While the Finnish constitution emphasises free education for all, post-comprehensive school education can produce a significant financial burden on low-income families. Save the Children Finland has received overwhelming numbers of subsidy requests from families who cannot afford textbooks and other supplies that are required for the completion of upper secondary school. Now, the NGO is calling for urgent action from the authorities.
In Finland, primary and secondary education is completely free of charge, yet the stages that follow can produce unexpected costs for students and their families. While no tuition fees exist for either upper secondary schools or vocational colleges, students are responsible for acquiring the necessary learning materials with their own funding.
About a quarter of those who drop out of upper secondary- and vocational schools claim that their decision is at least partly due to the financial burdens of completion.
The costs of materials for upper secondary school can rise up to 2600 euros for three years of education. For the vocational college student the price might be even higher, because of a need to acquire sector-specific tools, such as knives and aprons, in order to finish their education.
Some subjects in vocational school are, of course, cheaper than others. This might lead to increased drop-out rates, as some students choose the cheapest sector of study purely out of economic reasoning, and not out of actual interest in the subject.
The variation in cost for different routes of study should not be decisive in what the student ends up studying, Bicca Olin from FSS maintains. When students do not study what they really want to study, they are more likely to quit their studies out of disinterest.
Of all below 18-year old children in Finland more than 100,000 belong to low-income families. Children from such families make up a large part of the 15 per cent of Finns who have not completed upper secondary education by the time they are 25 years old.
Campaigning for free upper secondary education are Save the Children, the Finnish Teachers’ Association, SAKKI, OSKU, FSS, Yeesi Mental Health Association, the Finnish Parents’ League, and Allianssi. In September, the NGOs will launch a citizen’s initiative calling on authorities to clarify how they are going to ensure genuinely free upper secondary education for all children in Finland.