The Finnish basic school system was created because we wanted to ensure that the whole nation would receive an adequate education. By affording education to all students, regardless of their family background, we wanted to enable every student to find employment and pursue his or her dreams. At the time, the political right opposed the introduction of basic school. Today, we know that Finnish basic school is a success story admired around the world.
Over the past 30 years, more than half a million jobs available to those with a nine-year basic education have disappeared in Finland. At the same time, 16% of the school-leaving age cohort has only completed basic school studies, although in a rapidly changing world it is difficult to find work and earn a living with only a basic school certificate. Less than half of the pupils with only a basic school education are employed. However, in modern working life, upper secondary or vocational education is required. This is the main reason why Prime Minister Marin's government intends to extend compulsory education until pupils have finished their upper secondary or vocational education.
According to surveys, almost 60% of students consider that the cost of study materials needed in secondary education poses an economic challenge to them. Approximately half of the young people without a degree and a place of education have had to dismiss or abandon their studies due to a lack of money. The proposed extension of compulsory education will also make secondary education free of charge. Then, high expenses will no longer pose an obstacle to studying for anyone.
Again today, there are opponents to the new reform, particularly on the political right, just as there were when our basic school was introduced. The political right’s main counterargument is that resources should be targeted only at low-income students. However, this has been the case up until now, and still, 16% of young people have been left without adequate education and opportunities to do well in life. Every young person must be taken care of.
With the economic and employment challenges caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, future efforts to extend compulsory education will be even more important. We should notice that extending compulsory education up to upper secondary or vocational education is estimated to increase the employment rate by 4%. This is because the employment rate of basic school graduates is just over 40%, while that of upper secondary or vocational school graduates is more than 70%. An increase of only 1% in employment will generate around 700 million euros more in public finances. Bearing this in mind, the cost of the reform, roughly 100 million euros, is small. After the coronavirus crisis, Finland needs skills and competencies more than ever.
Member of Parliament, Social Democratic Party
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of Parliament are encouraged to contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
Adam Oliver Smith - HT (Ed.)