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Comprehensive school graduates losing interest in optional tenth grade

Not too long ago, Finland's 10th grade option provided comprehensive school graduates with an extra year to improve their grades, learn a sense of responsibility and prepare for further studies. That trend is changing though, as fewer students take advantage of the “second chance” to finish their compulsory education on a strong note.

Essi Aho
Finnish 10th grade gives students like Essi Aho a second chance at graduating with good grades. Image: Petra Ristola / Yle

Laitila student Essi Aho spends her days in Turku and attends 10th grade classes at the Turku Christian College. Aho opted to attend 10th grade because she was not satisfied with her comprehensive school leaving certificate.

In Finland, the 10th grade is an extra year of school after the ninth grade. It is generally taken up by students without a study place for post-primary education, students like Aho who want a second chance at a good school leaving certificate or those who need time to decide on their future.

"Studying here is a lot nicer that in my previous school. It’s more relaxed and I can choose the subjects myself. So yeah, it’s really good. I noticed that my grades have improved a lot," said 16 year-old Aho.

In spite of Aho’s positive experience, the popularity of the 10th grade option has plummeted in recent years. Statistics show that in 2015, some 1,000 students took advantage of the extra year of comprehensive education, but back in 2011, the number was more than 50 percent higher, at over 2,200.

More students heading to post-primary schooling

The declining trend is visible in every region in Finland and the reasons for the apparent lack of interest are many. For one thing, a growing number of students are going straight to upper secondary or vocational schools from comprehensive school.

At the same time, the number of young people dropping out school has also declined. Increased opportunities for vocational education have also affected the situation.

Turku resident Juho Juntunen is one comprehensive school graduate who has also opted to attend 10th grade in a bid to improve his grades and prepare for upper secondary school or lukio.

"I've improved pretty well in difficult subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and physics that I struggled with in school," he explained.

Municipalities are not legally obliged to provide education beyond comprehensive school and many folk high schools offer 10th grade programs. Having learned essential study skills during their time in 10th grade, Juntunen and Aho are now preparing to apply to attend upper secondary school.

"You have to make sure you have the required number of courses, so this is already a lot more like studying at upper secondary school. You need to be more responsible," Juntunen said.

"I think this is a really good alternative if you want to improve your grades or just to think for another year whether to go to upper secondary or vocational school or wherever. So yes, this is a good option," Aho concluded.

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