New education initiative raises the age on compulsory classes

The aim is to cut down on the number of young people who leave compulsory education without a diploma, or drop out of secondary education without graduating.

File picture of high school students / Credit: iStock

A new initiative by the government aims to keep more young people in school and working towards a qualification by increasing the age of compulsory education to 18.

The proposal would also fund study materials for all students in high school or vocational school until their graduation, and will cost in excess of €100 million.

“We need to do it because the knowledge demands are growing in the Finnish labour markets, and we are already seeing it now when we look at the employment rate of people who don’t have a degree [diploma] from upper secondary school” or vocational school explains Li Andersson (Left), Finland’s Minister for Education.

For several decades the number of young people who come to the end of compulsory classes but don’t get any sort of secondary education diploma has hovered between 10% and 15%. And only around 40% of those people without a diploma get jobs.

File picture of Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) / Credit: News Now Finland

The government’s rationale is that something new has to be tried to change these statistics – and especially when it comes to boys who are over-represented in drop-out numbers.

“We can no longer upkeep a system where around 15% of each young generation does not get a degree from upper secondary school level, which has been the same situation in Finland since 2000” Andersson tells News Now Finland.

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by The Trade Union of Education in Finland OAJ, who say new ideas need to be implemented if there’s any chance of reducing the number of young people without a formal qualification, who slip so easily into unemployment.

“We have tried so many other things before, and nothing seems helpful. We think it’s good to have new ideas” says Heljä Misukka, OAJ’s Director of Educational Policy.

“Almost everyone nowadays can get a place from lukio [upper secondary school] or vocational education training, but quite many students never get a degree” – either because the leave school after compulsory education is over without going any further, or because they get a place at lukio or vocational college but drop out before graduating.

“It’s very difficult to go onto life if you don’t have a high school degree. And you have a really high risk of dropping out from everything.”

OAJ would have in fact liked to go further, and see the age of compulsory education raised to 19, but they are content that the age is being raised at all – until the student legally becomes an adult.

File photo of tables & chairs in a classroom / Credit: iStock

Counting the cost of education change 

Changing the fundamental way that institutions deliver education of course takes money, and the government’s set aside €107 million for this.

“We will make upper secondary education free of charge. And according to the constitution, Finnish compulsory education must be free of charge, and it is part of the basic budget that the government decided on already” says Li Andersson.

“Study materials will be free of charge both in vocational schools and also upper secondary schools. We will also make reforms that make trips to school free of charge as well for students” she adds.

The question of funding was something that OAJ was concerned about – because the added cost of going on to upper secondary education can be expensive especially in vocational schools where students might have to provide their own specialist equipment, like catering students buying knives for example.

OAJ was keen for the government to cover these extra costs of everyone who stays on to graduate, and not just cut off the money when a student reaches age 18.

“How would it be practical even, if there are people who are 17, 18, 19 and 20, if they are all in the same class it is impossible for the teacher to say ‘you will get this book free, but you won’t'” says Heljä Misukka.

File picture of high school students / Credit: iStock

“It seems as if most of the €107 million will go to free materials and free traveling costs and that worries us, will there be money enough for those people who need a lot of support” she questions.

Not everyone agrees that this particular reform is the right course of action. The National Coalition Party had wanted to see more emphasis put on early childhood education, with compulsory schooling starting earlier. OAJ would have liked ideally to see both: extra education at the beginning of school life and at the end as well.

But the government is making progress on early education as well.

A pilot programme to introduce a two-year pre-school period is being rolled out to see how it affects younger children and their learning outcomes; and the government has also proposed a change to the regulations about the ratio of staff-to-children at kindergartens.

Education Minister Li Andersson stresses that the government has budgeted out the secondary education reforms properly and is committed to enacting the plan.

“Finland has been trying for two decades to succeed in making sure everyone gets a degree without actually lowering the number of people who don’t get a degree” says the minister.

“Now we need a more comprehensive reform.”

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