Statement by Mr Timo Soini: "Early Childhood Education Development in Finland"

Statement by Mr Timo Soini: "Early Childhood Education Development in Finland"

Statement by Mr Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs Bangkok, 13 October 2016 at EDUCA 2016 seminar

It gives me a great pleasure to be here today and open this seminar on early childhood education. Being a decision maker and a parent, I could not emphasize more how important it is to invest in children.

By investing in children and youth we invest in our countries' future.I am delighted to see here so many people who are interested in Finnish experiences in education. We are very happy to share our best practices with you.

I am also delighted that the academic cooperation between our countries is already decades long. Many Thai universities have signed agreements not only with one, but with several Finnish educational institutions.

Excellent example of fruitful cooperation is the cooperation between Bangkok Metropolitan Administration schools and the Oulu University that started in 2014 and is working fine. Several groups of Thai teachers have travelled to Finland to experience at first hand the Finnish educational philosophies.

Thousands of Finnish university students have studied at the Thai universities for a semester or two, and reciprocally Thai students have been studying in Finland. This has led to the establishment of Thai-Finnish Alumni group this summer.

I believe that people to people contacts are the best way of learning from each other's culture, and studying in a foreign country will enrich young peoples' lives. It is a great investment in their future.

If we take a look at the industrial history of Finland, we can see a remarkable transformation within a few decades from a farm and forest economy into a modern industrial state, whose success is based on high standards of excellence.

Until the 1960s Finns were relatively poorly educated. Education was accessible only to those who could afford it and happened to live close to a school and university.

There have been several stages of development in our education system. During the 1960's through 1980's the Finnish educational system went through a huge transformation, and since then, the welfare of Finland has been based on knowledge and expertise.

In terms of numbers almost 75% of Finns between the age of 25 and 64 hold at least a secondary education certificate, while one third hold higher education degrees. More than 90% of the age group begins general or vocational upper secondary studies immediately after basic education.

I have been often asked abroad “What are you Finns doing so differently that your education system became world class?”

If we measure our success and compare our system internationally, Finnish students have succeeded very well in PISA results. There are several reasons behind it, but I would like to point out one very important factor.

Our teachers are world class. They are well-educated with Masters level degrees and they are highly respected by the parents and local authorities. We require teachers to have a master’s level degree because we want our children to be taught by well-educated people. It is so simple.

However, high-quality education is not a result of educational factors alone - there are also other factors that have a role here. The basic structure of the Finnish welfare state, for example early childhood care, preschool, and comprehensive health care services are available for all, regardless of parents' income.

In addition, education is free at all levels - we offer children warm school meals free of charge, textbooks are free and transportation for students living further away from the school is also free of charge.

Our philosophy is that nobody is left behind due to financial constraints. We offer equal opportunities to all pupils whatever their place of residence, gender, family background or financial standing.

"How can you afford this?" is another question that puzzles foreign visitors.

It is actually very straightforward: there is a strong faith and trust in the importance of education in Finland, and therefore there is a broad political consensus on the policy level.

Education is seen in Finland as a public good and it has a strong nation-building function. By fostering equal educational opportunities and ensuring high quality education, we can also safeguard a competent labor force at all times.

To succeed in a changing world, you have to be open-minded for change. Finland has reinvented itself many times in just one century – and we are still at it. And I believe we will be at it also in the future.

This mindset is deeply rooted in Finns and it drives us forward. We always look for a practical solution – turning setbacks into steps forward. We are broadmindedly reaching out for new opportunities, partners and course of action – or making new use of old and familiar fields such as for example forestry, one of the building blocks of our economy.

Our policy makers were wise when they decided decades ago to invest in education, scientific research and development, put emphasis on a well-functioning infrastructure, highly skilled use of information technology and strong investment in innovation system.

Finland has repeatedly found itself at the top of comparisons of competitiveness. The relative level of R&D funding remains high by international standards. Finland’s fast rise to the forefront of productivity and technology would not have been possible without the long-term investment in human capital and expertise.

We believe that the role of public education is to educate critical and independent-thinking citizens. As a result, Finland has emerged as an information society which benefits from know-how and technology adapted to a world economy.

Our schools and universities produce lots of intelligent, well-educated people and we have highly developed entrepreneurship culture that nurtures start-ups that are also supportive of each other.

Finland provides a fertile breeding ground for innovation investments. Our innovation system has been ranked among the best in the world in several different rankings.

I can see great prospects for future cooperation between our countries in education sector. Working together is a two-way street, and you will have an excellent opportunity today to compare notes, share experiences and best practices – and learn from each other. This is education cooperation at its best.