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Finnish teachers demand smaller class sizes, extended compulsory education

Finland's teachers' union estimates that its proposal to reduce teacher-pupil ratios would cost the state an additional 13 million euros.

Olli Luukkainen
OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen on 31 July. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Finland's trade union for teachers, OAJ, has drawn up a wish list for Prime Minister Antti Rinne's government to consider. Among other things, the instructors propose reducing teacher-pupil ratios in Finland's education system to 1:18 for the first two years of primary school, and 1:20 for classes thereafter.

The group argues smaller class sizes would improve school safety and increase the kind of interaction that enhances learning. It estimates that the reform would cost the state an additional 13 million euros in funding.

Gradual approach to reforms

The union also floats the idea of extending compulsory schooling to the age of 19 instead of the current age of 16. The government coalition that took shape in June announced that it would seek to change Finland's compulsory school age cut-off to 18 to curb increasing youth marginalisation.

The OAJ says that imposing an 18-year age limit risks cutting many pupils' studies off before they are finished, as many participants in upper secondary and vocational education take four years to finish all of their required curriculum requirements and examinations.

The union warns authorities to take it slow in transitioning to the new age requirements.

"The transition to our modern comprehensive school system back in the 1970s began in the north and was implemented gradually throughout the rest of the nation, over a period of several years. Perhaps this time, we could start in the south and spread north," OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen said in a press release.

Salary increases also make the list

OAJ presented the education sector's goals for the coming autumn to the media on 31 July in Helsinki. Luukkainen said that the teaching profession should be made more attractive by increasing starting salaries.

The union seeks a gradual salary increase that would eventually reach a level of over 3,000 euros monthly. Minimum monthly salaries for starting primary teachers in Finland are currently 2,661 euros, while teachers of specific subjects in higher grades earn 2,873 euros.

"The teaching profession is still very popular, but dwindling numbers of applicants indicate that jobs in teaching and education are losing their appeal. This could be interpreted to mean that salary levels, working conditions and career development opportunities aren't drawing young people to the field like they used to," Luukkainen said.

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