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In this essay I will discuss the Millennium development goal number 2 and the challenges faced in the country of Finland with some comparisons to other countries. Consideration will be given to history of Finland's economy, the population and expenditure. The main theme is Universal primary education and the challenges within Finland however discussions on social policies, culture, the environment and education for all will also be evident.
In the last half century, Finns transformed from a farm and forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is ranked 19th in the world (Countries of the world, 2007) . The key structures in the 21st century in the contemporary welfare state are a high standard of education, national security and the promotion of equality which is currently challenged by the fluctuations of an export driven economy and an aging population. The population is 5.2 million in 2010 with 16.4% being children aged between 0 -14 years of age. (Publications-The world factbook Finland, 2010). Finland is renowned for its high standard of education but how good is it?
The Millennium Development goal number 2 - 'Achieve Universal Primary education' by 2015 offers demanding rules of interventions that countries can select from to help provide a universal approach to high-quality education. The idea is to educate girls and women to stop the cycle of low education and establishing educational opportunities for adolescents. (Birdsall, Levine, & Ibrahim, 2006). Declarations of the goal of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) have been made as long ago as the 1960's and each decade more children are educated however 113 million children are still denied the opportunity globally. Finland is ranked 51 in the world with their education expenditure being 5.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2007.
Finland has a successful welfare and information society according to the Report by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Improving Effectiveness of Finnish Development Cooperation. Furthermore the Millennium Development Goals were always met by Finland in the past (Saasa, Gurdin, Tadesse, & Chintan, 2003). However the report continued to highlight that Finland does support education in 11 other developing countries by means of projects and programmes, mainly African and supports inclusive special needs education in west Balkan countries. However they lack the communication to share information on the social and cultural values that have assisted the country to become so successful. ,
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health childcare is an important stage of protecting maternity, jobs and balancing work and family, therefore the state provides for these families by way of maternity protection. In 1964 the maternity allowance was introduced and currently stands at 43 weeks followed by paternity leave in 1978 and fathers were granted the option to have leave and an allowance. From 1985 the child home care allowance was introduced allowing children up to the age of 3 years the option to be raised at home. The parent's jobs are protected by laws that enable them to return after the leave period.
In comparison the United Kingdom socially and culturally expect women to work and not stay at home, whether they have children or not. (A guide for new and expectant mothers who work, 2009). The government helps fund low income parents childcare costs thus allowing mothers with children of all ages to go out to work. The parent's make the final choice but financially parents are offered incentives by the government to work encouraging parents to be part of the working society and not child home educators.
Approximately 400,000 children in Finland are under the age of 7 with three quarters of Finnish children under 3 years old. A third of children under seven-years old are cared at home, mostly by their mothers. In contrast, research on the 'Nordic social model' (Repo, 2003) states,
''This is quite surprising, even contradictory, in a country where public child care
Services for children under school age are universally available''.
Finland is recognised as a homogenous country, primarily because 91% of the population speak Finnish as their mother tongue (Miller, Gearon, & Kostogriz, 2009) and is important to integrate into the Finnish way of life. The Basic Education Act (1998) states, 'the local authority in a municipality which has both Finnish and Swedish-speaking residents shall be responsible for arranging basic and pre-primary education separately for both linguistic groups'.
Further research by Education Research and development plan indicate good Finnish or Swedish language skills are fundamentals for amalgamating into Finnish society and employment. Immigrant children are taught Finnish or Swedish as a second language in schools however, less young immigrants remain in upper secondary education compared with Finnish- and Swedish-speaking children. The main reason is their linguistic skills are insufficient. The research suggests that all children must be able to develop and sustain their mother tongue in addition to learning Finnish or Swedish.
According to The Challenge of Universal Primary Education report (Department for International Development, 2001)'Social exclusion denies the possibility of UPE minorities' and that children may be disadvantaged because of culture, religion however cultural identity and strong linguistic skills creates a great foundation in educating children to adapt into a foreign society.
It is evident why the Finnish society has high rankings such as the annual report from the World Economic Forum identifying Finland as the world's most competitive economy, citing its "culture of innovation". (Haatainen, 2004). In addition the International Confederation of Principals evidences the importance of education such as,
"In Finland, we believe we have to invest in education, in research and in higher education. Education can pioneer new areas for jobs. We always need new skills for the labour force - so it means that we have to keep investing." (What makes Finland's education so good?, 2010).
Conversely society has an impact on children's wellbeing which is indicated in schools as growth communities. Outside of school the communities and learning environment are becoming diverse with the internet, television and family structure being significant influences in a child's environment. Research on well-being in Finnish secondary schools highlighted two-thirds of pupils feeling the time pressure in school. It suggests psychosomatic symptoms possibly a stress factor thus giving negative effects on pupils' mental health and well-being (Natvig, Albreksten, & Ovarnstrom, 2001). The world of the child has its own pressures such as gender roles, acceptance and the expectations of success because of high achievements in Finland. However Families in Finland spend ample quality time together and outdoor activities play an important part (Lee Tan, 2007). Considering the stress indicators in the report, the Finnish education system is a great success however the child's wellbeing is not equally as good.
Froebel agreed with the idea that children learn best through play and outdoors and considered parents to be the main educators of their children. He thought children's schools should be communities in which the parents are welcome to join their children. Using this concept Froebel founded the first Kindergarten in 1840 which was later introduced into Finland. (Palmer, Bresler, & Cooper, 2001) Pre-school education is provided from the age of 6 to 7 and on the 7th birthday it is compulsory education. In schools children are provided with free text books and a free school meal daily; however children who live too far to walk are provided with free transport or free dormitories (Gouwens, 2009). Notwithstanding Finnish children apply a reduced amount of hours in school than children in other countries. According to Baines (2007) American students per year spend approximately 1,100 hours in school compared to the Finnish 600 hours of schooling In contrast the UK experts continue to debate the school age being raised to 6 years of age continuing with numerous schools until 18 years. Yet the results show Finnish children who remain in the same school have a better relationship with teachers that assist in their performance rating Finland in the number one spot 14 places in the table above UK (Finland takes number one spot in OECD's latest survey, 2007)
According to the Finnish National Action plan 'Education for all' High quality levels of free education are the foundations of the Finnish society. The government adhere to equal opportunities for quality education from early years to university throughout the whole of Finland. Furthermore, it was identified that statistics from the OECD PISA (2002) survey showed high achievements in core subjects, ranking high internationally. In contrast UNESCO identified some gender inequalities in secondary education. The outcome has encouraged Finland to take the initiative for a 'joint Nordic project' different learner - common school' (Haatainen, 2004) to expand the understanding and knowledge of agencies on children's learning outcomes and competences by 2012.
Research by Professor Jouni Välijärvi (PISA 2002) stated that the high Finnish score resulted from exceptional Finnish teachers and to Finland's 1990s LUMA programme which was established to develop further skills in natural sciences and mathematics. He also highlighted the Finnish school system which demonstrates the same curriculum to all pupils. Additionally Professor Pauli Siljander considers Finland's worthy results are owing to many socio-political judgements, factors related to the history of education and ideas, macro-level changes affecting the educational system. He emphasizes they are linked together and education is a significant project in the Finnish welfare state and concludes ''education cannot be considered in separation from the socio-political context." Furthermore he criticised the PISA-test for focusing too much on mathematics and science skills. However, the Finnish educational system has been given lots of praise and credit after the 2003 tests. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health supports Professor Pauli Siljander and states, 'the Finnish system is believed to be down to the multi-disciplinary and well educated staff'. (Kent, 2001). Moreover teachers are educated to Master's Degree level which is state funded. They pay nothing for education at any level, including medical school or law school (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2007). Particular efforts of agencies are outstanding in the OECD (2004) report to pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
The Basic Education Act (1998) outlines, 'the duration of pre-primary education in special-needs education given to pupils within prolonged compulsory schooling under Section 25(2) and in foreign-language education authorised by the competent Ministry under Section 10(4) shall be two years'. Identification of SEN in the early years is assessed by taking into account both the parent's and the staff's observations and assessments. It highlights the importance to identify and define the child's individual opportunities to act in different environments and in different educational situations and to also define related need for support and guidance. In Early childhood education and care, evidence of children with disabilities were 7% of children have special needs. 85% of children who receive special support are in mainstream education and the remaining 15% being in special groups, these figures represent approximately 1% of children in ECEC. (Starting strong II: Early Childhood Education and care, 2006). This identifies children with special needs are also high on the agenda for Finland.
Considering all of the above factors Finnish reality relies on uniquely Finnish circumstances. It is ethnically and religiously homogeneous. Finns have confidence in their welfare and education system where corruption is extremely rare. The Government credits 9 years of a good basic education that has no mixture of exams, no system of private fee-paying schools and a high commitment to supporting the weakest pupils alongside achieving a high quality system. With this in mind Finland has confidence in achieving the millennium development goal UPE; however they believe a strong multilateral system is the key. To ensure the efficient education system cultural and environmental factors need to be considered, it is impossible to place the Finnish education system into another country as the bigger picture needs to be considered.
Home is a strong influence to opportunities in education and the research suggests that a good strong system from birth to adult is effective. Finnish communities are very family orientated with reading to children and extensive family time. Clearly there is a bigger picture than just the Finnish Education system.