The Finnish government elected in April 2019 is surely not dancing to the tune of “I don’t Need No Education” by legendary band Pink Floyd. On the contrary, the government has decided to increase mandatory education by three years. This “forces” all Finns to attend upper secondary education.
Allow us to continue with cliches: The Youth is our future. Nobody can argue against that. Compelling all citizens to have this additional education is an investment on Finland’s future. Yet this decision was reached only after some debate in late May as the Collation Party (Kokoomus) was initially reluctant, stating that the costs were too high compared to potential benefits.
It will be hard to say if the level of unemployment among young people will go down thanks to this new change in the education system. Many education experts in Finland see this as an unlikely scenario and none of the leaders of the largest vocational schools in the country support making the mandatory education longer, according to Yle survey. This could have something to do with the fact that the vocational school funding has been directly connected to how many students finish the school since 2018. Making the upper secondary schools mandatory for all kids will most likely increase the level of drop-outs, hence lowering the funding for these schools.
Finland’s Pity 5s
Already today, kids are pushed out of the mandatory primary school with “pity 5s” (the lowest passing grade in Finnish school), rather than making them repeat grades. These kids are the ones with little or no motivation for traditional schooling. The idea is that if you make them repeat a grade their motivational level becomes even lower, but this way of thinking often backfires. If there is no threat of failing many of the kids quit altogether. Teachers have to chase after them at the end of each semester to make sure that they have done all their exams. In the end, they get to use a book so that they get a passing “pity 5”.
Are these type of kids going to be motivated by extra mandatory education? Seems unlikely. On the contrary, they now have to attend the upper secondary levels without the necessary skills and are likely to drop out later and possibly become even more discouraged.
An alternative solution?
The best way to get these kids motivated would be to help them find their own interests. Providing a more customizable educational experience for kids that just don’t do well in traditional school would be beneficial. A system where they can discover different skills and find their true passions.
Of course, this approach also requires extra investment. However, rather than ‘wasting’ money making kids that don’t do well in school stay in school, this could provide higher returns of investment by connecting to students to their natural inclinations and allowing them to develop skills around those.
The good thing about the change in the education system is that it does make it completely free to attend upper secondary schools. It used to be that kids would attend the school for free but they would have to buy the books and supplies themselves. This could add up to hundreds of euros annually and put a strain on lower income families who were already scraping by to begin with.