The annual Educa trade fair organised by the Trade Union of Education in Finland, OAJ, will bring together thousands of Finnish teachers. One of the key events will be a panel featuring the top names in party politics, who will be challenged on the future of education, training and research.
The two-day Educa fair is Finland’s, and the entire Nordic region’s, largest education sector event, which is expected to attract more than 17,000 Finnish teachers to Helsinki.
The fair will be packed with events. The one that Suvi Pulkkinen, OAJ’s Special Advisor, is looking forward to the most is the election debate, which will feature the top names in politics.
“Finland’s parliamentary election takes place in April, so this is the perfect time to introduce educational policy to the debate and the agendas of the political parties. The event will focus on how the parties plan to develop education and how much they would be willing to invest in it,” says Pulkkinen.
OAJ co-operates continuously with policymakers
OAJ co-operates equally with all the parties throughout the election period.
Following our traditionally good relations with the government, we have excellent communication with the current Minister of Education and her cabinet. It is important in my opinion because it allows us to discuss many important reforms and to build them collaboratively,” says Pulkkinen.
According to her, the policymakers see teachers as a key stakeholder and understand that for the reforms to be successful, teachers need to stand behind them.
“That is why Educa is an excellent opportunity for politicians to test their parties’ ideas in front of a huge audience of teachers and surrounded by the media,” Pulkkinen points out.
Long period of education cuts behind us
Even in Finland, co-operation between the teacher union and politicians has not always been plain sailing.
“The educational policies of the last two governments have been budget-led and the reforms have been carried out at the expense of teachers. The major education cuts have made their mark on all development,” says Pulkkinen.
For instance, the funding of vocational education has been slashed by more than a fifth. This, despite the fact that in the lead-up to the previous election, all of the party leaders made a promise at Educa that education funds would not be cut.
“It will be interesting to see what education promises the party leaders are ready to make next weekend.”
OAJ has stood up for teachers
Despite the tight budget, some positive reforms have also been made in Finland.
The personnel structure in early childhood education was reformed so that, in future, more university-educated teachers will be working at day-care centres. The amount of foreign language teaching was increased in basic education and students in upper secondary school were given the right to special education.
“OAJ has been active in proposing new political acts. We have supplied practical solutions based on high-level expertise to the problems presented by the parties,” explains Pulkkinen.
OAJ has proposed, for example, the extension of compulsory education. The topic has raised a lot of discussion and the new government is expected to make a decision.
“We have been proactive in this discussion and we are fairly sure that a two-year preschool and the extension of compulsory education to apply to upper secondary school education will be the hottest educational policy topics in this election,” says Pulkkinen.
Education is the key to solving major societal issues
Also OAJ’s election campaign is based on finding solutions. The theme is Koulutus ratkaisee (Education solves problems) and OAJ’s campaign is highlighting the role of education as a way of resolving societal issues.
“Whether the problem is the availability of workforce, marginalisation, societal divisions or climate change, the solution cannot be found without high-quality education, training, science and research supplied with sufficient resources. This is why we need to invest in education and give teachers the chance to do their jobs well,” says Pulkkinen.
“It is education’s turn”
OAJ’s objective is for the significance of education to be a key topic of discussion during the parliamentary election, whether from the perspective of immigration or labour policy.
At Educa, Suvi Pulkkinen will be listening closely to what promises the party leaders make in the debate. Empty promises and words ahead of the election are not enough, however. Real confidence will be measured when the government programme is decided.
“We believe that it is education’s turn and we consider many of the parties’ education policies to be excellent. But the ideas can’t just remain at a policy programme level; they need to be made a reality. There is no doubt that education sector professionals are ready to call out policymakers if education resources are not improved. I expect that the audience will make that clear at Educa, too,” concludes Suvi Pulkkinen.