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II Part: Analytic Section


Definition of Basic Education

In Finland, the concept basic education means the compulsory education, which is almost invariably provided by comprehensive schools. Children start school in the year they attain the age of seven. Compulsory education continues for ten years or until the completion of the nine-year-long comprehensive school curriculum. In Finland, 99.7 % of the age group complete compulsory schooling, which means that Finland has one of the lowest drop-out rates in the world.

5. Expansion of early childhood care and developmental activities

5.1 Description of the present situation

The Finnish school system does not include preparatory schools in the proper sense of the word, but pre-school education is provided in day care centres and comprehensive schools.

The term ‘pre-school education’ has two established meanings: the year preceding one’s compulsory education, on the one hand, and the systematic education and instruction provided, usually within the day care system, for children from 3 to 6 years of age, on the other.

Pre-school education given in comprehensive schools is cost-free for the parents whereas day care centres charge reasonable fees for education depending on size and income of the family and on the number of children participating in day care from the same family. Participation in the pre-school education is voluntary. Neither are the municipalities obligated to organise pre-school education.

In 1996, a national core curriculum was drawn up for 6-year-olds’ pre-school education. The aim of pre-school education is to create stimulating learning environment offering inspiring activities, where the child is able to develop holistically together with other children. The aim is also to involve children and their parents in the planning of pre-school education.

5.1.1 Pre-school Education Provided in Day Care

Pre-school education provided in connection with day care is usually organised in kindergartens (day care centres). These are institutions responsible for organising day care and pre-school education for children of 0-6 years of age.

In addition to kindergartens, another relatively common form of day care is called ‘family day care’, which refers to day care provided in a private home or in some similar domestic day care environment (called ‘family day care homes’). Family day care workers are thus private persons whose educational background is suitable for the task. The advantages of this form of day care are the domestic environment and small group sizes.

In sparsely populated areas, pre-school education may be organised within the system of what is called mobile kindergarten. In this case, pre-school education is provided e.g. on certain weekdays or on a couple of days at a time. In addition to the pre-school education organised by municipalities, e.g. play groups run by parishes and many schools and kindergartens specialising in some alternative pedagogy (Montessori, Steiner, Reggio, etc.) also provide activities comparable to pre-school education.

5.1.2 Pre-school Education Provided in Connection with Basic Education

Pre-school education for six-year-old children in comprehensive schools is organised either in a combined class together with pupils in the lower year classes or in a separate pre-school class. The size of pupil groups is not regulated in the comprehensive school.

5.2 Future prospects

The present Government, appointed in the spring of 1999, has set the objective of providing all six-year-olds with pre-school education free of charge by the year 2001.

A working group report concerning legislative amendments required by the reform of pre-school education was completed recently. The working group’s proposal is based on the Government Programme, according to which the reform of pre-school education for six-year-olds would be introduced in the municipalities on a voluntary basis as from the autumn of the year 2000. Children’s right to pre-school education provided free of charge and the obligation of the municipalities to provide such education would take effect in the autumn of 2001.

Pre-school education could be arranged at school, within children’s day-care or in some other suitable place. Irrespective of where it is provided, pre-school education would be subject to the legislation governing basic education. Participation in pre-school education would be voluntary for children.

The National Board of Education will draw up the national core curriculum for pre-school education in co-operation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (Stakes). Based on the core curriculum, each education provider should approve the local curriculum.

In the autumn of 2001, the estimated number of six-year-olds in pre-school education provided free of charge would be 59,000, i.e. about 90% of the age group.

5.3 Children with Special Educational Needs

Systematic two-year pre-primary education is provided for severely handicapped children, for whom the 11-year compulsory education begins at the age of 6, i.e. one year earlier than for normal children.

5.4 Minorities, immigrants, refugees

The amendment to the Children’s Day Care Decree, which entered into force on 1 January 1995 states clearly that one of the educational goals of day care is the promotion of Sami, Romani and immigrant children’s language and culture with the help of representatives of the culture in question. However, day care in the Sami language, for example, is not an established practice yet.

As regards the Romani minority, municipalities have not yet taken measures as a result of the amendment. Not much information on the Romani culture or on co-operation with the Romani has been provided in the training of the personnel of day care centres. It has been estimated that the number of Romani children in day care or preparatory school is relatively small compared to other children.

The Decision (104/1997) issued in 1997 by the Ministry of Education was a significant improvement in that it extended pre-school instruction to all immigrants referred to in the Comprehensive School Act. The objective of pre-school, which lasts six months, is to promote the integration of immigrant children and youngsters into Finnish society, endow them with the skills - including skills of the Finnish language - necessary at comprehensive school as well as help them master their mother tongue and understand their culture.

5.5 Key Figures

The number of children in pre-school education has steadily risen throughout the 1990s. In the autumn of 1997, there were altogether about 6,500 six-year-old children receiving pre-school education in comprehensive schools (about 10% of the age group). However, regional variations are great.

Table 5.1 Percentage of children aged 3-6 years in pre-primary programmes 1990-1998

Year Population Enrolled Enrolment rate
1990 249 200 86 400 35 %
1991 248 000 88 400 36 %
1992 248 900 89 700 36 %
1993 254 200 92 200 36 %
1994 259 500 95 900 37 %
1995 262 400 104 200 40 %
1996 263 500 114 200 43 %
1997 262 600 119 000 45 %
1998 260 100 124 600 48 %

Source: Statistics Finland, STAKES

Table 5.2 Percentage of children aged 3-6 years in pre-primary programmes in 1997 by region

Uusimaa Eastern Uusimaa South-West Finland Satakunta Häme Pirkanmaa Päijät-Häme Kymenlaakso Southern Karelia Southern Savo Northern Savo Northern Karelia Central Finland Southern Ostrobothnia Vaasa coastal region Central Ostrobothnia Northern Ostrobothnia Kainuu Lapland Åland
45 54 57 37 37 48 38 46 42 41 44 36 36 24 46 41 38 38 44 68

Source: Statistics Finland, STAKES

6. Universal access to, and completion of, basic education

6.1 Description of the present situation

The Basic Education Act provides on the arrangement of education free of charge, as is referred to in the Constitution Act of Finland. Municipalities are obliged to arrange basic education, including the provision of learning materials, school meals and health care, free of charge to all children of compulsory education age in their area.

According to the Basic Education Act, children residing permanently in Finland are subject to compulsory education. Compulsory education starts in the year that a child becomes seven years of age and ends when the syllabus of basic education has been completed or after 10 years from the beginning of compulsory education.

The guardian, i.e., person responsible for a child of school age, has to ensure that he or she complies with this obligation. In practice, compulsory education is monitored by the municipalities by keeping a list of all school-aged children. The guardian is informed when a child is to be registered at a school. If the child is not registered or his or her instruction organised in some other way (e.g., at home), the guardian may be fined for neglecting his or her supervisory duty.

A child may be granted the right to start basic education one year earlier than prescribed, provided that the child has, based on psychological and medical examinations, the aptitudes for coping at school. Correspondingly, on the basis of similar examinations, a child may also be granted permission to start basic education one year later than prescribed.

There is no school attendance obligation in Finland, but compulsory education may also be completed by studying at home, for example. In this case, the municipality of residence is obligated to verify a child’s progress in his or her studies. The number of those studying at home is minimal.

Despite Finland’s low population density, the accessibility of schools is on average good. More than 80% of comprehensive school pupils lived less than five kilometres from their schools in 1996. The distances and the time spent travelling to school have, however, grown longer in the sparsely-populated regions of Northern Finland. In grades 7-9 it is not unusual for a pupil to travel over 100 kilometres even. These long distances nevertheless affect only a small number of pupils.

6.1.1 General Objectives

The objective of basic education is to support pupils’ growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of society and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary in life.

The instruction should promote equality in society and the pupils’ abilities to participate in education and to otherwise develop themselves during their lives.

6.1.2 Curriculum

The basic education syllabus includes at least the following subjects: mother tongue and literature (Finnish or Swedish), the other national language (Swedish or Finnish), foreign languages, environmental studies, civics, religion or ethics, history, social studies, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, physical education, music, visual arts, craft and home economics.

The government determines the broad national objectives for education and the number of classroom hours allocated to each subject. The National Board of Education decides on the national core curriculum, which defines objectives and core contents of instruction, as well as the basic rules for the evaluation of the pupils. Based on these, the education provider, i.e., usually local educational authorities, and the schools themselves draw up their own curricula. The flexibility of time allocation gives schools an opportunity to provide studies which fulfil pupils and their parents’ wishes and which are based on the special features of schools.

6.1.3 Promotion

The evaluation of the pupils and other forms of assessment are based on the objectives laid down in the curriculum and it is carried out by the teacher of the subject in question.

The evaluation should especially support the healthy development of the pupil's self-esteem and help to form a realistic picture of his or her knowledge and skills, and of the significance of continuous learning. The evaluation by the teachers is meant to direct the interests and efforts of the pupil. One condition for positive growth is that the pupils learn to see the significance of their work as a pre-condition for good results. Evaluation is an integral part of the co-operation between home and school.

A pupil whose performance has been accepted in all the evaluated subjects is promoted to the next grade. Granting the promotion and finally the school-leaving certificate is decided by the rector in co-operation with the pupil’s teachers. Pupils who have not acquired an adequate mastery of the curriculum at the end of the school year or do not have the required maturity are made to repeat the year. Although the repetition, in theory, is possible every year, the percentage of pupils who actually repeat is very low, about 0.5 per cent of all pupils.

6.2 Developments in the 1990’s

The average size of the comprehensive schools has increased annually in the 1990s as schools have been closed and the number of pupils has grown in the urban centres and towns. Nearly 700 primary schools have been closed in the 1990s. This has been due greatly to the dwindling number of pupils in the rural areas. Rationalisation has been another major reason for closing primary schools, mainly small ones, in the 1990s.

The budgetary framework for the different administrative branches, covering the period from 1997 to 1999, was laid down by the Government in 1996 when the various cuts required in the post-depression phase were still executed to the full. The stringent economic situation has continued to affect the educational policy even during the last few years, leading, among other things, to cuts in state subsidies to municipalities. This in turn has led several municipalities to lay off their teachers to reduce costs arising from educational services. In 1997, a total of 47 municipalities (less than 10% of all municipalities) laid off teachers for a period of a few days to four weeks. Many quarters have criticised the lay-off policy because it may have endangered the realisation of the pupils' fundamental rights. The new legislation, effective as of 1999, imposes restrictions on lay-offs. Only a few municipalities have announced they will lay off teachers in 1999.

Since August 1999, there has been more opportunities to arrange a 10th transitional year for those students who will not attend to secondary education after the nine-year comprehensive education. This transitional year will be possible for students who have completed their comprehensive education. The aim of this year is to provide students a year’s time to explore their personal growth and also potential career paths. The key issue during this transitional year is guidance integrated within an individual learning commitment and an action plan. The individual programmes can be integrated into comprehensive education or in secondary level education.

Another area that has been paid attention to during the latter half of the 1990’s is the development of extra-curricular activities in connection with basic education. The idea of the after-school provision is to provide children with a safe and stimulating environments where they can develop themselves according to their own interests and inclinations. The aims of the versatile club activities include e.g., supporting children with their hobbies and providing them with equal opportunities, promoting social interaction between pupils, improving the school atmosphere and preventing marginalisation.

Cooperation and networking of different partners play central role in the development of club activities. School, pupils and their parents, municipal authorities, enterprises, associations and organisations share the responsibility for the club activities at the local level. Moreover, the National Board of Education has launched a national project for the years 1999-2001, aiming at the development of club activities.

6.3 Children with Special Educational Needs

The comprehensive school education must be arranged so that the child’s age and preparedness for learning are taken into account. Thus even severely disabled children are taught at comprehensive schools. Compulsory education usually starts in the year that the child becomes seven years of age. For children with special needs, compulsory education starts one year earlier and lasts eleven years.

Instruction and, if necessary, syllabi can be adjusted, and an individual curriculum can be designed for the pupil. Pupils in need of special support are provided with personal education and rehabilitation programmes, which include measures concerning both education and rehabilitation.

Pupils with learning difficulties get remedial teaching in addition to normal classes. The educational authorities are responsible for the education of all children, including those with profound developmental disability. The aim is to integrate special-needs education as far as possible into ordinary schools, keeping in mind that there are those who benefit more from separate special-needs education.

According to the Basic Education Act, a pupil with minor learning disabilities, such as reading disorders, or difficulties of adjustment, or slight learning difficulties in individual subjects difficulties, is entitled to special education by the side of normal class hours. This is called part-time special education. If various support measures are not sufficient to eliminate a pupil’s learning or adjustment difficulties, he or she may be transferred to entirely to special education.

In the school year 1994-95, special education was given to 16% of all pupils in comprehensive schools (94 000 pupils). The majority of them (12.5%) received special education in some subjects and only 3.5% were taught in full-time special education rooms.

Basic education is also provided for children of compulsory school age in hospitals. The municipality where the hospital is situated is responsible for arranging the instruction. Furthermore, pupils who are lagging behind instruction due to illness, absences for other reasons or temporary learning problems have the right to receive remedial instruction.

6.4 Minorities, Immigrants and Refugees

According to the Basic Education Act the education takes place either in Finnish or Swedish. Bilingual municipalities are required to provide schools for both language groups. The education may also be given in the Sami language, Romani language or sign language. Part of the education may also be given in some other language. The education of pupils who live in the Sami Homeland and can speak the Sami language shall mainly be given in the Sami language.

According to the Basic Education Act Finnish, Swedish or Sami may be taught as mother tongue, depending on the language of education of the pupil. Also the Romani language, sign language or some other native language may be taught as mother tongue in accordance with the choice of the custodian of the pupil.

Sami classes and the use of Sami as a language of instruction have increased substantially in the past couple of decades. Municipalities in the Sami Homeland have done their best to organise both Sami classes and instruction given in Sami, although the number of participants has been small.

The Basic Education Act does not, however, place the municipalities under an obligation to arrange teaching of the Romani language. The education of pupils speaking the Romani language is at present given on the basis of a decision of the Ministry of Education (248/1995.

The State pays 86% of the costs of such teaching of the mother tongue. Thus the municipalities should have economic possibilities for arranging the education. In practice municipalities often invoke economic problems as a reason for not providing education. Romani acting as Romani language teachers and as school assistants have supported Romani pupils and functioned as mediators between teachers on the one hand and schools and homes on the other.

In 1998 there were some 220 pupils participating in the teaching of the Romani language in eight municipalities when there were in total 1500 to 1700 Romani children at school age.

Due to the cultural background, Romani children have even in the past few years often failed to complete their school. The situation in respect of school attendance and acquired post-school education has clearly improved every year, but there are still school drop-outs to some extent among Romani children.

Immigrant children of statutory school age can be given preparatory education provided that certain preconditions are met. According to the Basic Education Act, the scope of instruction for immigrants prior to their integration to basic education corresponds to education given over one term. Based on a decision made by the Ministry of Education on preparatory education for immigrants, such education has been given, as of the beginning of 1997, to all immigrant children of comprehensive school age. Special funds are reserved to provide immigrant pupils with special remedial instruction and instruction in their mother tongue.

Refugees and asylum-seekers have been given preparatory instruction even earlier than that. Preparatory instruction aims at facilitating the integration of immigrants into the Finnish society and providing them with the capacity to move to classes where basic education is given in Finnish or Swedish. In addition, immigrants are encouraged to use and develop their skills in their own mother tongue. Remedial teaching can be provided to support the learning process.

6.5 Key Figures

Table 6.1: Repetition in the comprehensive schools 1991-1998, percentage of pupils

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
0.5 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.5

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 6.2: Repetition in the comprehensive school in 1998, percentage of pupils by grade

  1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. total
Girls 0.6 0.6 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.7 0.4
Boys 1.2 1.1 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.7 0.9 0.6
All 0.9 0.8 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.6 0.8 0.5

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 6.3 Number of schools and pupils 1990-1998

   1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
Schools 4.869 4.843 4.758 4.610 4.539 4.474 4.391 4.112 4.203
Pupils 593.000 596.000 594.200 590.300 587.500 588.200 589.100 592.400 591.700

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 6.4 Number of schools and pupils in 1997, by language of instruction

  finnish swedish other
Schools 3.978 334 7
Pupils 556.100 34.200 2.100

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 6.5 Pupil-teacher ratio in the comprehensive schools by regions, school year 1997/98

  Pupils teachers


pupil-teacher ratio
Whole Country 580 200 39 800 14.6
Southern Finland 217 400 14 600 14.9
Western Finland 206 400 14 000 14.7
Eastern Finland 70 600 5 100 13.8
Oulu 60 800 4 200 14.5
Lapland 25 000 1 900 13.2

Source: Statistics Finland

7 Expansion of provision - Post-compulsory education

7.1 Brief description of the present situation

Post-comprehensive school education is given by general upper secondary schools and vocational schools. Like basic education, secondary education is given free of charge. According to the present education policy, the principle in planning educational services is to offer the entire age group completing comprehensive school a study place in either general upper secondary education or upper secondary vocational education.

The general upper secondary schools offer a three-year general education curriculum, at the end of which the pupils take a national matriculation examination, giving a general eligibility for higher education. The upper secondary school network covers the entire country. The schools follow a national core curriculum, but recently the range of choice has been broadened. Upper secondary school has a broadly based system of counselling that underpins the development of the student, and provides guidance in studying, career planning and choice of further studies.

Finnish vocational education is institution-based to a large extent. Measures are being taken to create closer cooperation between vocational education and the world of work. Longer periods of on-the-job learning are being included in institutional training programmes. At the same time, young people increasingly study for qualifications in apprenticeship training. In the year 2000, the proportion of those who start apprenticeship training will be increase to some 10% of all entrants in vocational training. Apprenticeship training can lead to the same qualifications as institution-based vocational education of young people and adults.

In Finland the higher education system comprises 20 universities and 29 polytechnics, the latter offering professionally oriented higher education. Geographically, the institutional network covers the entire country. Instruction in the universities is free of charge for students reading an academic degree. Education leading to a qualification in a polytechnic is also given free of charge. The set objective for the capacity of higher education is that a student place is offered to two thirds of each age.

7.2 Developments in the 1990’s

The traditional long-term objectives of Finnish education policy have been to raise the general standard of education and to promote educational equality. Efforts have been made to provide all population groups and regions of the country with equal educational opportunities. In the 1990s, however, special attention is being paid to the content of education and the methods of instruction, as well as to educational standards and equality. Increasing overall flexibility and opportunities for individual choice are also considered important; internationalization has also emerged as a key objective.

The biggest reform in the Finnish education structure in the 1990s was the founding of the polytechnics. The polytechnics were created gradually over the 1990s. The standard of former higher vocational education was raised and incorporated into multidisciplinary polytechnics. Polytechnics are developed as part of the national and international higher education community, with special emphasis on their expertise in working life and its development. Students in polytechnics complete higher education degrees with an occupational emphasis.

Systematic experiments at secondary level have continued throughout the 1990’s. The main purpose of the experiments has been to investigate co-operation between vocational institutions and upper secondary schools and to provide students with a choice of studies from several institutions. Under these experiments, students can obtain a new-style qualification based on a combination of upper secondary and vocational studies.

One of the most important training and labour market policy decisions made in the 1990s was the legislative reform at the beginning of 1996. The right to receive labour market support was abolished for the uneducated young who do not apply for admission to education or participate in labour market policy measures.

7.3 Students with Special Educational Needs

There are special arrangements guaranteeing vocational study opportunities for those students who would otherwise have difficulties with education due to an illness, disability or other such reason. Disabled students can be provided with preparatory courses and rehabilitation and counselling. Vocational special education is provided by ordinary vocational institutions in both integrated and special groups, and by vocational special institutions.

In 1995, some 3 400 students in vocational institutions received special education (that is, 7% of all students in vocational institutions). A student who finds that studying in a vocational institution is difficult can also complete his or her studies by attending a vocational workshop.

7.4 Minorities, immigrants, refugees

The Finnish school system offers teaching for the Swedish speaking minority in all educational levels, including higher education. There are separate institutional networks for both language groups. The instruction can also be provided in bilingual institutions.

Since the beginning of 1995, it has been possible to teach Sami-language, Romani-language and foreign-language pupils at the secondary level their own language as mother tongue. In this case Finnish (or Swedish) is taught as a second language and Finland’s other official language Swedish (or Finnish) as an optional subject. Also other subjects can be taught in Sami, Romani or other languages at secondary levels throughout the country.

As regards the Sami instruction, the greatest problem at secondary schools and upper secondary schools is the lack of material and qualified teachers. The curriculum guidelines of secondary school and vocational schools have been or are in the process of being translated into Sami. The State actively encourages the production of Sami-language educational material, and the budget has traditionally included an appropriation for this purpose.

Despite progress in the past years, Romani’ level of education remains lower than that of the mainstream population. The transfer of Romani pupils to special groups on too slight grounds and their modest participation in further education continue to pose problems. Furthermore, the austerity measures taken by municipalities have affected the remedial instruction so important to many Romani students.

Finnish universities have quotas for students speaking Swedish or Sami for ensuring students belonging to these minorities have access to university.

Plans are under way to develop the vocational training of immigrants. According to the Vocational Education Decree (811/1998), foundation courses preparing immigrants to basic vocational education aim at providing students with the linguistic and other skills which they need to be able to start studies at a vocational institution. The training provided by labour districts to immigrants includes language courses and an introduction to Finnish society, educational opportunities and working life.

7.5 Key Figures

Table 7.1 General upper secondary schools and students in 1997, by language of instruction

  Finnish swedish other total
Schools 409 34 4 447
Students 104,000 6,700 600 111,300

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 7.2 Young people who did not apply for further studies immediately after compulsory education, percentage of school-leaving age group in 1998 by region

Region Percentage
Southern Finland 4.6%
- Helsinki - 10.9%
Western Finland 2.5%
Eastern Finland 3.3%
Oulu 1.9%
Lapland 1.8%
Åland 0%
Total 3,5%

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 7.3 Students in post-compulsory education 1985-1997

year secondary education tertiary education total
General Vocational Vocational colleges Universities & polytechnics
1985 99,600 91,200 45,400 103,000 339,200
1986 96,900 90,300 47,000 107,200 341,400
1987 93,600 88,600 49,500 110,600 342,300
1988 91,200 88,600 51,500 115,600 346,900
1989 87,900 87,400 54,500 120,700 350,600
1990 88,200 88,300 62,300 124,900 363,700
1991 92,300 95,500 68,300 128,800 384,900
1992 99,500 103,500 66,500 143,100 412,600
1993 105,100 107,300 65,100 151,500 429,000
1994 107,800 106,400 62,800 161,600 438,600
1995 109,100 103,700 59,700 172,100 444,600
1996 109,900 107,600 52,200 188,500 458,200
1997 111,300 108,800 40,100 209,300 469,500

Source: Statistics Finland

8. Expansion of provision – Adult education

8.1 Main forms of provision

The Finnish system of adult education and training is the result of prolonged historical development. Adult education in Finland has expanded and diversified especially during the past two decades. Finnish adult education has traditionally been divided into two main areas: general adult education and vocational adult education and training. Earlier, adult education was primarily general or leisure-oriented, and the general adult education expanded strongly until the 1970's. Since then, the emphasis in the development of adult education has shifted to vocational adult education, although general adult education also plays an important role with respect to citizens' working life skills and use of spare time.

The increase in the provision of adult education has been influenced by the changes that have taken place in society, such as a rise in the standards required in work assignments, a change in the economic structure and migration from rural to urban areas. Consequently, lifelong learning has become an important principle, defining the education policy.

All education and training intended for young people are also provided for adults, ranging from comprehensive school studies to university.

General adult education includes general upper secondary schools for adults, and non-formal adult education that is provided by various institutions such as adult education centres, folk high schools and summer universities. Non-formal adult education offers non-certificate-oriented studies which provide adults with opportunities to develop themselves without qualification-specific aims. Subjects in non-formal adult education may include the mother tongue, foreign languages, data processing, arts, physical education, social skills as well as aesthetic and ethical self-enhancement. In social adult education, the focus is on learning the principles of democratic activities.

Vocational education for adults is in general certificate-oriented. The qualifications in vocational adult education are taken in the form of competence-based examinations. Adult students may demonstrate their vocational skills in the examination regardless of how and where they have acquired the skills.

Adult education is organised also at the higher education level. The contents of open university education corresponds with corresponding university studies. However, there are no formal admission requirements, and it is not possible to take degrees at the open university. Continuing education centres of universities provide academically educated people with an opportunity to update their knowledge and skills or acquire new professional skills or qualifications.

Certificate-oriented adult education is free of charge, similar to the corresponding education provided for young people. Conversely, the majority of other adult education courses are subject to a fee, ranging from purely nominal fees to those with fully commercial prices.

A special form of adult education is adult employment training, where the employment administration provides unemployed people and those in risk of unemployment with courses purchased from suppliers of training. Labour-market training is mainly vocational training and it aims to balance the demand and supply of manpower and to eliminate shortage of manpower.

On account of the recession and poor employment situation in the first half of the 1990s, the volume of labour-market training was expanded dramatically during the decade. Even though the employment situation has gradually improved, there is still firm demand for labour-market training and it is difficult to get into training. In 1997, 52% of applicants managed to get a training placement.

8.2 Minorities, Immigrants, Refugees

To meet the special needs of the Romani population, training programmes have been devised to promote their employment in occupations traditionally pursued by Romanies and to upgrade their vocational skills.

The Programme for Immigration and Refugee Policy, adopted by the Government in 1997, specifies the objectives of adult education as follows: all adult immigrants have access to orientation courses to the Finnish society and working life, if required, and, as appropriate, to basic and further vocational training. Training for immigrants is organised and financed as part of labour-market training for adults.

8.3 Development priorities

Similar to other Western countries, Finland is greying in terms of its population. The baby boomers born after the Second World War are gradually approaching their retirement age, while the younger age groups are distinctively smaller. The Government has recently launched a national programme for ageing workers that aims to support the competencies and mental and physical resources of the middle-aged population so that they would not retire before the official retirement age. The educational differences between older and younger generations are considerable, almost half of people aged over 45 functioning in the working life without a proper initial vocational training. Consequently, it may be difficult for them to meet the rapid changes and increasing requirements of working life. Therefore, the programme puts a special emphasis on education and training.

A central objective in the information society programme (presented in the chapter 15.1) is to guarantee the provision of basic IT skills, not only to the young, but also to the adult and elderly population. In recent years, a considerable part of adult education and training has been oriented to IT studies. For example in the university studies of the Third Age, information technology is among the most popular subjects. In order to consolidate citizens’ information society skills, attention is paid to studies increasing social welfare of the growing elderly population and preventing the social exclusion, as well as to the special needs of sparsely populated areas. Educational provision utilising information technology and open learning environments is expanding fast.

8.4 Key figures

Table 8.1: Participation in adult education and training in 1980, 1990 and 1995 (population aged 18-64 years)





  Participants % Participants % Participants %
Men 400,000 27 698,000 43 706,000 43
Women 541,000 37 829,000 52 850,000 53
Total 941,000 32 1 527,000 47 1 556,000 48

Source: Statistics Finland

9. Measures to promote equal access

One of the central objectives of Finnish education policy is to provide all citizens with equal opportunities to receive education. Regional accessibility of education is one of the typical features of Finnish education. The network of educational institutions, including university level, covers the entire country. Moreover, in order to promote equal access, the public authorities support studying with social benefits and financial assistance arrangements.

Social benefits for students include, among others, the following:

In order to qualify to student financial aid, a student must have gained admission to an educational institution, be studying full time, and be in need of financial assistance. The regular financial aid to students comprises of study grant, housing supplement and state-guaranteed student loan. The first two are cash benefits granted by the State, and they need not be paid back. In addition to the regular study aid system, financial assistance is available also for adult students.

Despite the efforts, there are still regional differences in the educational attainment of population. A rural comprehensive school leaver is more likely to continue education at the upper secondary level than his or her age-mate living in urban area. On the other hand, the young adults in the urban municipalities, where the educational level of the population is high, complete more often a higher level qualification than their counterparts in the rural areas.

Also the social background is still affecting educational choices: children of blue-collar workers and farmers tend to opt for vocational education, whereas the children of white-collar workers usually go to university. However, the rising education level of parents should gradually affect their children's choices: the more highly educated the parents are, the more willing their children usually are to obtain a higher qualification.

Table 9.1 Net graduation rate by degree of urbanisation of municipality of residence in 1997, proportion of age group (%)

  urban municipalities Rural municipalities
Upper secondary certificate 98 49
Tertiary degree 93 64

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 9.2 Main activity of young people aged 20-24 according to the education level of father in 1995


Main activity of 20-24-year-olds

Educational level of father


Population aged 20-24

Below upper secondary education (%) Upper secondary qualification


Tertiary qualification


Student 31 39 59 38
Employed 39 36 26 35
Unemployed 22 19 10 19
Other 8 6 5 7
Total 100 100 100 100
Population aged 20-24 according to the educational level of father (%)  
















Source: Statistics Finland

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