Caring about education is central to generational policy

During the past years, we have seen an increasing amount of data indicating that the younger generations will be less educated [1] and that their lifetime income will be lower than earlier generations’ [2]. Policies for prolonging work careers are harsher on the younger generations than on the older ones, in addition to which young people will receive less for their pension payments than older generations [3]. At the same time, the older generations have most of societal power[4] and assets [5]. Under these circumstances, generational policy should be on the political agenda in many more ways than it currently is.

Education is one of the most important institutions from the perspective of generational policy – not only because education notably has a positive impact on the future employment, income and health of the individual, but also because of its effects on societal cohesion, a well-functioning democracy and decreased criminality. Even more essential is that education is the primary arena for social and societal regeneration: education as an institution both reflects the current state of society as well as produces opportunities for societal change. From a generational perspective, education policy is first and foremost future policy, at the core of which is – or should be – the question of what kind of prerequisites for a good life education provides the next generation with. This concerns both educational content as well as structures enabling these contents.

Every generation asks and solves relevant societal questions in their own way – that is what each generation has the right to and must do. If there is trouble on the labour market, we must trust that future generations will be able to solve them in a way that suits them. Similarly, if there are deficiencies or problems with the health care system, the new generations will be able to fix them. Moreover, the same goes for the political system, public finances (including national debt), the judicial system and many other institutions. Drawing up the questions and solutions requires not only knowledge and skills, but also courage and an ethically aware faculty to judge. These constitute the above-mentioned prerequisites for a good life, which the content of care and education should foster in all humans.

In addition to content questions, the most essential question for educational structures is who is able to partake in what kind of education and on what premises. It is a question of equal opportunities, and often considered an indicator of societal justice. Making free primary education possible and obligating the entire age group to participate in it has long been a cornerstone of Finnish education policy, and extending this same principle also to early childhood education has recently been supported. Providing education free of charge and obligating people to participate in it are ways to prevent young people being marginalised at the beginning of the education path. Free education also in secondary schools and in higher education is perceived as serving the same goal of sustaining equal opportunities. As long as young people from different social backgrounds have differing attitudes to and values for education, keeping the educational path free of financial obstacles for everyone is one way of implementing equal opportunities.

Education as an institution as well as the state of it is, from the perspective of generational policy as well as in comparison to many other societal institutions, an exceptional system in that it is difficult for future generations to change it for themselves: once you have had your basic education, it will remain your basic education, whereas labour market problems can be fixed bit by bit. Therefore, taking care of education and that sufficient resources are allocated for education is the most important legacy and a most important way of income transfer from older generations to younger generations. If the competence reserve of the next generation as a whole is smaller than that of the previous, the new generation will not have as good prerequisites to meet the challenges of its generation. Or even more acrimoniously: If the competencies of the next generation are not competitive, who will then uphold and develop Finnish welfare?


Jarmo Kallunki

CEO, Otus









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