Education and development of competence 2019
Young people increasingly concerned about climate change – and interested in politics

18.3.2020 11.16
Young people increasingly concerned about climate change – and interested in politics

Finland’s level of education has increased throughout its independence, but this upward trend has evened out over the past few decades. In the 2010s the education level of younger age groups has no longer increased. Participation in adult education is high by international standards but is unevenly divided by population groups. Finland’s traditionally excellent literacy rate has declined among young people over the past decade. Young people are concerned about climate change, while their interest in political influence is at its highest level in quite some time.

Sustainable development requires the ability and interest of people to follow the development of society and the global community, to engage in discussion on the topic and to act in line with the conditions of sustainable development. People develop these skills and interests in their families, early childhood education and care, schools and education and training institutions as well as leisure time. 

Agenda 2030 aims to ensure that “all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”. The goals also aim to ensure literacy and numeracy skills and that all learners are provided the knowledge and skills they need to promote sustainable development.

In addition to general education level and learning, this indicator also monitors what type of education and teaching is being provided and learning is taking place in day-care centres, schools and education and training institutions that is in accordance with the principles and practices for sustainable development.  The issue of related certificates indicates commitment to the cause.

Societal and influencing skills play an important role in the context of the knowledge and skills required by sustainable development. Literacy is a fundamental requirement for acquiring these skills. Literacy is maintained by the school system and the library institution, the significance of which gain new emphasis as a result of the development of information society and the media. Young people will play a key role as shapers of the future. It is important to follow the values, attitudes, capabilities and skills that young people have to influence social issues.

Agenda 2030 puts emphasis on the significance of research and development. An effective national innovation system is a key factor with regard to both economic and social welfare. The goals of Agenda 2030 also include the target for increasing the share of research and development staff as well as public and private investments in research and development activities.

Level of education continues to rise, participation in adult education has decreased

The level of education among Finland’s population has increased continuously throughout its independence and evened out over the past few decades. In the 2010s, the share of persons who had completed at least a basic level education in the age category of 25–64 increased from 80.2% to 82.5 % by 2017. The share of those who had completed at least a vocational qualification has grown by around 4 percentage points to 78.8 %, and the share of those who have completed a higher education degree has increased by around 6.5 percentage points to 28 %.

Despite the rise in the overall level of education, it is worth noting that the level of education among younger age categories has no longer increased in the 2010s. In 2010, the share of people who had completed at least vocational qualifications was 78.2% in the age class of 30–34-year-olds; in 2017, their share was 77.4 %. There has been a slight decline in their share. The share of those who have completed a higher education degree in the age category in question has remained nearly unchanged: in 2010, their share was 38.8% and in 2017 it was 39.1%. It is also noteworthy that the differences between the sexes are quite large.

According to a study on adult education by Statistics Finland concerning the working-age population (18–64-year-olds), the participation rate in adult education has decreased by four percentage points since 2012, returning to the level of 1995 at 48%. Women participate in adult education far more frequently than men. There has been a difference of some 10% in their participation since 1980.  (Statistics Finland 2018).

People most commonly participate in adult education for professional reasons in Finland. In 2017, 48% of the labour force participated in training related to their profession. There was a six-percentage-point decrease since 2012. Around one in seven of all 18–64-year-olds participated in adult education for general education or recreational purposes in 2017. In 2017, the participation decreased by four percentage points since 2012. (Statistics Finland 2018.)

Nonetheless, by international comparison, the participation rate in adult education is high in Finland. In 2012, 60% of 25–65-year olds participated in education and training in Finland. In addition to Finland and other Nordic countries, only the Netherlands and New Zealand have a participation rate of over 60% in the 25–66-year-old age bracket. (OECD 2016).

However, participation in adult education is not divided evenly within the population. For example, people who have completed a lower education in blue-collar professions and the unemployed are much less likely to develop their competence. Although the development of competence among the working aged has become polarised in all OECD member countries, in Finland, this polarisation is far more prominent than average (OECD 2019, Future-Ready Adult Learning Systems).

Number of sustainable development certificates in day-care centres, schools and educational institutions has grown slowly

The indicator monitors the number of day-care centres, schools and educational institutions that have committed to certificates related to sustainable development or are part of the UN school network. The Green Flag is an international programme and environmental label for sustainable development in day-care centres, schools and educational institutions. The sustainable development certification for educational institutions is available for schools, vocational education and training institutes, and liberal adult education institutions. The network of UN schools is an open support and cooperation network for all schools and educational institutions for highlighting UN themes, human rights, the themes of peace and security and the themes of sustainable development visible as part of the schools' teaching and operating culture. The indicator relates to activities at schools that promote young people’s relationship with nature, eco-social education and positive attitudes towards sustainable choices, and an objective according to which all learners will attain the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development by 2030.

In 2018, 267 organisations used the Green Flag, 80 organisations had a Certificate on Education for Sustainable Development and a total of 134 organisations were members of the UN Schools network. In Finland, 5.4% of primary, secondary and upper secondary schools have the right to use the Green Flag and 4.6% are members of the UN Schools network. Sustainable development certificates for educational establishments are most common in intermediate vocational training institutes. Internationally comparable information is available on the number of Green Flag schools, and this comparison also includes the number of secondary vocational institutions. In these statistics, Finnish Green Flag schools account for 5.3% of all schools. The share for the other Nordic countries is as follows: 11.7% in Sweden, 13.9% in Norway, 19.9% in Iceland and 2.2% in Denmark. The European country with the largest share of Green Flag schools is Ireland, where 80.1% of all schools have the right to use the Green Flag.

There is no valid national target for the number of certified day-care centres, schools and educational institutions in Finland. However, in 2006, the Education and Training Division of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development set a target of 15% which should be attained by 2014.

The number of certified organisations has grown quite slowly. Even so, it is likely that the number within the scope of certification has grown more quickly as educational institutions have merged over the years to form larger units. The growth of impact could thus be larger than the organisation-based examination would suggest.

The indicator does not include the sustainable development work carried out in day-care centres, schools and educational institutions independently or in networks other than those examined by the indicator. This may have increased with the newest curricula for basic education and upper secondary schools, as sustainable development and eco-social education play a key role in their national core curricula. At present, there is no comprehensive data available on work by schools to promote sustainable development. Neither does the indicator contain information on the work carried out by higher education institutions.

Decline of literacy among young people and reason for concern

Literacy has traditionally been strong in Finland. Monitoring trends in literacy is important as this is an underlying factor in media literacy and multiliteracy, which are of increasing importance. Media literacy and multiliteracy are concerned with the ability to find out, process and interpret information produced in different ways and for different purposes, and to use this as the basis for forming an overall idea of societal issues, such as sustainable development.

There has been a significant slump in the literacy of Finnish youths. The international PISA comparison has examined the reading literacy of 15-year-olds in the countries and regions participating in the assessment. Finland has ranked among the top countries. From 2000 to 2006, Finnish youths scored high in reading literacy, at 547–543 points, while the average score of the OECD countries was 500 with a standard deviation of 100. In 2015, the literacy scores of Finnish youths decreased to 526 points. Around 30-40 points can be calculated to correspond to the syllabus of one school year. This is among the biggest decreases in competence in the OECD countries. In all countries participating in the PISA study, girls succeed better in reading literacy than boys. In Finland, the difference in the competence of girls and boys is the biggest in all OECD countries. Even though regional differences in Finland have traditionally been minor, the Helsinki region fared better than other regions in the most recent study.

PISA study has determined different proficiency levels for literacy, of which level 2 is considered necessary for being able to participate in today's society. In Finland, the share of pupils remaining below level 2 has increased from 7 per cent to 11 per cent. At the same time, the share of readers at the highest end of the scale (over level 5) has decreased from 18.5 per cent to 13.7 per cent. The next PISA results will be published in December 2019.

According to the PIAAC survey concerning working-aged adult population (16–65-year-olds) carried out in 2012, there are fairly large differences in the literacy scores of different age groups in Finland by international comparison.  (Publications of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2013:19.) 

Young people concerned about climate change and more interested in politics than previously

Young people are the shapers of the future, and, for this reason, it is important to monitor their values, attitudes and knowledge and skills related to societal influence. These are monitored in the Youth Barometer, the content of which, however, varies from year to year.

The 2017 barometer provided information on how important young people felt different skills in civic participation were and how they felt they had learned them in primary and secondary school. Compared to 2008, the importance of environmental awareness and skills to influence and impact the local environment in the lives of young people aged 15-29 had remained stable in 2017, but the importance of media skills and societal influence skills had increased. However, environmental awareness is considered the most important of the aforementioned skills in addition to media skills: 72% of young people considered it very important or important in 2017. Respondents felt that out of the aforementioned skills they had leaned most about environmental awareness during their primary and secondary education. 58% felt that they had learned very much or a fair amount of environmental skills, while less than 40% felt that they had learned very much or a fair amount of the other aforementioned skills. Respondents felt that the skills they had learned the least were those related to their local environment (32%) and the share of people who felt this way had also decreased from 2008 (when their share was 37%).

In addition to the shares of the respondents who have learned a fair amount, attention should be paid to the share of the respondents who reported that they had learned none of the contents they were asked about. More than one in ten young people feel that they have learned no skills of exerting influence during their formal education, and nearly as large a percentage reported that they have learned none of the media skills essential in today's society at school. At the same time, however, young people feel confident about their information literacy skills. The risk of polarisation or inequality can also be seen in these observations.

In 2018, the Youth Barometer asked about the matters with regard to which young people feel uncertainty and insecurity. Human-caused climate change was by far the most common reason for feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. A quarter of young people felt a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity due to it, while in 2008 only one in ten young people felt this way. A total of two thirds of young people felt very or fairly uncertain or insecure due to climate change whereas ten years earlier, only half of the young people felt this way.

Young people’s interest in politics related to social influence has increased, and it is now at its highest during the period it has been monitored starting in 1996. In 2018, 65% of young people were very or fairly interested in politics, while in 1996 only 44% felt this way. Just over a decade ago, young people’s interest in politics was also low, but in 2012 it increased to near its present level. Age and education background had a clear impact on level of interest.

International monitoring indicates that Finnish young people have fallen to the back of the pack in comparisons concerning the interest young people have for social issues in the 2009 and 2016 ICCS studies (Schulz et al. 2010; Mehtäläinen et al. 2017). In a comparison of 14 European countries carried out as part of the Myplace research project carried out in 2011-2015, Finnish young people were the eighth most interested in politics (Saari 2017).

Number of library visits and borrowing of books has become established

The library institution plays an important role in the context of societal knowledge and skills as it reaches all population groups. Library services are particularly important for those outside of education and working life as they are at a greater risk of being excluded from developing and changing knowledge and competence needs compared to other groups. Library visits and the borrowing of library materials reflect the population's willingness to educate themselves and become aware of society as well as the population’s desire to implement active citizenship.

Borrowing and physical visits to libraries increased up until 2004 after which they both started to decline. This change is related to the development of information society, where information acquisition and access channels have become more diverse. Nonetheless, Finland's library borrowing and visit rates continue to be among the highest in the world.

In the peak year of 2004 for physical visits to libraries, there were nearly 67 million visits to the country's libraries. Starting from 2005, the number of physical visits has decreased, but in the past few years visit levels have evened out to approximately 50 million visits a year.

In previous years, the dwindling of physical visits has been compensated for by online visits to libraries, which have increased at the same time.  Above all, this development is a result of digitalisation. Online services have evolved, which has moved some library services online. There was a dramatic increase in online visits in the first years of compiling statistics on the topic. The instructions on compiling statistics on online visits have been specified since 2014, which is apparent as a decline in online visits. In 2017, the number of online visits decreased from the previous year, which can be at least partly be due to a change in information system technology. 2017 and 2018 are again fully comparable and online visits increased in 2018. The borrowing of books has remained at a consistent level for the past few years (approx. 67 million borrowed items).

Research and development expenditure has taken an upward turn

According to data collected by Statistics Finland, R&D expenditure took an upward turn in 2017. In 2017, research and development expenditure accounted for 2.76 per cent of the GDP, meaning it was at nearly the same level as in 2016. It has been estimated that in 2018, research and development expenditure will grow to approximately by EUR 140 million and account for 2.70 per cent of the GDP. There was a decline in public and private investments in research and development activities during the early 2010s. The decline was particularly in the corporate sector’s research and development expenditure.

The Research and Innovation Council and the Vision for higher education and research in 2030 have a set objective of increasing the GDP share of public and private sector T&D activity investments to 4% by 2030. This increase aims at promoting new creative energy in science, sustainable growth and increased welfare. Achieving the 4% target will require significant additional investments in both the private and the public sectors. In 2018, R&D activities expenditure in Finland (according to preliminary data) totalled around EUR 6.3 billion of which private sector expenditure totalled around EUR 4.2 billion, the higher education sector’s expenditure was EUR 1.6 billion and other public sector expenditure was EUR 0.6 billion. By 2030, this expenditure should be nearly double to attain the 4% objective assuming that the GDP grows on average by around 2%.

The decline in investments in research and development activities has been particularly significant in the private sector. The R&D expenditure of companies took a slight upturn in 2017 and, according to advance data this growth will continue. However, companies account for a smaller share of R&D activity expenditure in Finland than they did prior to the global financial crisis. When examined from the level of OECD countries, the share of R&D expenditure by companies returned in 2017 for the first time to the same level as prior to the global financial crisis (source: OECD).

Although the share of R&D expenditure in Finland is at a considerably lower level than it was a decade ago, it is still higher than the average in both OECD countries and EU Member States. In 2017, 1.96 per cent of the European Union’s gross domestic product was used for research and development. The corresponding share in the OECD region was 2.37 per cent. Meanwhile, many other countries investing in high competence are fairly far ahead of us: Israel (4.3 %) and South Korea (4.5 %). With its 3.3 per cent share of its GDP, Sweden passed Finland in 2015 (data from 2017).