The City of Helsinki has recently announced that it intends to streamline adult education, and the announcement has been met with strong objections.
The city, like all other municipalities, is responsible for education between the ages of 7 years and upwards, including tertiary level vocational colleges and universities of applied science. Universities of applied sciences offer professionally oriented higher education and have strong ties with working life and regional development, whereas regular universities focus on scientific research and the education they provide is based on it. Doctoral programmes are offered by regular universities.
Finland is rightfully famous for its excellent primary and secondary educational system. The country has maintained a strong and professional cadre of excellent teachers in the primary and secondary school system that is free for all residents. The results of our school system are to be seen in the consistently high scoring in the OECD’s PISA studies.
Countries like Finland are highly dependent on exports and global competition for business. There is a huge need for life-long education and training to maintain our competent workforce. This is made possible by adult education.
Young people and older adults who left school early without passing matriculation exams can attend classes at adult high schools to take or retake their primary and secondary matriculation exams to qualify for vocational colleges or university. Similarly, immigrants who arrive here as older children or adults can attend the same adult high schools to learn English, Finnish and Swedish as well as taking the matriculation exams.
Such adult high schools face many special and serious challenges. Many local young adults may have experienced challenging childhoods, older folk have to deal with finding time from work and family responsibilities to attend school and many immigrants have experienced traumatic violence in their home countries. Teaching skills need to be mixed with social skills to achieve good results in the time allotted. Teachers in this adult sector of education do not have the easiest task.
The City of Helsinki has recently announced that it intends to streamline adult education by breaking up their adult education system into Helsinki’s Vocational College and immigrants are to be sent to the city’s Adult Education Centre for language training. The rationale for this move is said to be cost savings which are set out in a secret consultant’s report.
The present and former headmasters of adult high schools in Helsinki have publicly objected to the reasons given by the civil servants in the city. They claim that the move will result in a significant fall in teaching quality because neither body has the requisite specialist experience in dealing with their typical students.
They see that adult education in Helsinki will increase in the coming years as more and more people crowd into the city. The need for vocational training, higher education and retraining is increasing and in their opinion, the city should continue to support what they claim to be a cost effective and efficient educational system. The government supports 80% the costs of the present system with grants, whereas the Helsinki’s Vocational College and the city’s Adult Education Centre receive 75% and 30% respectively.
The shortage of skilled labour in Helsinki is dangerously high and it appears that the city’s decision makers are “cutting their noses to spite their faces,” or as Finns would say, “they are pissing in their trousers to keep warm in winter.” Companies need skilled workers and these do not appear out of nowhere. Higher education and retraining of adults and immigrants is an important area of public investment.
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