Finland - Constitutional & Legal Foundations
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CONSTITUTIONAL & LEGAL FOUNDATIONS
The overall responsibility for educational, scientific, and cultural policies lies with the Ministry of Education. The ministry has responsibilities beyond schools and universities, promoting education, science, culture, sports, and youth work in the country, and emphasizing their significance for the citizens and society at large.
There are two ministers at the Ministry of Education: the Minister of Education and Science is in charge of education and research and the Minister of Culture is responsible for matters relating to culture, sports, youth, copyright, student financial aid, and church affairs.
In 1922, the Ministry of Education took its current name, though many of its functions date back to the beginning of autonomy in 1809 (the Grand Duchy of Russia), when the ministry started as the Senate Department of Ecclesiastical Affairs. This name is significant as education in Finland has traditionally included religious instruction (predominately, the Evangelical Lutheran of Finland or the Orthodox Church of Finland). When Finland gained independence in 1917, the name was first changed to the Department of Ecclesiastical Affairs and Education; in 1918, the senate became the Council of State and the departments became ministries. In 1922, the name of the Ministry of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs was shortened to the Ministry of Education.
The relationship between the state and the church needs further explanation. While the Finnish state takes a neutral role with regard to religion and churches, it takes a hands-on approach with regard to the funding of the education of clergy in university faculties of theology and with denominational instruction in elementary and secondary school. The Ministry of Education also provides for ethics education for school children that have no denominational affiliation.
The majority of education is publicly funded using a two-tiered system: the national government and the local authorities. The national government funds 57 percent of the operating expenses of the schools based on a per pupil/per lesson or unit ratio. The municipal portion of the funding follows the student, rather than staying with the school district where the student began instruction.
Educational Philosophies: The overall educational philosophy in Finland is the promotion of citizen's "well-being, cultural wealth, sustainable development and economic success" (Ministry of Education 1999). Each of the four areas for educational development have an important part in the philosophy of education. The individual well-being is listed first. The developmental plan states that all citizens have a right to appropriate education according to their level of development. Equally important is the context for individual instruction; instruction occurs for the enhancement of cultural wealth, sustainable development, and economic success. In other words, the education of the individual is seen within a social-cultural-economic context. Efforts to raise general educational standards and to promote equality should be understood within that context.
The following statement from the Basic Education Act underscores the situating of education within an individual-cultural-social-economic matrix:
The objective of basic education is to support pupils' growth toward humanity and ethical responsible membership of society, and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary in life. The instruction shall promote equality in society and the pupils' abilities to participate in education and to otherwise develop themselves during their lives (626/1998).
While this objective applies to compulsory basic education or comprehensive school education, it sets the tone for the philosophy of all Finnish education and is very consistent with educational objectives for upper secondary, vocational, university, and polytechnic education. For example, the objective for upper secondary schools has phrases like "balancing and civilizing individuals and members of society" and "furthering . . . the versatile development of their personal interests." The vocational objective is intended to foster "students' development into good and balanced individuals and members of society."
A statement by Jukka Sarjala, Director General of the National Board of Education, called "the school of civilization in the information society," adds another element to the overall philosophy of education in Finland. Sarjala places education in Finland within the context of ancient and Enlightenment philosophy that put goodness, beauty, and truth at the center of the civilizing function of culture and schools within the culture. Finnish education begins with the assumption drawn from the Enlightenment that we are born ignorant and become civilized through education.
The information age must be accompanied with a citizenry equipped to access and evaluate the great increase of data now available. This task requires a view of the person, the pupil, and the citizen as an active and not a passive learner (Sarjala 2001). From an administrative perspective, the national government sets the overall standards for educational outcomes, while local school authorities establish the methods and approaches to reaching those standards.