In a notable shift within the Finnish education system, an increasing number of students are opting for non-religious ethics (ET) courses over traditional religious studies. This trend, highlighted by data collected directly from municipalities for the 2023-24 academic year, reveals a significant rise in the popularity of ET courses across Finland.
Data from the ten largest municipalities and a sample of smaller towns indicate that the number of students enrolled in ET courses has surged by 30-60% over the last five years,
with some smaller localities experiencing growth of over 100%. The highest proportions of ET students are found in the capital region, with nearly 30% in Helsinki, and around 20% in Espoo and Vantaa. Other major cities like Tampere and Turku follow closely, showcasing substantial growth in ET enrollments.
The trend is even more pronounced in smaller and medium-sized towns, where the percentage of ET students is lower, but the rate of increase over the past five years is higher. For instance, Kuopio saw a 68% rise, Pori 97%, Hämeenkyrö 138%, and Tammela an impressive 180% increase since the 2018-19 academic year.
This surge in ET popularity is expected to continue, as younger students are showing a greater inclination towards these courses. For example, in Espoo, the proportion of ET students in the 9th grade is 16%, but it jumps to 24% in the 2nd grade.
The growing preference for ET is partly attributed to the declining rate of infants being registered with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. While ET education is becoming more widely available, it remains underutilized in smaller communities and schools due to logistical challenges. However, new teaching groups are emerging as parents advocate for their children's right to ET education.
As the enrollment process for new first graders starting school in August 2024 is currently underway, these changing dynamics in student preferences for ET over religious studies reflect a significant shift in Finnish educational and societal values. This transition indicates a
growing interest in secular ethics education, mirroring wider societal trends and changes in religious affiliations.
The data, gathered from municipalities for the academic year 2023-24, contrasts sharply with the last national statistics from 2018-19. The increase is noteworthy in cities like Helsinki, where ET participation rose from 22.8% to 29.1%, and in Espoo, which saw an increase from 13.0% to 20.4%. This pattern of growth is consistent across both large and small municipalities, demonstrating a nationwide shift towards ET education.
The rise in ET's popularity can be linked to various factors, including societal shifts towards secularism and an increasing emphasis on individual choice in matters of belief and ethics. The Finnish education system's flexibility in allowing students to choose between religious and ethics education reflects these changing attitudes.
As the trend continues, schools and municipalities are adapting to accommodate the increasing demand for ET classes. This involves not only logistical adjustments but also an expansion of the curriculum to ensure that it remains relevant and engaging for students.
The move towards ET education represents a broader trend in Finnish society, where traditional religious affiliations are giving way to a more diverse and secular approach to ethics and morality. This shift is likely to have a lasting impact on the educational landscape, as well as on the broader cultural and societal norms in Finland.
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