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finland

Succeed with your quest to find an affordable rental in Helsinki

An affordable rental in Helsinki? It sounds like an oxymoron to anyone who is familiar with the expensive nature of apartments and houses in this Nordic capital. Does it exist?

The bad news is that rents keep rising in Helsinki. Currently, the average monthly rent in Helsinki is €22.1 per m² meaning that a 30m² studio apartment costs on average €663 per month. If you want to live in a trendy area of the city centre you can end up paying more than €1,000 for a studio when renting through the private market.

Below are recent search results on the popular rental listing site Vuokraovi for studio apartments in Kamppi (city centre):

As you can see, Helsinki is an expensive city. There’s a huge demand for property, and there’s not enough of it.

Here are some options to consider if you want to live in Finland’s capital.

HEKA

Helsinki Council Housing (HEKA) offers the least expensive per square meter price in comparison to any other rental provider. For an apartment in the central Kamppi area you’ll pay around €12.62 per m² per month, less than half the price than that of the private market in that same location.

For people outside of Finland, Council Housing might sound like a curse word since state-provided affordable houses often have a bad reputation. In Helsinki, this is not the case. Council houses are generally well maintained and there are many newly built council houses in the city. Among these is Woodcity, which finished building two council housing apartment buildings in Jätkäsaari in early 2019. 

On the downside, council houses in Helsinki are in huge demand and hard to get. The council housing system is based on the level of urgency. They have three categories listed on their website: Extremely Urgent, Urgent and Not Urgent. You can read more about the categories here

If you are willing to move a bit outside the city centre the likelihood of getting a place through HEKA increases, but these houses are still in high demand. Many people apply for years without luck. However, it is still worth the try. 

So how to apply? If you have Finnish online banking you can fill in an application for council housing here. Apply here if you don’t have online banking yet.  

M2-kodit

Another inexpensive housing provider is M2-kodit. In their own words, they provide “the most generous square meters in the city”. M2-Kodit operates under the Y-Foundation which aims to increase equality by providing affordable housing in big cities around Finland.

The problem with M2-Kodit is the same as with council housing: the demand is huge and getting one of their apartments is difficult. The apartments are given out based on need and the value of applicant’s assets cannot be above a certain threshold.

The application is valid for three months. After that, you need to renew it if you are still searching for a place to live. You can fill in an application here. You will need a Finnish Social Security number to apply. 

Colliers Finland

Some state subsidized housing is rented through Colliers Finland. These apartments have a substantially lower rent than the private market but also different criteria when it comes to selecting tenants.

For example, there is a limit on assets and also your need for housing is evaluated during the application process. If you are interested in applying you can do it here. You will need a Finnish Social Security number to apply. 

HASO or other right-of-occupancy housing

Even cheaper than HEKA are the right-of-occupancy apartments and houses, AKA HASOs. The vastike – basically the equivalent of a rent – varies. For the newly built one bedroom HASO apartments in Kalasatama (very central) that are scheduled to be completed in 2021 the monthly vastike is estimated to be around €550. Amazing!

You will have the right to live in the house for life if you wish, unless you breach the terms of the housing contract.

The challenge with HASO houses and apartments is that you will need to get a loan from a Finnish bank or have about €50k in cash to pay for the right-of-occupancy in a central Helsinki location. You will get the money back once you move out so you won’t lose the money. But still, Finnish banks are very strict when it comes to offering loans for HASO residences despite the nearly non-existing risks.

The other issue is that if you are looking to get a right-of-occupancy inside of Helsinki, the line is huge and the likelihood of getting one depends on your number.

Yes, you’ll have to get in line.

The housing application process is based on a queuing system. You can apply for a number here. For the most popular locations (close to the city centre) you are very unlikely to get any offers unless your number is close to 20 years old! However, if you are willing to move outside the city centre or even, God forbid, to Vantaa or Espoo, you can get offers with a number that is even less than a year old.

Find right-of-occupancy houses and apartments from these websites: Haso, TA and Avainasunnot.

Private market rentals

Private market apartments in Helsinki.

Have some money and need a place to live right now? You can find rental apartments from the private market by searching Vuokraovi, Oikotie and Tori.fi

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finland Investing

If you live in Finland, this new investment account can make you richer

According to the famous scientist, Albert Einstein: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it”. It looks like the Finnish Parliament has finally understood this, which is good.

In March 2019, Finland’s Parliament made the final decision to approve the new laws that enable Finnish individuals to create their own individual stock savings account up to 50,000 Euros. Finns can open their account on 1.1.2020 and afterwards. 

What are the benefits of the individual stock savings account? 

There are some really favourable benefits for individual investors:

  • Individuals can transfer up to 50K for their individual stock savings account, but there’s no limit of how much the investments can grow inside the account. The earlier in life an individual (or a parent) starts using this account, the more benefits it usually provides.  It really matters how much taxes have to be paid for capital gains and dividends:
  • Let’s take an example: if some parents are wealthy enough to have the money to invest 50,000 Euros when their child is 10 years old (one-time investment in this example), that 50,000 Euros would grow to be 503,132 Euros after 30 years when he/she would be 40 years old. The average stock market return has been somewhere between 710 % depending on how it is measured. I used an 8% annual return in this example. That 503,132 Euros would be worth of around 350,000 after taxes and considering the yearly inflation (2% in this example), that 350,000 would actually be worth of 193,000 Euros on the day when it was first invested (when the kid was 10 years old). Still not bad for an initial 50K investment. 

Who is this not for ? 

The individual stock savings account is good for those who like buying single stocks and keeping them long-term. The account is not suitable for individuals who already have lots of stocks or big sums to invest, because the transfer limit is 50,000 Euros and previously purchased stocks cannot be transferred to the account. Also, it is not a good idea to use the account to buy stocks from other countries, because it’s not tax-efficient.

Most beginner investors start their investment journey by investing in ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds), because these are good for diversification and usually cost-friendly. However, the new stock savings account is not applicable for ETFs, because it only allows individuals to buy single stocks.

Compared to other Nordic countries, Finns have been very careful with their money in the past when it comes to investing

We Finns are definitely too careful with our money. According to a Danske Bank’s survey, almost 80% of Finns think that investing in stocks is very risky. Only 50 % of Swedes think that way. From the graph below, we can see there is a huge difference when it comes to the ownership of stocks and mutual funds between Swedes and Finns. 

In 2018, the average Swede had 133, 402 Euros invested while the average Finn only had 53,712 Euros invested. Finns have traditionally mainly bought their home and kept the rest of their money in their bank account, avoiding the stock market.

I hope that Finns will be encouraged to invest more and become wealthier with this individual stock savings account. 

Joonas Saloranta covers Northern Europe investing, macroeconomics and more at the Financial Nordic blog.

Categories
finland

Big cities in Finland are growing even as the countryside empties – at least we pay our mortgages (unlike the Swedes)

Finland’s capital city Helsinki attracts more than just tourists. Don’t get me wrong: tourists are great and without them, we would not have anyone to brag to about Finnish sauna or our achievements in ice hockey. Jokes aside. The metropolitan area of Helsinki, which includes Espoo and Vantaa, has around 1.5 million inhabitants. In Helsinki city alone, there are 650,000 people, and the number is growing. Pressure on Finland’s real estate market is mounting.

Helsinki Finland Apartments
Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, Finland.

Real estate market in Finland

Finland’s real estate market is a double-edged sword. Big cities (especially those with universities) are growing as the countryside empties. However, house prices grew in only three major city regions last year: Helsinki, Turku and Tampere. These are all cities located in Finland’s south. House prices in Helsinki are expected to rise by 2% in 2019 and by 1.5% in 2020. At the same time, half of the homes in Finland depreciated in value.

Housing real estate Helsinki Finland
Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, Finland.

Urbanization is a global trend and Finland is no exception. As the country’s fertility rate falls to an all-time low, Finns don’t need that big house with a big yard by the lake anymore.

Instead, nowadays many Finns, especially younger people, appreciate a good location close to the city centre. Owning a car is seen as an unnecessary option for many. Why pay for a car when you can use great public transport or pure muscle energy to commute while at the same time you are saving the planet? That would be a great question to ask of Americans!

Not everyone in Finland is happy with this kind of development. The Centre Party of Finland (in Finnish: Keskusta) supports agrarianism. They would like to “keep the whole Finland alive” by supporting rural areas so that people would have work options and services outside of big cities. However, Keskusta suffered a great loss in Finland’s last parliamentary elections (2019). Urbanization is not the only reason for the loss, but it definitely played a role.

Real estate market in other Nordic Countries

Finland is a Nordic country, and we like to compare ourselves to other Nordic countries, especially Sweden, our brother and great rival. Nordic countries are similar in many ways (Not discussing the Finnish language here…), but there are also some differences.

In Sweden, housing prices have gone through the roof, especially in the capital city, Stockholm. There were definitely signs of a housing bubble: house prices went up by 44% in the past 6 years. However, compared to 2018 Q1, house prices in Sweden went down by 2.09% in 2019 Q1.

From the two-year-old graph above we can see that house prices have stayed stagnant in Finland during the last 5 years. In Denmark, Norway and especially Sweden, house prices have risen a lot. One reason why Finland has not been able to keep up with its Nordic neighbours is that the economic situation in Finland was quite bad after the 2008 global financial crisis and the following European debt crisis. After 2011, Finland recovered very slowly from these crises compared to rest of the world. Finally after 2015, the economy of Finland started to recover.

Punavuori, Helsinki, Finland.

Nordic countries have different mortgage loan policies

There is one big reason why the house prices surged so much in Sweden before 2019. Sweden has a totally different mortgage system compared to Finland. In Finland, the longest mortgage term is now 45 years. However, mortgages longer than 30-years are rare in Finland. In Sweden, the longest mortgage term is 125 years! That is a huge difference and is the biggest reason why house prices are out of control especially in Sweden’s big cities.

Stockholm Sweden Real Estate New Housing
‎⁨Hammarbyhamnen⁩, ⁨Stockholm⁩, ⁨Sweden⁩.

Swedes do not necessarily pay the loan payments of their mortgages, because their mortgage policies and laws allow that. Instead, they might only pay the loan’s interest. This allows them to spend and invest more money, but it can (and probably will) lead to a housing bubble burst some day. Norway and Denmark are in the middle: people in these countries don’t pay their mortgages as fast as in Finland, but definitely faster than in Sweden.

Joonas Saloranta covers Northern Europe investing, macroeconomics and more at the Financial Nordic blog.

Categories
finland

Crime in Finland, just how safe is the happiest country in the world?

True story. In 2011, a newspaper in Finland reported on an alleged shoplifter, who was accused of eating part of a pickle without paying for it. He had put the rest of the pickle back. Needless to say the store was forced to dispose of the contaminated pickles.

Another true story. Around 2010, a man sprinted across a snowy Hakaniemi Square carrying a jacket that he’d shoplifted from a nearby store. A security guard pursued. He grabbed the man’s leg and brought him down on the icy sidewalk at the corner of Hakaniemen ranta and John Stenbergin ranta.“Stop or I’ll use spray,” he said in halting English as they wrestled. Threatened by the pepper spray, the shoplifter gave up and was compliantly escorted back to the store.

Finland crime

Crime in Finland is rare and low scale. The past few weeks offer a slight variation on this story though. On 9 September, police raided an apartment in the Jätkäsaari neighborhood, searching for a man who had robbed a nearby convenience store the day before, apparently with a gun. Police thanked citizens for helping to identify the man, who was arrested.

Police prepare to detain a criminal in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki.

Meanwhile, on 5 September, police shot a man in the city of Tampere who was threatening residents with two handguns. On 25 August, two police officers were shot and injured in Porvoo. Two suspects were apprehended following a high speed chase and have appeared in court. On 23 July, a shooting occurred at the intersection of Hietalahdenkatu and Porkkalankatu in central Helsinki.

All of the above are exceptional events. Crime in Finland is low. Some concern exists that in the coming years (and, yes, years, not next year or the year after), a significant increase in violent crime will occur, similar to what has been experienced in some areas of Sweden.

It’s too soon to know, though it’s highly possible that this occurs. In terms of public perceptions, many citizens will probably believe that crime is increasing amid a greater level of reporting and information dissemination. If you live in Finland and read the police Twitter account and Iltalehti instead of Helsingin Sanomat, you’ll probably feel nervous about the direction of society.

Now that we’ve mildly disparaged Iltalehti readers (among which SuloNorth is counted) let’s look at some data, namely Q1 and Q2 criminal offenses from 2015 to 2019

Crime in numbers

In terms of overall numbers, Finland appears to be even safer so far in 2019 (based on preliminary data), with a fall in total recorded offenses.

  • 398,630 (2015)
  • 396,331 (2016)
  • 427,594 (2017)
  • 424,219 (2018)
  • 326,543 (2019)

Of course, our question is what caused the rise in total offenses in 2017 and 2018? Will adjusted data for 2019 be dramatically different from what’s been published now?

We would like to be hitting refresh on the official statistics page and download the finalized data. But we’re not. Even for a country of only 5.5 million people, crime in Finland is remarkably low. Less than 2,000 residences were broken into during January to June 2019. Numbers of robberies have stayed about the same between January to June 2015 to 2019 at approximately 800.  

Narcotics offenses are up though, with 14,250 in 2019 compared to 11,749 in 2015. Sexual crimes have also increased include the sexual abuse of a child (from 629 in 2015 to 813 in 2019) and rape (from 481 in 2015 to 715 in 2019). Part of this increase is due to more reporting of these types of incidents, which is positive, but the overall rise is concerning. 

January to June 2019 also saw a notable rise in murders, rising to 41 from 34 in 2018. In 2015, the number was 46.

Keep it all in perspective. Finland’s Interior Ministry says that bicycles are the most common stolen object in Finland.

Categories
finland

Ultimate Guide to Finnish Music – Back to Work Edition

Our ultimate guide to Finnish music arrives as the summer season wraps up and the end of year work frenzy begins.

In Finland, most companies were fully up and running again by mid-August. Employees will want some new tunes to deminish the pain of losing that refreshed post-vacation feeling.  

What do Finnish people listen to while at work you may wonder?

What is the soundtrack that keeps Finns the happiest people in the world despite the daily toil for Euros? (Note that only 10% of Finns usually work more than 40 hours per week – that’s just plain smart).

The answer is…probably pretty much the same type of music that you listen to. Maybe there’s a little more metal in the mix.  

Here’s SuloNorth’s 10-song ultimate guide to Finnish music (back to work edition). Listen to the Spotify playlist or one by one below. 

1. Hard Rock Hallelujah, Lordi

2. Matkustaja, Egotrippi

3. Sandstorm, Darude

4. Missä muruseni on, Jenni Vartiainen

5. Texas, Haloo Helsinki

6. Ikävä, Chisu

7. Wings of A Butterfly, HIM

8. Pohjoiskarjala, Leevi and the Leavings

9. Kulkuri Ja Joutsen, Tapio Rautavaara

10. Palasina, Vilma Alina

Categories
finland health

Healthcare in Finland – A Personal View

Finland’s healthcare has a pretty good reputation globally. Medical journal Lancet’s study The Global Burden of Disease ranked the country’s healthcare among the best in the world in 2018. Still there is always room for improvement.

Local health centres vs big hospitals

In fact, Finland’s new government aims to reshape the country’s health sector. According to the government, the Northern European country’s weakest link when it comes to healthcare is primary care at local health centres which are often underfunded compared to big hospitals and don’t attract the best medical talent.

Currently, for non-urgent care, these health centres are by law required to give an appointment within three months. The new government plans to decrease the waiting time to only seven days. The government’s programme reads: “The maximum waiting times for access to primary healthcare will be shortened so that access to non-emergency care must be arranged within a week (7 days) of the assessment of need for care.” This is yet another ambitious goal that the new government has on their agenda. You can read more about their other ambitious goals on our previous blog post.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare has estimated that bringing down the maximum appointment waiting times in Finland would require 1,600–2 ,600 more health centre doctors. The government is hoping that 1,000 will be adequate enough and estimates the cost for this to be €50 million. Apparently 1,000 new GPs will suffice since the newly improved health centres will be better managed and use more digitalisation (will going digital be the answer to every problem?). In the government’s own words, they plan to create “multidisciplinary health and social services centres that harness the possibilities of digitalisation and modernise division of work to make better use of different professionals’ skills and of specialist consultations.”

Counties to receive more funding

Another big step the government is going to make in terms of the health sector is the health and social service reform that seems quite similar to the one that the previous government had set the groundwork for. This means that the responsibility for health services will be moved from municipalities to 18 autonomous counties. The counties will be run by elected councillors and there will be five collaboration areas for specialist healthcare between the counties. Citizens are free to choose which county’s healthcare they want to use. The public sector will dominate in providing the care but private healthcare will also be used when needed.

“The counties will receive most of their funding from the central government. We will reform the system for financing health and social services so that it is structured on needs based criteria” the government programme reads.

Making an appointment

I have experience with healthcare in five different countries and I have given birth in both Finland and UK. My experiences with Finnish public healthcare has been mostly positive. Having two small children I usually have gotten care pretty fast and haven’t had to queue for long. The longest I ever had to queue when visiting a health centre without an appointment was for about an hour and 30 minutes. But usually I have only had to wait for about 15 minutes.

In Helsinki, if you need to visit the doctor on a weekday you ring a callback service for your local health centre to make an appointment. The nurse will call you back the same day usually within two hours and assess the urgency of the situation. Is he/she thinks you should be seen the same day they will first try to make an appointment for an exact time. If all appointment times are taken then you will have to go to the health centre for a walk-in appointment which requires some waiting, depending on how many people are there on that particular day. It works on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I usually ask the nurse on the phone to tell me what the walk-in situation is so I can estimate if it is worth it to go and wait or if I can hold off and make an appointment for next day.

If you are lucky you might only have to wait for 5 minutes for your walk-in appointment, but some days it can be closer to two hours. This is how it works on a regular week day, on weekend you would have to go to your closest hospital’s emergency care unit.

These appointments at the health centre and the hospital have always been completely free*. However, prescription medicines are not free. They are subsidised by Kela but you still pay some out of pocket. What also costs money is giving birth which I will go into in the next segment of the article.

Giving Birth in Finland – the cost

I have given birth in Finland and in the UK. Both times I received high quality care but at what cost?

In Finland, giving birth in a public hospital is not completely free. This came as a surprise to me since I had never had to pay for any public health services in Finland before this. The cost varies depending on how long you have to stay in the hospital. I stayed only one night and the total cost came to €130.50. On top of the care this included meals, diapers, formula milk and hospital clothes for me and the baby.

Meal time at Helsinki’s Naistenklinikka Hospital

In the UK I stayed at the hospital for five days and the total cost of labour was €0. You read that right. In the UK giving birth at a public hospital is completely free. This also included meals. However, you were supposed to provide the diapers, formula milk, clothes for baby and yourself.

Meal time at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK

If I had stayed five day in the public hospital in Helsinki it would have cost €244.5. The daily fee for the hospital stay is €48.90 in Finland. The fee is double if your spouse stays with you but he/she will also get meals and a bed included in that fee. The maximum you would ever have to pay is €683 even if you have to stay in the hospital for a longer time due to serious complications. My fee came down to €130.51 because I also had to bring the baby for an additional check-up due to my early release. The check-up cost was €32.70.

The bottom-line on giving birth (in Finland)

The bottom-line is that giving birth in Finland and UK is not going to make much of a dent in your wallet. Another story is all those American parents. On average giving birth is US costs about €8,900. Parents who are blessed enough to have insurance are usually left with a bill of about €2,700 for vaginal birth. This doesn’t include pre- or post-natal care.

How about safety then? UNICEF’s report on infant mortality rates published in 2018 ranked Finland as the fourth safest place to give birth globally. According to the report Finland’s newborn mortality rate is 1.2, the UK’s stands at 2.5 and in the US the rate is 3.7.

*Free means that these services are paid with tax income and no private insurance is needed to receive care.

Categories
finland health

Finland: Happiest Country in the World, or not?

Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world for the past two years. Yet how many jovial Finns have you met? Let me explain what happiness means in Finland…

World Happiness Report

First of all, can happiness be measured? Yes, if you ask the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. According to their annual Happiness Report: “…the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to then and in subsequent reports as ‘happiness’.” The report takes into consideration these key aspects of life: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

Top 10 happiest countries, according to the report:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

What is happiness?

If happiness can be calculated then we need to define what equals happiness. Finland seems to have discovered the formula.

Yet, Finland’s ranking surprised many, especially Finns themselves. After the release of the report many Finns expressed disbelief on social media. Finland, after all, is a country known for its melancholia and lack of small talk. Also, the PR sets a rather high standard. What if Finland doesn’t live up to the hype?

Happiness in Finland is not what one might think. It doesn’t mean you walk smiling like somebody just cracked a super joke. In Finland you don’t need to feel great all the time to consider yourself content. In fact, Finland has high levels of depression, which is the number one cause of early retirement in the country according to a recent study done by the Finnish Centre For Pensions. The country also has relatively high rates of suicide.

So what is happiness? In Finland, it means not necessarily feeling very joyful all the time. Instead, it means feeling OK and that even if life gets tough you’ll stay OK. And that is the key.

No Worry, No Cry

Happiness is not about feeling extreme highs all the time. Of course, you also don’t want to feel extreme lows all the time. Happiness is about having your emotions somewhere in the centre most of the time. To attain this, Finns rely on a safety net provided by the state. Finns know that that the state is where they can get help if it all becomes less bearable.

In Finland, happiness means that when you lose your job the state gives you a decent unemployment income that gets you through the temporary rough period. Happiness in Finland is when you injure yourself you can go to a hospital and get high quality care without worrying about breaking the bank. Happiness in Finland is that when you find out you are expecting a child you don’t have to start calculating pennies to make sure you can afford it.

Simply put: Happiness in Finland is not having to worry when, pardon my french, shit hits the fan. A future post will get into the ‘nanny state’, though that type of mentality is, sensibly, not widely expressed in Finland.

Everyone wants to be happy. But let me suggest we stop calling Finns happy altogether. A better word to describe them would be to say they are carefree. On a happiness scale of 1-10, most Finns stand in the middle.

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education finland

You Need Education, Like It Or Not

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.

Tough choice

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.

Upshot

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.