Section 2. Equality and quality as the basis of the Finnish education system
Author: Mari Rummukainen
The key question: What are the key elements of high-quality and equal education?
Finnish education offers equal opportunities for all
Finland is known for its high level of education, competitive results on PISA tests (the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, which measures students’ ability to use their reading, mathematics, and science skills) and world-leading teachers. Most of our teachers hold a university degree, and, today, compulsory schooling continues until the end of upper-secondary education. However, even before the extension of compulsory education (which entered into force in 2021), the majority of young people entered upper-secondary education, and many of them continued to higher education. In addition to its high-level, Finnish education is mostly free and publicly funded; for example, there are no fees for basic and upper-secondary education, and students also receive materials and meals for free. Higher education is also free of charge; although universities currently charge tuition fees for students from outside the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA), some universities have developed a comprehensive scholarship system that guarantees free tuition for non-EU students. Furthermore, students also enjoy the freedom to choose which subjects they wish to study.
In addition to freedom of choice, students are encouraged to learn by understanding different perspectives, thinking critically, and interacting with others. Learning is also supported by encouraging the students to take responsibility, be persistent, and find and pursue their own interests. The implementation of these goals is guided by the particular curriculum on which the teaching is based, which can also be used to ensure the implementation of high-quality and equal teaching.
In Finland, education is possible for everyone, regardless of income level or background. Not even age is an obstacle, as Finland is known for lifewide learning, and today it is increasingly common for Finns to hold more than one degree. The guiding principle behind all this is that, in Finland, everyone should be treated equally and without discrimination; there should be a level playing field for all, and everyone should enjoy the same opportunities in life. This is what we strive for in Finland, although work remains to be done in the field of equality.
Legislation on equality and discrimination
Promoting equality and preventing discrimination is one of the responsibilities of educational institutions and education providers. This requirement comes from Finnish legislation*, which emphasizes the need to improve equality between women and men; gender-based discrimination must be prevented, and the position of women must be enhanced. Men and women and girls and boys should enjoy equal opportunities for education and professional development.
The purpose of Finnish legislation in this area is to secure equal treatment and prevent discrimination. Discrimination must not occur on the basis of age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, politics, trade union activity, disability, sexuality, or any other reason related to the person.
In education and teaching, equality is promoted by considering the issues mentioned above and by treating each student as an individual.
Strategic goals and equality plan guide the activities of educational institutions
The Act on Equality between Women and Men and the Act on Non-Discrimination are reflected in the everyday life of educational organizations because these acts oblige them to create non-discrimination and equality plans to ensure that equality and non-discrimination are reflected in all their activities.
The purpose of equality and non-discrimination plans is to help educational institutions promote gender quality and focus attention on the realization of equality and non-discrimination in all their activities. As mentioned earlier, education providers are responsible for formulating equality and non-discrimination plans. These plans are created together with the staff and students of the educational institution in question. The plans can be included in the institution’s curriculum or incorporated into other plans; for example, the non-discrimination plan can form part of the equality plan.
Equality and non-discrimination plans are mandatory for all institutions that organize education, including, pre-primary institutions, primary and upper secondary schools, vocational educational institutions, universities of applied sciences, universities, colleges, liberal arts educational institutions, and other educational institutions. As mentioned earlier, the non-discrimination plan can be included in the curriculum or the equality plan. Educational institutions must also evaluate the realization of equality and non-discrimination and take the necessary measures to promote them.
Equality and non-discrimination at Aalto University
Aalto University is known for its high-quality education and research. These are underpinned by the core values of the university, whose mission it is to support the well-being of the community and promote creativity and high-quality research and teaching. Aalto University’s core values are equality, diversity, and inclusion. Aalto University describes its operating methods, defined in its strategy, as follows: “Diversity is part of who we are, and we foster an empowered community that shines by working together”.
Aalto University has formulated an equality, diversity, and inclusion plan (EDI) through which it promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion in its community. Aalto University includes this plan in its three-year curriculum, but it is also based on annual action plans, where concrete actions are decided for each year both at the university level and in each of Aalto’s six Schools.
Aalto university involves teachers, staff, and students in formulating the EDI Plan through various joint workshops and meetings. In addition, ideas and feedback are collected from all employees and students online and by interviewing key stakeholders. Aalto university also reviews development measures as a central part of the university’s evaluation process.
In addition to the EDI plan, Aalto University’s values and working methods are concretely implemented through its ethical rules. These rules are known as the Code of Conduct, the purpose of which is to define both ethical and legal principles that guide all the activities of the university and its members’ actions and their expectations of others. The purpose of the Code of Conduct is to include the principles of fair play in our university community. The guidelines help us make ethical choices and provide practical examples of actions that are in line with the university’s values. Common rules are required so that we can implement our common culture, principles, and policies and so that we can make ethically and legally correct choices. We believe it is the people who make Aalto University; therefore, we should also be proud of what we have achieved and how we have achieved it. One of our greatest assets is our diversity of talents and perspectives.
Diversity is also reflected in Aalto University’s strategy, where all the university’s activities are guided by shared values: responsibility, courage, and cooperation. At Aalto University, responsibility means we strive to work for a better world as sustainably as possible, considering everyone’s well-being. Courage can be seen in the fact that we take on challenges with passion and creativity and set high goals. Cooperation, in turn, emphasizes diversity and who we are. The purpose of Aalto University is to promote a strong community that achieves its full potential through cooperation. In turn, the key aim of Aalto University is to create a sustainable future in the fields of science, art, and diversity. Aalto strives to achieve these goals by investing in quality research and making breakthroughs in science, art, technology, and business. Aalto University’s mission is to renew society with research-based knowledge, creativity, and an entrepreneurial way of thinking, without forgetting diversity and community spirit, all of which are visible in the university’s everyday activities. By developing operations and considering the abovementioned issues as part of the university’s everyday life, Aalto University maintains its involvement in an ever-changing world.
Conclusion/Equal opportunities regardless of background
The Finnish education system supports diversity and encourages students to learn and discover their own strengths. Finnish education (from primary school to university) is guided by diversity, community spirit, common values, high-quality curriculum-based teaching, highly qualified teachers, equality, and equal opportunities.
It does not matter whether you are a woman, a man, a girl, a boy, or a nonbinary. Regardless of how you look, what you wear, or what opinions you hold, you should enjoy the same opportunities in education and life, and you should be able to learn new things throughout your life. This is made possible by Finland’s high-quality and equal education system and society.
Reflective task: Name three main elements of equality teaching you consider the most important for the quality of education? Why?
*§ 5 of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986) & Non-Discrimination Act (1325/2014).
Last modified: Wednesday, 29 March 2023, 3:43 PM