Education and equal opportunities

Iiris, ready for the first day at school, 14 August 2018. Curious, happy and full of confidence. The process of life-long learning enters a new stage. For Iiris as well as for me, her parent.

have to confess that I felt a bit melancholic as I saw our youngest child off on her first day at school. It was the end of an era, after all. One by one our six children had entered a brand new world, the school. But above all, I felt joy. I was full of joy much in the same way as Iiris and her siblings on their first day at school. Because I knew and know what a good school can offer: knowledge, inspiration, engagement and future possibilities.

My grandfather was the principal of the school in Pettersbacka/Petterinmäki for his entire career: 29 years. I got my keen interest in education from him. Many a time we talked at length about how schools have changed since he come to his new school fresh out of teacher training. My grandmother kept the school clean, took care of the school library and also taught needlework to the girls. Both my grandfather and grandmother were strong, kind people who were devoted to education, children and the community. They cared not only for their own children but for the those of the community. Much of my core values derive from my grandparents. Children were always welcome at their house. My grandmother used to say that a good mother is a mother that can care for both her own and other children. The message was clear: we see, value and care for every individual. This is something I strive to live by, both in private and public life. Caring for children and young people is the most important task we have. A good start pays dividends for the individual and society in the long run.

The Finnish school system is one the greatest innovations we have developed. The comprehensive school brings everyone together, and underlines that every child holds equal value. I know from personal experience, as a parent, a relative, a friend as well as an elected representative, that the needs of children can vary greatly. Therefore, society must put equal opportunities front and centre. It must not matter if you have a wealthy family or are “just” a single parent with a low income; it must not matter if you have diabetes or not; if you are born in Finland or Iraq. Society, and the schools, must ensure equal opportunities. All children should have equal opportunity to develop their potential regardless of their background and special needs!

Today teachers are forced to devote too much time to other things than teaching and learning. When children become figures, statistics and processes rather than individuals with names, feeiings and needs, I get worried.

Therefore we must invest in

  • free early childhood education and care (ECEC) from age three – in order to support parents and children
  • education in small groups in comprehensive school – so that students and teachers get optimal working environment
  • language immersion programme in more locations – so that more children can learn other languages and cultures
  • structured and proficient teaching in upper secondary educational programmes – so that our young people can not only become something but also someone
  • life-long learning – because both the individual and the society change and evolve

Devoted teachers and education make children and young people flourish: equal opportunities give optimal results. So that our children – and we – can enjoy the possibilities of the future, just like my grandparents taught me and my siblings.  And continue to be curious, happy and full of confidence, just like my children and me on the first day of school.