This spring, SYL has given statements regarding both the new Early Childhood Education and Care Act and the upper secondary school reform.
It is understandable if some university students wonder why the National Union of University Students in Finland is commenting on the reforms relating to early childhood education and upper secondary schools – what have they got to do with studying at university? Even though neither of these directly impact us university students (except future teachers of those levels of education, of course), both early childhood education and upper secondary school are very important parts of the education path of many university students. One of SYL’s main aims is equal access to higher education, and we think that early childhood education and upper secondary school plays an important role in reaching this goal. We cannot forget the importance of comprehensive school, but in this context, we will focus on the preceding and subsequent levels of education.
The new Early Childhood Education and Care Act contains many things that SYL supports. Perhaps one of the main points is that qualification titles will be separated according to academic background. The staff structure will be changed by 2030 so that a larger proportion of the staff will have a university degree and the qualification required to work as a teacher in Early Childhood Education which a university degree provides. These changes will increase the level of education of kindergarten staff, which will also increase the quality of early childhood education.
We know that the level of education of the parents in an important factor when a young person defines their education path. We believe that early childhood education of a high pedagogical level is one of the main ways of tackling the heritability of educational attainment and making education more accessible. Early childhood education should not only be of a high quality, it should also be widely accessible to children from different family backgrounds – children have a right to early childhood education, and the proportion of children who participate in early childhood education should be brought to the same level as in other Nordic countries.
Then over to upper secondary school. Upper secondary school is important to university students because it is the pathway that the majority of students follow to university. And now that the importance of the matriculation examination is increased in student admissions, the role of upper secondary school will be even more important.
We believe that the upper secondary school reform is mostly worth supporting, and in many ways it takes upper secondary school in the right direction. Some of the positive changes include introducing study credits, an increase in the cooperation with higher education institutions, and the right to special teaching. Particularly worth mentioning is the upper secondary school’s requirement to offer guidance to students who have left school if they do not manage to get a place in higher education.
At SYL, we believe that upper secondary school plays an important role in preparing students for future education, but this cannot be its only purpose – we must also remember the role of upper secondary education in offering a general, all-round education. Upper secondary school cannot exist solely for higher education institutions’ student admissions, but instead we should consider studies at upper secondary school as something done simply for the competence such studies offer. We also believe that secondary education should be reformed as a whole; the upper secondary school reform and the vocational school reform are pushing the secondary education institutions further away from each other, which can at worst close the door to higher education for some young people.
The aim set out by the vision for higher education, created by the Ministry of Education and Culture, is that half the young people in Finland should get a degree from a higher education institution. We support this aim. Even though there are many reasons for not applying to higher education or not completing one’s studies, it is clear that many of these reasons originate much earlier than in higher education. People’s skills and learning are built upon previous learning, and therefore higher education is also built upon previous levels of education. This is why we, as the representatives of university students, must examine the education path as a whole, all the way from early childhood education to university and beyond.
More information about SYL’s views on continuous learning and the education path as a whole can be found in Oppia ikä kaikki (Learning Through Life), which was published in 2017.
Board member of SYL