Humanity is faced with many threats including climate change and threats to the environment. A vision is needed for these problems to be solved. Changing lifestyles and consumption habits can contribute to solving these problems but at the heart of helping humanity to survive is education, training and research.
Our societies need a shared vision of a better future. Education, training and research must be recognised as our most important investment. High-quality education is also the basis for individual and national well-being. And, of course, investment means not only political investment but a long term and sustainable funding plan.
These vital issues will be discussed at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession which will be hosted by the Finnish Government and OAJ on the 14-15th March in Helsinki. Here a vision of education for the future will be explored by OAJ and the Global Union Federation, Education International, alongside Ministers from around 20 countries. They range from European countries such as Poland, Spain and the UK to countries in East Asia such as South Korea and Hong Kong. It is a unique annual event in that it involves teacher unions affiliated to Education International, such as OAJ, and Ministers of Education who meet on an equal basis. Their mutual aim is to improve all policies affecting teachers.
This year the ISTP, as it is called, will be discussing leadership in education, early childhood education and what we all call the ‘wicked issues’ affecting education including how to achieve enough trained and motivated teachers.
Another wicked issue is digitalisation and new learning methods. Some say that this will challenge teachers’ skills and professional competence but we believe that digitalisation does not diminish the significance of teachers’ work. On the contrary we believe teachers are needed to guide students, so that each and every one can reach their full potential and find their place in society. Teachers support and enable learning and human development. What is needed is further training and professional development in information technology skills when teachers’ say they need it.
Another ‘wicked issue’ is that of social exclusion. Young people and children are socially excluded not only in developing countries but also in prosperous societies. Even in Finland, the number of very weak performers in the OECD’s PISA study has more than doubled over the past ten years. There are ever fewer jobs for those with no education. Those who only have lower secondary qualifications have shorter careers than those who have completed at least upper secondary education. Also their health and well-being are worse.
We believe that social exclusion must not and should not be accepted. Every person is equally valuable and can contribute to society. Feeling significant and worthwhile are two of the most central aspects of being human. High-quality early childhood education and basic education, where teachers have time to treat children and young people as individuals and have a real possibility to support their learning, make people feel appreciated. These two issues will be at the heart of our Summit discussions.
It is vital that compulsory education is extended so that every student will complete at least an upper secondary qualification. Training and education must also be possible for adults, when they need to update or acquire completely new professional or civic skills. The need for education and the desire to study do not depend on age, but people of all ages should be offered the chance to learn.
We welcome the fact that Finnish education has been equal and free. It is a beacon of public education. Studying has been possible for everyone, regardless of their background. The effort to keep education equal has been partially responsible for Finland’s success in education.
Yet young people from minority language and cultural backgrounds pursue upper secondary and higher education more rarely than others. The education of these groups must therefore be supported. It is also important to take care that differences between schools and municipalities do not increase too much. It is also vital that children are able to go to their local school, where they can study safely under the guidance of a competent teacher.
Finland is not the only country that is aiming to raise the level of education. For the first time, ISTP highlights the significance of pedagogically oriented early childhood education. The starting point for the participating countries is that their success can continue only if we invest sufficient funds in education, research and innovation. The countries that understand the value of education will be the success stories of the future.
The level of skills and competence must be raised, and we must invest in lifelong learning. We should recognise that immigrants also make a very important contribution to study, talent base and the job market. Education for all must mean what it says. It must include everyone.
Our vision is the same as that of all teachers and educators. There is no substitute for high quality education for all. The future of humanity depends on it.