Education has not played an important role in Finland’s development policy, even though the educational achievements of Finnish children are among the highest in the world. Published 24.08.2019 in Helsinki Sanomat.
With the start of the Finnish EU Presidency, we want to highlight the role of universities in solving global problems.
Respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law are the common European values. They are also the basis of the values of universities. Universities need to uphold and uphold these values so that they can withstand attacks. Unfortunately, such attacks are already widespread in some European countries.
However, the responsibility of European universities is not limited to our own continent; this work emphasizes action to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030). The objectives cover a wide range of activities from nature and water protection to education, equality and poverty eradication.
UNIVERSITIES play an important role in solving the crisis of learning in developing countries. According to the UN, the quality of education has not developed at the same pace as access to education. In spite of the fact that students spend years in school, they do not even get basic reading and numeracy skills. Many do not learn to read at all.
In low-income countries, only 14% of schoolchildren have a minimum level of mathematics at the end of primary school. In lower middle income countries, 37% achieve minimum skills. This results in the world being divided in half: half of the world’s children have access to a good education system, while half do not even learn basic skills.
Finland has excelled in measuring children’s learning outcomes. This is our strongest asset in the world. Still, education has not been one of the most important topics in the goals and financing of Finland’s development policy.
This is why our development policy lacks a strategic approach in this regard. In addition, the field is fragmented. Closer cooperation between ministries, organizations, universities and other actors is needed.
A study commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on Educational Development Cooperation (Stepping Up Finland’s Global Role on Education (2018)) suggests that Finland would strengthen its global role in tackling the learning crisis and make education quality improvement a key objective of education in Finland.
This requires strategic leadership, collaboration between different actors, increased funding and knowledge of local conditions. EU leadership also needs to be strengthened. The Finnish Presidency offers a good opportunity for that.
In the GOVERNMENT PROGRAM, high-quality education has been raised as one of Finland’s development cooperation priorities, and additional funding will also be allocated to it. The government also intends to develop a strategy for Africa and to expand its political and economic engagement with African countries.
As a global player, the University of Helsinki wants to be strongly involved in solving the learning crisis. Among other things, the University is entering into a strategic partnership with the University of Nairobi.
In the same context, we are also exploring the possibility of cooperation with Somali National University. The Somalia National University is being rebuilt after the Civil War, and in June the university held its first graduation ceremony in thirty years. One of the faculties of the Somali National University has trained teachers in Finland who have returned to Somalia to rebuild their country. So they know the Finnish education system and are interested in cooperation.
The global virtues of Finland and the universities have the same virtues and values as they once did in the reform of primary education: the goal is for everyone to have access to information, no matter where they come from.
In Finland, the journey to excellence has been completed in a short period of time. This can serve as an inspiration to many emerging countries.
By Tarja Halonen and Jari Niemelä
H.E. Tarja Halonen (former President of Finland) and Chairperson of the Board of the University of Helsinki.
Professor Jari Niemelä is Rector of the University of Helsinki.