The work towards equal education must be updated to the 2020s
During the current government term, Finland must draft a long-term programme to promote equality in education, covering the entire education path. The programme should also include ambitious, clear and measurable objectives. This concept is internationally proven: in Ireland, for example, access to education is a strategic decision, and similar plans have been drawn up and implemented since 2005.
The programme should set five objectives:
It has been long known that the educational choices of young Finns are strongly gendered, and gender segregation occurs especially when moving from primary to vocational and general upper secondary education. Today, 58 % of new general upper secondary school students are women and in some regions, clearly over 60% of those who have accepted a place in general upper secondary school are women. In addition, choices of career fields within education are remarkably gendered. In practice, the choice of career is often inherited from father to son and from mother to daughter. This is particularly evident in universities of applied sciences: for example, more than 85% of students in the fields of technology and transport are men (in finnish), while 85% of students in the fields of social services, health and sports are women (in finnish).
Compared to the rest of the population, people with an immigrant background are more strongly selected in terms of whether they continue from primary to upper secondary education. In addition, students with a Finnish background graduate from upper secondary general education and vocational education faster than students with foreign background. The educational choices of students with an immigrant background are also particularly gendered. Immigrants often attend post-integration training and training that replaces integration training on the basis of what training is available, not what is appropriate for their actual educational needs and in terms of their skills and educational background. Another problem is that immigrants are directed to studies on the basis of cultural presuppositions, regardless of the individual’s own wishes.
Family background has a significant impact on the educational path of Finnish people. Throughout Finland, students’ socioeconomic background strongly predicts the choice of place of study: socioeconomic background strongly explains the division of students between attending university of applied sciences or university education. Socioeconomic background is also linked to many other aspects of educational equality: for example, the choice of upper secondary education is particularly gendered among students with a low socioeconomic background. In addition, parents’ educational background is one of the most clear factors influencing educational choices. One in four men studying in higher education is in the same field as their father.
Graduation rate in education varies by both gender and ethnicity. Women most often drop out of vocational education and training, while men drop out of education in university of applied sciences. In addition, students with a Finnish background graduate from upper secondary general education and vocational education faster than students with foreign background. 81% of students with Finnish background graduated general upper secondary general education in three and a half years, compared to 66% of students with an immigrant background. 69% of students with a Finnish background and 60% of students with an immigrant background passed vocational education in three and a half years.
The measurement and monitoring of educational equality in Finnish higher education is often unsystematic, even as equality in education is seen as an important goal by the government. There do not seem to be established ways of measuring equality in education, which has certainly made monitoring efforts more difficult.
Solution-oriented, productive, effective
The measures proposed in the plan must take into account three cross-cutting themes:
- defined population groups whom the measures specifically target
- times during a person’s educational path when biases in educational choices can be effectively addressed
- in addition to educational choices, the divergence of skill levels preceding them must also be taken into account.
The measures could be implemented largely with project funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture as in other current flagship projects.
Possible measures could include:
- Increasing funding for positive discrimination in basic education and developing a more standardised national assessment of comprehensive schools.
- A flagship project to improve the graduates rates in higher education through new tools for student guidance and support for resuming interrupted studies.
- Development of training preparing for higher education organised by universities of applied sciences for immigrants, extending this to also cover university studies, and carrying out a survey on whether preparatory education for higher education studies can lead to successful pathways to degree studies.
- Regional businesses and schools need to work together more strategically in dismantling stereotypes.
- Providing special support for the upper secondary education choices of young women whose home languages is other than Finnish or Swedish, as well as diversification of educational and career prospects for boys and young men by breaking down stereotyped models of masculinity more clearly as part of primary education.
- Developing the marketing of higher education to be more inclusive and promoting of diversity.
- Developing the effective use of educational equality indicators, data collection and research.
Programme for educational equality: steps towards a fairer society
A polarising society, inequality and exclusion are great challenges of our time. Educational equality is one of the most efficient and effective ways to solve these challenges. For this reason, society must guarantee everyone of all ages equal opportunities to acquire the skills and education required to succeed in the labour market and life in general. In order for Finnish education to be truly the best in the world, everyone, regardless of background, must be ensure access to education to their full potential.
One of the most important questions during this government term is how we ensure that people have a genuine opportunity to get an education as far as their own resources and motivation permit. That is why the Government must prepare a strategic, ambitious programme for educational equality covering the entire educational path. This will help ensure that Finland will continue to be a model country for educational equality in the 2030s.