Finland’s education legislation won a silver Future Policy Award 2015

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Children’s right to education is one of the most essential human rights and a door opener to access many other rights. This was also recognized by this year’s Future Policy Award, the first international prize to highlight best policy, established by the World Future Council (Zero Project operating partner), and organized in partnership with UNICEF (a Zero Project partner) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

For guaranteeing children’s equal access to high-quality education and training, irrespective of ethnic origin, age, wealth, language or location, and for a holistic and trust based education system that produces excellent results, both in terms of child well-being and international test scores, Finland’s ‘Basic Education Act’, adopted in 1998, won a Silver Future Policy Award. 

Results from the international PISA tests comparing 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, mathematics and science, show that Finland has ranked near the top in all three competencies since 2000. It is hoped that this Future Policy Award 2015 will encourage other governments to follow the Finnish government in paying equally detailed attention to their education systems and to provide education free of charge to everyone.

In terms of inclusion of children with disabilities, Finland’s Basic Education Act contains also important provisions, such as:

“A disabled child or a child with special educational needs has the right to get the interpretation and assistance services he or she needs to participate in education, other educational services, special aids and the services provided under Section 39 free of charge.” and “The language of instruction may also be Saami, Roma or sign language.”

According to UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education, in Finland less than 2% of children are studying in special schools for children with disabilities. Thanks to the current legislation, it is first and always clarified whether it is possible to organise the teaching and support in mainstream education. As well, the realization of the inclusion is more up to the guidelines and school culture than external resources.

Similarly, the European Agency on Special Needs and Inclusive Education reported that Finland’s reforms in the 90s have reduced the number of special schools and that it is the duty of the municipality and the individual school to include pupils with special educational needs in the mainstream educational system.  The country abolished also, for instance, separate curricula of special education and all pupils use the same curriculum individualised by individual education plans. Furthermore, the Finnish strategy for the development of special needs and inclusive education published in 2007 emphasised the importance of the wide basic education network which supports the right of every child to attend the nearest mainstream school.

However, to build a fully inclusive system in compliance with article 24 of the CRPD progress still needs to be made. According to the Zero Project Indicator research of 2014 on inclusive primary education, the Finnish Disability Forum reported that even though the principle of inclusion is primary policy target, education for some children with disabilities is still provided in special schools (there are still 5 state-owned special schools for deaf, blind, intellectual disabilities) and there are problems with implementation (lack of access, lack of support staff, etc.).