At the forefront of knowledge and inclusion
While Finland is globally renowned for the quality of its schooling, recent reforms aim to further raise its level of competence, expertise and education, adapting to a changing society and an increasingly globalised world. To help maximise opportunities for the young, the CEB is funding education projects in key cities.
The commitment to education and to the well-being of children has deep roots in Finnish culture. Basic education is free and Finnish schools offer much more than instruction. They provide a hot meal for every student, health and dental care and a wide range of services for children and families, at no cost. If the school is not near their home, pupils also get free school transportation.
In 1972, Finland implemented a sweeping reform of its education system and introduced comprehensive schools – institutions that bring together children from all walks of life and all levels of ability from the age of 7-16. The underlying belief behind the creation of the comprehensive school was that all children could be expected to achieve at high levels; family situation or living in a remote area should not be allowed to limit the educational opportunities open to young learners. The vision of a more equitable and inclusive society was at the heart of the school reform.
“What Finland did 40 years ago was quite radical.
There was a great vision of offering equal opportunities to every child, irrespective of their background,” explains Marjo Kyllönen, Head of Education Development Services for the city of Helsinki, in a recent TED talk entitled ‘Redesigning education for the future’.
The Finnish school system is a success: as an evidence of this, Finnish students achieve high scores in all subjects in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys.
“Education is of vital importance to Finland: seen from a global perspective, we are remotely located and possess few natural resources.
Thus, education is our only means of reaching success in today’s world,” says Ilkka Kalo, Director of Basic Education in the City of Vantaa.
However, Finnish society is undergoing major changes, which are also shaping the environment for education and learning. Finnish cities are becoming increasingly international and multicultural, while demographic trends such as urbanisation and immigration are putting pressure on school capacities to respond to increases in population.
The share of students with immigrant background has been steadily rising. In the last ten years it has more than doubled in the capital city of Helsinki, and by 2030 it is expected to be around 25%. In Vantaa, which is part of the Helsinki metropolitan area, some schools have as many as 50% foreign-born students, and these numbers continue to grow. The trend is replicated in other big cities, such as Tampere and Espoo.
The growing population translates into an increasing demand for school places beyond the current capacities. To exacerbate the problem, the existing infrastructure has been deteriorating, while spending on education has been affected by the 2008 crisis. In Helsinki, for example, about half of the school buildings need refurbishment as they were mostly built in the 1970s, during a period of mass migration from rural to urban areas. Many of these facilities have severe indoor air quality problems, which can affect the health of students and teachers.
Partnering with the CEB
In the decentralised Finnish system, the provision of schooling is the responsibility of 311 different municipalities, while the Ministry of Education sets a national framework for education policy. Municipalities provide around 75% of the funding for schools, with the remainder coming from the government. Around 99% of schools at the basic education level are publicly funded and there are few private schools.
It is of utmost importance for Finnish municipalities to provide all children with education that builds vital future skills while giving them a sense of dignity, and full and complete inclusion in society. This necessitates considerable investments in education, and the CEB has proven a trusted partner to deliver stable financing.
In recent years the CEB has collaborated with some of Finland’s most populous cities and regions – including Helsinki, Vantaa, Tampere and Espoo – to primarily fund education-related projects. Since 2013 the CEB has approved €310 million in loans to finance the construction, renovation and modernisation of day care centres, comprehensive schools, secondary schools and vocational institutes in these four municipalities with a combined population of 1.3 million.
The ambitious investment programmes undertaken by the municipalities help address the challenges of urbanisation by alleviating pressure on existing facilities and meet the growing demand for schools. They also create safer, healthier facilities both for students and teachers.
“Public high-quality investments are exceptionally important in providing support for areas that run a high risk for marginalisation, and in this respect the Council of Europe Development Bank has provided excellent support and aid to the city of Vantaa.
This support has been crucial in enabling the city of Vantaa to carry out necessary school premise construction projects,” says Kalo.
New vision for learning
CEB’s investments in education are not just making sure there are enough places in schools for all Finnish children, regardless of their origin. The financial support is also helping municipalities implement the educational reform that the country is currently undergoing. In 2016 Finland adopted a new curriculum which focuses on the need for continuous improvement of the education system in order adapt to the changes in the wider world.
“At the moment, we stand at an educational crossroads, as new curricula are being introduced in Finland.
A new educational concept is New Pedagogy, the key terms of which are transferable competences, the active role of the student, and shared learning and construction of knowledge. This necessitates a significant shift in the traditional learning culture for teachers and students alike; in order for the reform to take place we need novel learning environments,” says Kalo.
Learning takes place everywhere
Finland is among the first nations to write into national guidelines an explicit requirement for schools to rethink how, where and why students learn. It is guided by the principle that learning is inseparable from the physical environment and it takes place not just in the classroom, but the whole school and surrounding environment.
With the support from the CEB, municipalities are building not just new, but better schools, introducing modern design ideas to help stimulate learning.
Corridors, halls and stairs are conceived to be part of the learning process. They are furnished with pillows, tables and reading tents that foster exchanges among children or provide space for special projects.
The space is conceived to be flexible, with sliding walls that can be folded to create learning areas of different sizes and furniture that can be moved around. These non-traditional classrooms provide opportunities to experience new ways of learning, with emphasis on collaboration.
Finland and the CEB
value of loans approved by the CEB to Finland since 2013 for education-related projects