During election years, education has been a topic that interests the public. A two-sided political tug of war often leads to offering simple solutions for complex problems, writes the new director of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä Taina Saarinen.
The use of English in higher education institutions is increasing? Let’s ban the use of English in bachelor’s theses! Schools seem to have restless students? Let’s ban restlessness!
The discussion on schools seems to be the most heated around Finland’s decline in the education rankings. Positions in the international rankings are indeed the core of one problem and one solution in a political sense. Especially Finland’s PISA results and ranking below average in the OECD comparison, which looked at the proportion of people with higher education degrees in the 25 to 34 age group, have stirred up even the opinion of the wider public.
It has been extremely interesting to follow the education debate from a researcher’s perspective. Different priority projects and curriculum work with tight deadlines directed at schools and teachers must be truly exhausting.
However, in the eyes of an education researcher, the education system in Finland has last seen extensive reform when comprehensive schools were established.
Thereafter, projects and development programmes have been primarily implemented on top of the existing structure.
A comprehensive approach is missing
What hasn’t been done in recent years is a forward-looking and comprehensive research and policy review of education.
The most recent development plan for education and research extending over government terms was drafted in 2011. The education policy report might have been presented to the Finnish Parliament in 2021, but before that it was last given in 2006.
Parliamentary work tends to be slow and doesn’t seem to match the demands of current policies when it comes to fast and flexible decision-making. However, extending work duties over government terms would increase political commitment.
At the same time, this would support understanding of the fact that education is not developed through separate priority projects and yearly stunts that adhere to the ideology of each government.
Certain steps have already been taken in this direction with the extensive The Bildung Review compiled by Aleksi Kalenius and published by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which at the same time gives concrete expression to the fact how scattered the research data on education is in Finland.
Research data on education should be shared
In an op-ed in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the new Director of the European Training Foundation Pilvi Torsti wrote about the inadequacy of the knowledge base in Finnish education. I partly agree with Torsti, not on the amount of data though, but its fragmentation.
The Finnish Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä conducts multidisciplinary research on education with various partners both in Finland and internationally at all educational levels. Education is studied from variety of perspectives in many universities. And despite their technical-sounding name, research institutes, such as Labore and VATT Institute for Economic Research also conduct extremely interesting research on education.
There is research data in fact, but it is fragmented. Currently, what we need to do is bring all this data together.
Where political cooperation could reduce political polarisation, the research cooperation produces a deeper understanding of education. We need educational meta-analyses that bring together different perspectives and actors at different levels.
There is a lot of data on education. Now, it must be shared among everyone, both politically and for research purposes. Maybe in the next elections, the politicians will dare to come up with more complex solutions.
Taina Saarinen is a professor of higher education research and the director of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä . She is particularly interested in the historical developments of education policy and envisioning its future.
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