This year, SYL has made several statements about the admissions reform. The view of the Union is that entry to higher education should be based on entrance exams. It would, however, be advisable to abandon entrance exams which require a long period of preparation, and instead introduce tests which measure the applicants’ suitability to a specific field; joint entrance exams could be adapted to suit the special characteristics of each field. SYL does not support student selection based on the matriculation examination. This year SYL has also written a lifelong learning toolkit called Oppia ikä kaikki (Learning Through Life). In the publication SYL proposes that the matriculation examination should be abandoned. We would like to explain why.
An online brainstorming session on changing the Upper Secondary Schools Act is underway. SYL has given statements on e.g. the right to special teaching, and the Union feels that supporting students during their studies is important. SYL does, however, have some thoughts about the matriculation examination and its reforms. It is true that there have been reforms to the matriculation examination in recent years. As it stands, however, the examination leads to a situation where the entire time spent at upper secondary school is spent on preparing for it. If the importance of the examination increases in student admissions, we should take note of the function of the upper secondary school, as defined in the Upper Secondary Schools Act.
The Act states that an upper secondary school is an intermediate grade educational establishment which carries on the educational task of comprehensive school. An upper secondary school provides an all-round education which is required in order to proceed to higher education and other types of vocational education which require completing upper secondary school.
Further, the Act states that the aim of an upper secondary school should be to educate its students to become balanced, healthy, responsible, independent, creative, cooperative and pacific people and members of society.
The Act goes on to state that the teaching and other activities of an upper secondary school must be arranged in a way that provides students with the abilities needed to develop their personality in a variety of ways and which are required in society and working life, for making a career choice, for protecting the environment and nature, for the national culture and national values, and for promoting international cooperation and peace, as well as promoting gender equality.
This means that the task of an upper secondary school is to provide an all-round education. SYL believes that this task goes hand in hand with lifelong learning – it is of utmost importance in life that learning is a skill that continues to develop, not only the ability to learn things by heart. Upper secondary school must provide thorough, generic abilities and guide students to a lifelong path where learning never ends. Upper secondary schools are already too focused on achieving success in the matriculation examination, rather than strengthening lifelong learning. At SYL we are genuinely concerned that switching to a system where student selections are based on the certificate of matriculation will push upper secondary school students even more towards studying for a specific exam, rather than learning for life.
Emphasising the matriculation examination in university admissions has also caused concern regarding the ability of students in vocational secondary education to proceed to higher education. Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has of course stressed that the aim is not to create dead ends, but rather to guarantee everyone the opportunity to get an education. For vocational education, this would mean using the vocational school certificate for student admissions. I think this is strange, as the need for the matriculation examination is often justified by the fact that the upper secondary school certificate is not comparable throughout the country. If upper secondary school certificates are not comparable, how can vocational school certificates be?
Instead of emphasising selection through certificates, SYL suggests abandoning the matriculation examination and reforming the universities’ entrance exams within the scope of the universities’ autonomy. The assessment for the upper secondary school and vocational school certificates must be improved so that they become comparable. Secondary education should be about strengthening lifelong learning, not memorising things by heart. If upper secondary school ended in a certificate, students would be motivated to get a wide education, which would support the ability for lifelong learning, as well as the process of lifelong learning itself.
What’s the alternative?
In the toolkit for lifelong learning that SYL published this autumn, the Union suggests that all secondary school students should take a skills test at the end of their studies which would test basic skills, learning skills and the ability to process and apply information. There would be no need to prepare for the skills test as it would measure the skills the student has at the time of testing. A joint secondary-level skills test would also make it easier for those in vocational education to proceed to higher education. The skills test could for example be based on the survey of adult skills PIAAC which is already in use, or it could be some other jointly developed test. The idea of a skills test was also included in the report of the lifelong learning working group of the Ministry of Education and Culture. A skills test that students take at the end of secondary school would also give those working on developing education a realistic image of what skills the Finnish education system provides from the perspective of lifelong learning.
In the middle of all the changes taking place in working life, lifelong learning is the most crucial skills of all. SYL wants everyone to have the opportunity to acquire the prerequisites for lifelong learning. In order to achieve this, the different levels of education should aim at taking measures which strengthen lifelong learning.
You can read SYL’s lifelong learning toolkit here (in Finnish):
Board Member of SYL