A citizens' initiative to make upper secondary and vocational schools free for students, primarily by purchasing books and learning materials for pupils, has reached 50,000 signatures and will now proceed to Parliament.
In the current system of secondary education in Finland, teaching is free of charge and schools have no fees, yet additional charges begin to mount up when students require school books and computers during classroom lessons. Vocational students must acquire work uniforms and necessary equipment for their practical studies. In addition, stationary, notebooks, calculators, as well as software and licenses for e-books collectively rack up a hefty price tag.
According to a report by the Union for Upper Secondary School Students quoted in the initiative, the costs of attending upper secondary schools can reach up to 2,600 euros over the full three years. Vocational school costs vary depending on the industry but students could face a charge of a few thousand euros.
The initiative's authors say this damages equal access to further education, despite guarantees in Finnish legislation. The initiative further states that a basic education is no longer enough to ensure employment as employers increasingly require an upper secondary certificate.
Cost limits options
“We do not know how many students do not go to class because they cannot afford it, nor who choose what field to study in based on its cost rather than what interests them the most," said Secretary General Hanna Markkula of Save the Children, the NGO behind the initiative. "But what we really do know is that we are talking about thousands and thousands of children and their families."
The initiative demands Parliament to create a formal report on the issues and to launch necessary measures for legal reforms to make upper secondary and vocational schools free of additional costs. The initiative appeals to the statement in article 16 of the Finnish Constitution that says public authorities must ensure that everybody has an equal opportunity to develop themselves past the level of basic education without financial considerations getting in the way.
Uutissuomalainen reported over the weekend that Education Minister Sanni Grahn-Laaksonen of the National Coalition Party wants to look into the possibilities of making upper secondary education free. According to Grahn-Laaksonen a very preliminary price tag for the venture could be around the 100 million euro mark.
As the venture carries a hefty cost, the ministry will also look into possibilities of funding subsidies to those students whose educational prospects are threatened by their monetary situation.