Finland: Investment in quality education yields results
During her visit to Finland, from 25-28 January, EI President Susan Hopgood addressed around 14,000 teachers at the international seminar, “Finland – World’s Most Skilled Nation 2020?” organised by one of EI’s national affiliates, the Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö (OAJ). She welcomed the fact that Finland is acknowledged around the world for its successful public education system, quality teachers, and students’ high performance in international tests. She noted this is largely due to national commitment and investment in quality education.
“It is important that the strong message you have of a well-supported and resourced public education system and the teachers in it is received by many governments,” said Hopgood in her presentation, delivered on 27 January, at the first-ever international seminar organised during an Educa event. “The latter must invest more resources in public school. Over the course of a century and a half, free, universally available public education was recognised as the foundation for the growth and prosperity of the nations we call today ‘the industrialised countries’.”
She indicated that the quality of education depends first and foremost on the quality of teachers. Teachers must be well trained, receive decent remuneration, and be valued in their societies.
Lack of political will, an obstacle
Welcoming the fact that the Finnish system promotes not only quality, but also equal access to education, EI president went on to say: “Education remains the key to overcome poverty and injustice, and achieve peace, social cohesion and human dignity in this world. But the greatest obstacle to the achievement of quality education for all remains the lack of political will of governments.”
Hopgood reminded participants about a recent EI study challenging the notion that, in the context of the current economic crisis, severe cutbacks and austerity measures must be accepted, on the basis that there is no money available. This report explores the extent to which global corporations are avoiding vital taxes which would help countries to fund their public services. Trillions of US dollars, sterling, and Euro are lost annually through corporate tax avoidance and evasion – enough to provide the resource needs of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the budget requirements for social services in industrialised countries.
Increasingly, governments and international agencies are looking to the private sector for the solution to achieving the MDGs. Public-private partnerships are promoted as the way forward to achieve education for all. And, in many industrialised countries, governments are avoiding their responsibilities and looking to the private sector to build public schools. “This is the antithesis of the learning environments we seek for all children in all parts of the world,” Hopgood said. Noting there is no contradiction whatsoever between educators’ trade union and professional roles and aspirations, she said they are complementary. “Learning conditions and working conditions are inextricably linked. In fact, our strength is based on that dual role.”
Public education under attack
Hopgood deplored that public education is under unprecedented attack – both in the countries that built their prosperity on public education and in the countries that still aspire to achieve quality education for all. “Much is at stake. Ultimately, an attack on public education is an attack on democracy. “We know our advocacy will be most effective when we have strong, activist organisations,” she underlined. “By its very nature, organising is essentially local. Strong local organisations are the building blocks for strong national organisations. And strong national unions in turn are the building blocks for our Global Union.”
Hopgood finished by stating: “Together, through our education unions and in solidarity with others, we can make a difference. Quality public education and solidarity are powerful weapons.”
At the international seminar, OAJ President Olli Luukkainen reasserted the Finnish Government’s aim to make Finland the world’s most skilled nation by 2020. “There is no room for complacency or stagnation but you must always be moving forward, to the future.
“I really hope that none of our educational policymakers make the mistake of thinking that, since our standards are so good and we have been ranked at the top, we can now lie back a bit and not put all our efforts into educational development,” Luukkainen said.
Attracting the best minds
“The teacher is the key factor in quality education. We must ensure that we attract our best minds into teaching. This is the case in Finland.”
Acknowledging that the ongoing European and global economic crisis has an impact on education worldwide, he added: “Political decision-makers everywhere should now keep their cool and remember that economic growth does not come without innovation and development work. And this requires a broad and strong educational basis. Any knee-jerk reaction to cut education funding now will have to be paid for later.”
Hopgood later visited the Finnish Parliament, meeting with Raija Vahasalo, MP, Chair of the Education and Culture Committee. Hopgood and Vahasalo discussed the Finnish school system's strengths, including a high-quality teacher education. Hopgood again praised the fact that, in Finland, education is highly-valued, and considerable investment is brought in its development. This Educa event is the largest teachers’ meeting in Finland with more than 100 seminars held over two days. A panel also took place, where all political parties represented at the Finnish Parliament exchanged ideas about educational development. This year’s event was of particular significance: Finnish local elections will be held next October, and municipalities hold considerable influence in terms of educational policy.