On the Independence Day of Finland, 6 December, the newest results from the PISA survey were published. The past weeks, a hot topic in the public debate has been the down-turn in the level of competence and education of Finns. The PISA results show that learning results increasingly correlate with the socioeconomic background of the student’s family. To spell it out: how much money and education your parents have. Another alarming result is in the area of gender equality. Scientific literacy among boys has dropped significantly, whereas girls perform quite well. Supporting an equal society has been one of the foundation pillars for basic education in Finland. This has been enough up until now, but now there has clearly been a turn, which we need to take measures to combat.
On 8 and 9 December in Turku, we participated in a conference for the management of higher education institutions and research institutes. The drop in skills and education was a reoccurring theme in the discussions at the conference. The event also provided an overview of the structural reforms of higher education in Finland, internationalisation, higher education management, as well as the state and impact of science in Finland. Many indicators show Finland to be one of the best countries in the world. But might it be that we have become stuck and just content ourselves with our earlier achievements, while not being able to see the changes in the world and the needs for changes in the education system as parts of the bigger picture?
Education policy is used as a tool to achieve different societal goals. Economic-financial discourse is used to justify also a number of measures in education policy: work careers are to be prolonged and research results commercialised. Finland is, and wants to be, a society and an economy based on knowledge and competence also in the future. Democracy, equality, education and general societal stability are prerequisites for a successful society also in years to come. Education has an important role to play in securing these preconditions.
I maintain that education policy should return to its roots. Education policy should ensure that our basic education turns out highly knowledgeable persons regardless of their family background. It should ensure that everyone who finishes basic education has an upper secondary study place to continue to, and it must also ensure that the path to higher education is accessible to all and that one can update one’s competence. As a small nation, we could also review what kind of competencies and education we expect from future generations. Is it enough that we are average, or should we raise the bar and aim higher? How do we ensure that Finland remains and continues a successful and healthy country?