Finnish is a very difficult language for outsiders, and maybe that is exactly why they are all so good at English. If you can speak Finnish, you can learn to speak any language. So that`s what the Fins do. Most of them speak English fluently. They all get at least three years of education in Swedish, which is the second official language in Finland. Apart from that and depending on their own preferences, you may also hear many speak Russian, German or to a lesser extent French and Spanish. But the skills of the Finnish people are not limited to languages alone.
Education is compulsory up to the age of 16, but it only happens rarely that people end their school careers at that age. They are more likely to continue to get access to university or professional high school and continue their studies for another three to ten years. For men, the study curriculum is likely to be interrupted by military service, which takes from 6 up to 12 months. Most women therefore finish their studies one year ahead of the men.
`Finland is a perfect country for eternal students`
Studying is almost a must in Finland. Education is considered a basic right and all public education is offered for free to everybody, including foreigners. Private education is not, but hardly anybody chooses to pursue studies in this sector. To make studying even more attractive, the government pays grants to students, which can amount to up to 450 Euros per month. They do not need to be refunded, even when people do not finish their studies at all. The national transportation companies furthermore offer a 50% discount for students of Finnish university.
Hannes (24) is a law 4th year law student. He supports the view that going to school should not be about having money or not. In spite of the government support, he still needs to work alongside his studies to be able to pay his rent. Working next to studies is very common, especially in Helsinki, where monthly rent largely exceeds the monthly government grants. Erasmus grants by the European Union are also available for those who wish to study abroad, and many students gratefully seize this opportunity.
The massive amount of students make some studies difficult to access. Katja (31) originally wanted to study journalism but she lost the battle of the entrance exams and ended up studying Economics and Human Resource Management. Journalism is not the only course that suffers from its popularity. Whoever is tempted by cultural studies or medicine, is likely to face entrance barriers. Entrance exams are quite normal for most studies, but the competition element is obviously the strongest with much-wanted programs. The only way to avoid them are by providing proof of brilliance in the preceding studies, or applying with a file consisting of relevant work experience. Fortunately, it is not strictly necessary to follow studies in the area you would like to work in. Many employers in commercial companies or state authorities will also accept other studies in slightly similar areas.
Markus (27) studied environmental science and now works in the maritime service within the government. From the top of his head, he knows more people who completed two studies than people who did not study at all - either in parallel or one after the other. Laura (25), who studies to become a teacher admits that she doesn`t really know which jobs are available for people who have not studied. She adds to that that all her friends either study at present or completed their studies in the past.
Teemu (27, photo) is fanatically taking advantage of the education system. He first studied computer science and continued doing polytechnichs evening courses in economics, handicraft, computer networking. He is about to start a new program of cooking studies to anticipate a slight career change and escape from the office life he grew used to over the last years.
Apart from telling me about his own life, he also highlights the downsides of the system. `In the early 1990s, it was not unusual to find cashiers at the supermarket who studied Finance and could speak three foreign languages. You may not be very motivated to spend four or five years studying only to end up working in a supermarket.` The problem was relieved by the improvement of the economy at the end of the 1990s. It created many new positions and allowed people to easily find positions in correspondence with their studies.
The Finnish education system illustrate that knowledge and intelligence are highly valued in Finnish society. The current system has been in place for a very long time and it has been producing a highly skilled workforce. Later this week, I will dedicate another article to successful Finnish products or services that would probably not have had such a global reach if the education system was not as accessible as it is.
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