Although many of Finland’s upper secondary school students are required to have a laptop, only some municipalities provide financial assistance for the purchase.
Since late 2016, Finland’s educational authorities have gradually transitioned secondary school matriculation exams from paper to digital formats. Next spring the transition will be completed when mathematics will be added to the list of online examinations.
In addition, many high schools require their students to come to school with personal laptops for assignments and other online work.
“Some schools provide their students with laptops, but students often have to buy them themselves,” said Alvar Euro, chair of the Union of Upper Secondary School Students.
Laws that regulate upper secondary school education do not mention learning tools, but Finland's high school curriculum calls for students to acquire learning materials themselves.
However education providers – in many cases municipalities – have the power to define what kinds of materials students need for their studies.
Hundreds for a basic laptop
In Helsinki, upper secondary school students are expected to show up for class with a "basic laptop". The Matriculation Examination Board, which administers matriculation exams, also provides similar guidelines. So does the Abitti programme, a testing system set up by the matriculation board that helps prepare students for their finals.
In practice many kinds of devices currently available meet the criteria for the recommended laptop, and many "basic" models can be bought for around 200 euros. That is equivalent to the cost of five textbooks for the national psychology course at the Suomalainen bookstore chain. However other devices cost more than many households can afford.
”In such cases many [people] may end up cutting back in other areas that they never should when it comes to education,” said Euro.
Varying forms of municipal support
Although many municipalities do not directly purchase laptops for upper secondary school students, they many offer some kind of financial support.
For example in Hyvinkää, some 50 kilometres north of Helsinki, the city provides financial aid for students who use computers daily for their studies, at a rate of 100 euros per school year. Altogether the funding amounts to some 300 euros for the duration of their studies.
In municipalities such as Vantaa, students can get financial assistance in the form of preventive of supplementary income support.
The Ministry of Education and Culture is currently preparing legal reforms promised in last spring’s budget talks, which would that would add study materials to the list of items eligible for student financial aid. The supplement would be paid out to students of low-income families.
According to Euro, the reform is welcome, but inadequate.
“At the start of the school year [students] face a huge number of purchases. This increase will not cover all of that because it will not be paid out at once,” he noted.