promoting continuous learning and considerably improving the education personnel’s well-being.
Continuous learning is being promoted with new legislation currently being processed in Parliament. The new funding model for higher education institutions, i.e. the way in which budgeted funding is divided between institutions, has been a debated reform. OAJ has opposed the reform, as it does nothing to solve the issues in the funding model, including the model’s exaggerated emphasis on performance-based funding. OAJ continues to call for funding that is stable and transparent.
The ETUCE Special Conference will be held on 26-28 November 2018 in Athens, Greece. The event is organized by ETUCE, the European Trade Union Committee for Education.
Photo Leena Koskela