The annual Educa trade fair organised by Opetusalan Ammattijärjestö, a national education union affiliated to Education International, OAJ, will bring together thousands of Finnish teachers and education policymakers.
The Educa fair, Finland’s and the entire Nordic region’s largest event in the education sector, is expected to gather over 17,000 Finnish teachers in the capital city Helsinki from 25-26 January.
One its key moments will be a panel featuring top names in party politics, who will be challenged on the future of education, training and research.
OAJ’s Special AdvisorSuvi Pulkkinen is very much looking forward to the election debate, which will feature the top names in politics: “Finland’s parliamentary election takes place in April, so this is the perfect time to introduce educational policy into the debate and political parties’ agendas. The event will focus on how political parties plan to develop education and how much they are willing to invest in it.”
OAJ’s continuous cooperation with policymakers
The education union co-operates equally with all parties during the election period.
“Following on our traditionally good relations with the government, we have excellent communication with the current Minister of Education and her cabinet. This is so important because it allows us to discuss many important reforms and to build them in a collaborative way,” Pulkkinen stresses.
According to her, policymakers see teachers as key stakeholders and understand that for the reforms to be successful, teachers need to stand behind them.
“That is why Educa is an excellent opportunity for politicians to test their parties’ ideas in front of a huge audience of teachers and surrounded by the media,” Pulkkinen points out.
Leaving behind a long period of cuts in education
Even in Finland, cooperation between teacher unions and politicians has not always been smooth.
“The educational policies of the last two governments have been budget-led and reforms have been carried out at the expense of teachers. The major education cuts have left their mark,” Pulkkinen regrets.
For instance, even though in the lead-up to the previous election, all party leaders made a promise at Educa that education funds would not be cut, vocational education funding has been slashed by more than a fifth.
“It will be interesting to see what education promises the party leaders are ready to make next weekend,” remarked Pulkkinen.
OAJ in defence of teachers
Despite a tight budget, some positive reforms have been achieved in the country.
For instance, the personnel’s structure in early childhood education was reformed to ensure that more university-educated teachers will be working at day-care centres. The number of foreign languages taught in basic education was increased and students in upper secondary school were given the right to access special education.
“OAJ has been very active in proposing new policies. We supplied practical solutions based on our high-level expertise on problems encountered by the political parties,” explains Pulkkinen.
OAJ proposed, for example, the extension of compulsory education, an issue that raised a lot of discussion, an issue on which the new government is expected to decide.
“We have been proactive in this discussion and we are fairly sure that a two-year preschool and the extension of compulsory education to apply to upper secondary school education will be the hottest educational policy topics in this election,” says Pulkkinen.
Education is key to solving major societal issues
The OAJ’s election campaign is furthermore solution-oriented. The theme is Koulutus ratkaisee (Education solves problems) and the OAJ’s campaign highlights the role of education as a way of resolving societal issues.
“Whether the problem is the workforce’s availability, marginalisation, societal divisions or climate change, the solution cannot be found without high-quality education, training, science and research supplied with sufficient resources. This is why we need to invest in education and give teachers the chance to do their jobs well,” says Pulkkinen.
“It is education’s turn”
OAJ intends to make the importance of education a key topic of discussion during the parliamentary elections, whether from the perspective of immigration or of labour policy.
At Educa, Pulkkinen will be listening closely to what promises party leaders make during the debate. Empty promises and words ahead of the election are not enough. True confidence will be granted when the government programme is decided.
“We believe that it is education’s turn and consider many of the parties’ education policies to be excellent. But ideas can’t just stay at a policy programme level; they need to be turned into reality. There is no doubt that education sector professionals are ready to call out policymakers if education resources are not improved. I expect that the audience will make that clear at Educa too,” concluded Pulkkinen.