Education and development of competence

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 educational institutions as well as leisure time.

The overall development of the level of education serves as an indicator of the development of competence at the population level. While the level of education is measured based on the numbers of qualifications completed in educational institutions of different levels, adult education and its various practices also develop competence.

Indicators selected by a network of experts

  • The number of daycare centres, schools and educational institutions with a focus on sustainable development
  • Life-long learning and participation in training
  • Research and development costs, share of GDP
  • Societal skills and literacy

Follow-up basket and the goals of Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development

Equal opportunity for well-being

A society of people exerting influence

Sustainable work

Carbon-neutral society

Resource-smart economy

Lifestyles that respect biocapacity

Decision-making that respects nature

 

Education and development of competence
The level of education continues to rise, but will people's knowledge and skills suffice?

18.6.2018 12.07
The level of education continues to rise, but will people's knowledge and skills suffice?

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 educational institutions as well as leisure time.

Education and development of competence are linked to many of the goals of society's commitment to sustainable development. The network for monitoring sustainable development has selected the following indicators for this basket: the share of graduates from post-comprehensive-school education and participation in adult education; the number of daycare centres, schools and educational institutions that have been granted a sustainable development certificate; the development of literacy and societal skills of young people; the use of library services, and the share of research and development costs of total gross national product.

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

The overall development of the level of education serves as an indicator of the development of competence at the population level. While the level of education is measured based on the numbers of qualifications completed in educational institutions of different levels, adult education and its various practices also develop competence.

Since Finland became an independent state, the level of education of its population has been constantly growing. The growth has been steady over the recent decades. In the 2010s, the share of persons who had completed at least basic level education in the age category of 25–64-year-olds has increased at the annual rate of 0.6% percentage points from 80.2% to 83.7% by the end of 2016. The share of those who had completed at least a vocational qualification has grown by around 4 percentage points to 78.3%, while the share of those who have completed a higher education degree has increased by around 6 percentage points to 27.1%.

Despite the rise in the overall level of education, it is worth noticing that the level of education among younger age classes 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 2016, their share was 77.1%. Therefore, there is even a slight decline in their share. In the same age class, the share of those who have completed a higher education degree has remained nearly unchanged: in 2010, their share was 38.8% and in 2016 this was 39.1%. It is also noteworthy that there are major gender differences in the rates: in 2016, 71.3% of 30-year-old men had completed at least a vocational qualification and 29.8% had completed at least a higher education degree; at the same time, 80.1% of women in the age class had completed at least a vocational qualification and 45.6% at least a higher education degree.

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 much 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).

Sustainable development certificates are becoming increasingly common in daycare centres, schools and educational institutions

From a future perspective, it is particularly important to determine what kind of education and instruction is provided in accordance with the principles and practices of sustainable development and what is learned at daycare centres, schools and educational institutions. The issue of related certificates indicates commitment to the cause.

The Green Flag is an international programme and environmental label for sustainable development in daycare 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 UN schools network is a support and cooperation network open for all schools and involves engaging in themes such as human rights, peace, and security and safety. The indicator does not depict the work of higher education institutions.

The number of certified daycare centres, educational institutions and schools has been growing fairly steadily. Those involved in the field yearn for ready-made models, support and networks to help them in their work related to sustainable development. The growth in the number of paid certificates that require reporting has slowed down as a result of the worsened economic conditions of daycare centres, schools and educational institutions as well as being kept busy by issues such as the implementation of the new curriculum. The number of persons affected by the certificates has been growing more dramatically than that of organisations granted the certificates as a result of mergers of organisations leading to an increase in their sizes.

Good work is also done for sustainable development in units other than those depicted by this indicator. The National Core Curriculum lays a strong foundation and even an obligation for integrating sustainable development in school work. However, studies have noted that there is considerable variation between different units. It is important to monitor the implementation of the new curricula and to ensure that the presence of topics concerning sustainable development are mainstreamed with high quality.

The visibility of sustainable development in daycare centres, schools and educational institutions can be supported with continuing training for management and other personnel, different materials, facilitation of versatile cooperation and support, and overall resource allocation. The support forms presented in this indicator are maintained by associations and a foundation.

Decline in literacy among young people a cause for concern, room for improvement in skills related to exerting influence

Societal 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 library services, and their significance gains new emphasis as a result of the development of the information society and media. Young people also play a key role in this as the makers of the future. It is important to follow what knowledge and skills related to societal development are considered important by young people and how young people feel that their knowledge and skills are developing at school and in other areas of life.

Significant slump in the literacy of 15-year-olds

Literacy has traditionally been strong in Finland. Monitoring trends in literacy is important as it underlies the increasingly important media literacy and multiliteracy. 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. While regional differences have been traditionally minor in Finland, the Helsinki region fared better than other regions in the most recent study.

The PISA study has determined different proficiency levels for reading 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.)

Societal development and sustainable development skills

This indicator illustrates the share of the 15–29-year-old youths who consider environmental awareness, media skills, skills in exerting influence in society and skills in influencing the local environment as very important or important for their ability to do well in life. The data have been collected in the Youth Barometer of 2008 and 2017. While the importance of environmental awareness and skills in influencing the local environment in the lives of young people has remained stable, the importance of media skills and skills in exerting influence in society has grown.

The increasing importance contributed to skills in exerting influence in society is worth paying attention to. Nevertheless, these skills are at the bottom of the scale of issues that young people consider important even though participation has been perceived as a key learning objective during past decades. The fact that young people rate media skills as more important than previously reflects the rapid transformation of the media environment. While the views of the importance of media skills do not as such provide information about the ability to assess the reliability of sources and information, simply acknowledging this fact is an important prerequisite for the development of media criticism and information literacy. 

This indicator illustrates the share of the 15–29-year-old youths who feel that they have learned very much or a lot about environmental awareness, media skills, skills in exerting influence in society and skills in influencing the local environment in basic and secondary education. Although there have been hardly any changes in experiences concerning skills related to environmental awareness, the media and exerting social influence in learning, young people find that they are acquiring less skills in influencing their local environment than previously.

Compared to other multidisciplinary skills surveyed in the Youth Barometer, the school serves as a fairly important arena for learning environmental awareness skills. The fact that the majority of pupils find that they have learned a lot of environmental awareness at school indicates that environmental awareness is perceived as one of the key citizen skills and education objectives.

In addition to the shares of the respondents who have learned a lot, 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. Signs of polarisation or inequality can also be seen in these observations.

Use of library services still among the highest in the world

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.

There was an increase in borrowings and physical visits to libraries up until 2004 after which both borrowing rates and visits started to decline. 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. Since 2005, the number of physical visits has decreased. In 2016, there were around 49 million visits. The decrease seems to level off in 2017 when the number of visits exceeded the rate of 2016 by one million.

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 since the previous year, which can be at least partly caused by a change related to information system technology.

The reduction of research and development expenditure has slowed down

Research knowledge is highly significant to the development of society. In addition to economic growth, a well-functioning national innovation system plays a key role in the creation of social well-being. Agenda 2030 puts emphasis on the significance of research and development. Scientific and technological innovations are expected to produce benefits that can be quickly realised, especially in medicine and the energy sector. 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.

There has been a significant decline in public and private investments in research and development activities in the 2010s. In 2016, the share of research and development costs of the GDP was 2.8 per cent. The share has been in a continuous decline since 2009, when the share of research expenditure of total GDP was 3.8 per cent. According to Statistics Finland, research and development expenditure was EUR 5.9 million in 2016. The expenditure decreased by EUR 145 million since the previous year. This reduction fully originates from the corporate sector. The Research and Innovation Council has set as an objective that Finland's investments in research and innovation activities should rise to 4% of the gross domestic product by the year 2030.

The decline in investments in research and development activities has been particularly significant in the private sector. The reduction in investments by the public sector stopped and the speed of the decline in the investments by the private sector slowed down in 2016. In 2017, research and development expenditure led by companies is estimated to have taken an upward turn amounting to EUR 100 million, and the share of the GDP is assessed as 2.7 per cent.

Although the share of R&D activities of the GDP has been in decline in the recent years, it continues to be above the average rates of the OECD and EU countries in Finland. Of the gross domestic product of the European Union, 1.96% was used for research and development in 2015. The corresponding share in the OECD region was 2.38%. Meanwhile, many other countries investing in high proficiency are fairly far ahead of us based on data from 2015: South Korea (4.2 %), Switzerland (3.4%), Japan (3.3%) and Sweden (3.2%).

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This interpretation text was compiled by Esa Pirnes of the Ministry of Education and Culture