Inclusive and Quality Education for All Conference
Speech by President Tarja Halonen
Pristina, September 8, 2015
Honorable President Jahjaga, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to be in Kosovo and to address you at this important conference “Inclusive and Quality Education for All”. I am very thankful for the organizers for having invited me and I am happy to see so many of you here caring about the future of education.
Education is vitally important for both individuals and nations at large. The future is built upon knowledge acquired through quality education. It is the most effective way to influence a young country than anything else. The world community will be adopting the new universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals as part of the Agenda 2030 at the United Nations at the end of this month. It can be underlined that education is a key – if not the most important – component of that effort to create socially, economically and environmentally sustainable societies.
Education has to be of high quality and available to all on an equal basis. Inclusiveness means that everyone – all girls and boys, women and men – has an equal right and opportunities to take part in education and to receive the support they need for learning and personal development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The education system in Finland has been successful in international evaluations of education systems (PISA). Some of the strengths of the Finnish system include that all children have access to school and equal opportunities. Support and individually tailored interventions are provided for children with learning difficulties. Teachers are well educated and respected. Opportunities are also provided for adults for lifelong learning.
Education has traditionally been highly valued in Finland. Parents have supported their children’s schooling as a way of ensuring a better life for them. Families consider homework relevant and they take part in school activities. At home, parents and children still read a lot which strengthens children’s reading and writing skills. Strong native language skills are considered important for learning. The role and educational background of mothers has also been found to be important for children´s educational attainment and success.
We are proud of the fact that all children are enrolled in the education system. Their learning is facilitated by multi-professional teamwork of education, health and social sector professionals. They co-operate closely to assist students and they provide support even for families.
In Finland, individual learning plans are made for students. These plans take into account the needs and abilities of each student. This model seems to be a good way to also prevent drop outs. Recently we have also focused more on how boys learn, because they seem to be weaker than girls at school.
The importance of education has always been stressed. Our governments have changed, but the main characteristics of our system have not been much altered and a strong commitment to it has remained both at national and at local levels. Continuity has also enabled close cooperation between the various actors who contribute to the system. The comprehensive school was developed for almost 30 years before its good results were acknowledged.
Our experience shows that achieving a climate of trust in the education system is crucial. The quality of education is ensured when all the different liability carriers take care of their own responsibilities. The role of the national level authorities is to support the activities of the municipalities and assist schools in implementing reforms. The dialogue between experts at national and local levels is active. Municipalities are closer to the students and have the best knowledge of the needs of the citizens, so they are quite free to choose their own way of – as long as the rights of citizens to education are realized.
Municipalities have been able to rely on highly trained and motivated teachers. Schools in Finland are relatively independent, but the quality differences between schools are quite small if compared internationally.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Diversity is a fact in our societies and in our educational systems. Teachers, students and parents come from different backgrounds. Diversity comes in the form of age, gender, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, socio-economic differences and so forth.
A successful school system treats diversity as a positive element rather than an obstacle to student performance. It uses the strength and flexibility of its teachers to draw from this potential. And it provides teachers appropriate guidance and support to overcome inequalities and harness the benefits that students and teachers from diverse backgrounds bring to classrooms.
As an overall principle, inclusive education should guide all education policies and practices, starting from the fact that education is a basic human right and the foundation of a just and equal society. It is central to the achievement of high quality education and the development of more inclusive societies.
Inclusive education requires reconstructing the cultures, structures, practices and methodologies used in schools. An inclusive school offers opportunities and possibilities for a range of working methods and individual treatment to ensure that no child is excluded. This implies the development of right-based and child-friendly schools which are not only academically successful but also inclusive, healthy and protective of all children, gender-responsive and encourages the participation of the students themselves and their families and their communities. Discrimination by students and teachers is also an issue to be tackled.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Kosovo has a great opportunity to use the experiences from other countries to strengthen the educational system. You may avoid some of the mistakes we have made and accomplish change for the better much faster than other countries. For example, by making use of ICT in both teaching and learning.
Kosovo is now working hard to improve the quality of education. The process is well underway and the future looks promising. For instance, the Twinning project led by Finland supports Kosovar colleagues in a number of ways. It is crucial, that everything is tailored to the needs of Kosovo. Models from other countries cannot be copied, but instead local solutions here must be developed. Therefore partnerships with experts from other countries and cooperation is the best way to get results.
I want to encourage you to work hard and achieve the best results even with limited resources. Individual teachers deserve much credit as they have the greatest responsibility in classrooms to educate our children – a whole new generation.
Unemployment is also a grave issue for the young both in Finland and Kosovo. We are trying to alleviate the problem by a so called “youth guarantee initiative”, which ensures young people either a study place or a job once they finish school. The idea is that each municipality is responsible for ensuring that young people do not remain without a further place to go to after finishing school. OECD studies show that youth who cannot find work after graduation start quickly losing part of their learned skills and start feeling excluded from the society.
It is important to receive a quality education when you are young, but it is not enough. People live longer and the society changes rapidly demanding new skills and knowledge from citizens. Lifelong learning is then necessary. The development of pre-university education is now in full pace in Kosovo. At the same time, it would be good to think about learning opportunities for adults. Adult education is not just professional or work related training, but it also includes studies that are related to more general education. Modern society can function well when people of all ages receive adequate education. In addition to the rapid accumulation of knowledge and skills, studies show that the wellbeing and health of adults improves with education also in the later years.
With these words I want to thank you for your attention.