In the mid-2000s, Finland had a network of 428 general upper secondary schools and 182 vocational ones. Over the past 15 years, this network has been heavily reduced: almost every fourth general upper secondary school has been closed down, and the same is true for more than half of the vocational ones. An increasing number of young people finishing their comprehensive school in a rural area now face a situation where their nearest upper secondary school is dozens of kilometres away.
A survey published by the Regional State Administrative Agency in 2016 shows that there is also great regional variation in access to upper secondary education, with Eastern Finland and Lapland facing the grimmest situation. According to studies completed at the University of Eastern Finland, long distances to schools limit young people’s opportunity of choice and make their school days heavier. In addition, their choices are more closely tied to the financial resources of their parents, and to how their parents feel about the role of education.
“The Finnish discourse on schools still starts from the assumption that young people live in urban areas, with schools located nearby,” Researcher Mari Käyhkö says.
This is not how it should be, since the urban-centric discourse on educational equality ignores greater regional polarisation. Over the past five years, Käyhkö and her colleagues, Researcher Päivi Armila and PhD Student Ville Pöysä, have been following up on the lives and educational choices of 16 young people born in 2000 and living in rural and sparsely populated areas. The follow-up study constitutes part of the Youth in Time study.
“We found that young people who live in rural areas and commute to their upper secondary school don’t have time for hobbies or other leisure time activities. They wake up at five in the morning and are back home at four or six in the evening, sometimes as late as at eight. On school days, that is what their everyday life is like,” Armila says.