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School Pupils' Skills Worsen Worryingly

The skills of comprehensive schools’ pupils have deteriorated over the last decade. A follow-up study in the city of Vantaa revealed that ninth graders’ knowledge has diminished dramatically—and the same findings show up elsewhere.

Image: Yle

Alarming signals have lately emerged from comprehensive schools’ classrooms. The Finnish National Board of Education has found writing skills lacking for every third boy in ninth grade.

Finland has done well in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings in 2010, but the results were a little worse than last time.

The Vantaa findings come as a veritable fly in the ointment. The study was a follow-up on one done in 2004, with both measuring general learning and reasoning skills among the entire ninth grade.

“The biggest and most worrying finding was the fact that the general level of competence shown by students declined by about a quarter in all the measured areas. The decline was significantly large,” said researcher Sirkku Kupiainen from the Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki.

Since 2004, there has been no change in the educational level of the parents. The greatest drop has been found among students with average grades whose home language is Finnish.

A look toward the future

Conclusions regarding the whole country cannot be drawn from the Vantaa study alone, but the Finnish National Board of Education has been following the spring’s developments with a concerned eye. The board’s senior researcher Jorma Kuusela believes that the primary reasons for weakened results can be found in pupils’ homes and the surrounding society, rather than in the education offered at schools.

“Vantaa’s result was startling, especially in light of corresponding quiet signals coming from elsewhere. I would first go looking for reasons which have to do with the appreciation of school, finding school important, and the support that children get for going to school.”

However, Kuusela also says that school curricula could be revamped. Young people in this day and age live constantly bombarded by information—it would make sense to consider how much knowledge out to be crammed into their heads at school, Kuusela says.

“Perhaps at some stage we need to give up on the idea that all education is content-based and that content ever increases. We need to give schools an opportunity to leave their pupils with more space and time to think,” Kuusela suggests.

The Centre for Educational Assessment at the University of Helsinki is negotiation with the Ministry of Education and Culture regarding a follow-up study which would cover comprehensive schools across the country.