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Tuesday's papers: St Petersburg water pollution, presidential criticism response and the end of longhand

Tuesday's papers highlight a GPS experiment in St Petersburg that called attention to water contamination, tabloid responses to President Niinistö's critique of past and current governments and an Education Board decision to discontinue cursive instruction in schools.

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Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Looking at the top print media stories on Tuesday morning, we first check the leading daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun), which published a story last night on its website that has garnered a lot of attention. A group of activists in St Petersburg flushed a batch of GPS tracking devices down the toilets there, only to find that they didn’t end up at a wastewater treatment facility, but in the Gulf of Finland. The test, carried out by residents of the Novoje Devjatkino village northeast of Petersburg, demonstrated that there is still much work to do when it comes to dealing with Russian wastewater effectively.  

Ohta is a tributary of the mighty Neva River that flows through the centre of St Petersburg. Ohta is severely contaminated by industrial waste. It is one of the few places left in the Petersburg area in which the water is not directed to a cleaning facility, but flows untreated into ditches, streams and eventually the Baltic Sea. Seppo Knuuttila of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) says the experiment proves that the large Southwest St Petersburg wastewater treatment plant launched in 2005 and partially funded by Finland is only a start.

“We have known for some time that the Ohta and several other tributaries of the Neva are more or less sewers in effect,” he says. The 90-kilometre long Ohta River joins the Neva in central St Petersburg. The Ohta’s phosphorus content at the point of confluence equals the Baltic Sea effluent of all Finnish cities combined, at around 130 tons a year.

Response to President's criticism

The country’s leading tabloids Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun) and Ilta-Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) both look at President Sauli Niinistö’s recent criticism of the country’s government for practicing what he called "politics of illusion" and avoiding implementation of difficult economic policies. Iltalehti interviews three experts, asking:  ‘Was the President right?’ Agriculture and forestry think-tank PTT’s Pasi Holm thinks Niinistö’s appraisal is on the money.

“With the benefit of hindsight, you could say that we have somewhat miscalculated our actions for the last seven years. It was a European illusion to try and build a bridge over the economic downturn. We should have started making adjustments already in 2008-2009,” says Holm.

Turku University economics professor Markus Jäntti begs to differ. “If the President is looking for someone to blame, he should look in the mirror,” he says. Jäntti argues that it was the tax rebates Niinistö approved as Finance Minister that have set the country on its course. Finland’s austerity politics is still largely associated with Niinistö and another ex-finance minister, Iiro Viinanen. According to Jäntti, “Declaring a stinginess policy is hardly deep stuff.”

The managing director of ETLA, the Research Institute of The Finnish Economy, Vesa Vihriälä thinks Niinistö is both right and wrong in his analysis. “Structural reforms have been painfully slow: a good example is pension reform... If you consider the shock that the financial crisis engendered, it was a wise move to revive the economy at that time. If they would have clamped down then, the depressive effects would have been much deeper.”  

Ilta-Sanomat weighs the President’s words in its editorial. “When Niinistö says that the country cannot afford another four futile years, there is plenty of reason to agree with him. As a former centre-right politician, he is not afraid to criticize his party’s current failings.” Regarding the discussion around Niinistö’s right to interfere in domestic policy-making, the paper says, “The President’s mandate is foreign policy, not other spheres of politics. Yet, his role of moral leadership above and beyond the machinery is appropriate, and in this capacity he should have the leeway as President to comment on the inefficiency of government.”

Cursive tuition to end

And to finish, a story from the Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on a decision to discontinue cursive penmanship instruction in Finnish schools after autumn 2016. Longhand script lessons will be replaced by printing and keyboard practice, as writing skills transition to the digital age.

Minna Harmanen of the National Board of Education says fluent typing skills are an important national competence, but admits that waiving handwriting will be a major cultural transformation. Nevertheless, Finnish schools famously provide teachers with a broad scope for fulfilling the curriculum, meaning that teachers can choose to continue teaching cursive after the ruling, if they so wish. Teaching children computer fluency is expected to create even more of a problem, as many schools only have a handful of machines to practice on.

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