5 reasons for $5+ billion - Interview with Ville Skinnari

In this series, GPE asks changemakers five questions on the power of education. GPE's financing campaign seeks to raise at least $5 billion to transform education for up to 1 billion children in 90 countries and territories.

February 08, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
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4 minutes read
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5 reasons for $5+ billion - Interview with Ville Skinnari

On January 29, 2021, Finland rejoined GPE with a €25 million pledge, making it the first towards GPE’s 2021-2025 "Raise Your Hand” replenishment campaign.

The pledge marks the country’s reengagement with GPE and demonstrates the priority Finland is giving to education.

Ville Skinnari is the Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade in Finland.

How has Finland supported COVID-19 recovery efforts in low-income countries, especially around education?

Finland is strongly committed to international cooperation in our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. With the unprecedented worldwide closure of schools many children and young people, especially girls, are at risk of permanent drop out.

Finland is strengthening our focus on education in emergencies. Additional funds have been provided to support distance learning, school health protocols and drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. We have contributed new funding to Education Cannot Wait and the World Food Program’s (WFP) school feeding programs.

Overall, I am pleased with the speed and flexibility with which the international community has responded. GPE’s targeted COVID-19 grants are an excellent example of this and I am glad we have been able to contribute there as well. GPE’s replenishment campaign couldn’t come at a more critical time. The financing gap for education is alarming, and we must not lose sight of the long-term agenda, and efforts to build back better, more resilient, equitable and inclusive education systems.

Why is education an important aspect of Finland’s development agenda?

Education is a fundamental human right and it is a smart investment for the future.

We are pledging to advance the equal right of all persons to access inclusive and quality education. Too many children and young people globally are deprived of this right, especially girls, children with disabilities and those living in situations of conflict and crisis. And too many children are not learning the basics. It is a global learning crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated.

At the same time, we see education as an investment to a well-functioning, equal and competitive society. Here I speak from experience. In the beginning of the 20th century, Finland was a poor country where 40% of all 15-year-olds were illiterate. After the devastation of World War II, Finland developed from a poor and agrarian society into a prosperous Nordic welfare state, a global leader in innovations, technology and knowhow through our investments in education.

The international interest that our own education system attracts gives us even more reason to engage in the global efforts to build quality education systems leaving no one behind. Equally important to financing is the conversation around policies: good teachers, and inclusive education systems that embrace equality, equity and high-quality learning.

What are a few essential components that contribute to a quality education?

Of course, I have to mention teachers. It is often said that Finland has the best teachers in the world. In Finland, teachers are highly educated, motivated and their professional development is supported. Teachers continuously assess their students learning and make sure no one is left behind.

At the same time, we pay attention to students’ overall well-being. If students go hungry, they cannot learn. Free school meals have been for decades a core element of our education system. Globally there is strong evidence that a daily meal serves as an additional incentive for school attendance.

Quality is also about adaptability and responsiveness. The disruption caused by the pandemic has made it evident that education systems with flexibility are prone to be more resilient. We need to diversify and digitalize learning content and methods and equip teachers with the right skill set to adjust teaching and learning to new environments.

Finland is announcing its contribution to GPE’s Raise Your Hand campaign. Why is this a priority for Finland?

GPE’s mission to transform education systems, leaving no-one behind is a perfect match with Finland’s priorities.

We are committed to stepping up our global role in addressing the learning crisis. Through GPE, we can contribute to supporting system wide reforms in the least developed and fragile countries.

What do you remember most about school? Were there moments or teachers that had a particularly big impact on you?

I have fond memories growing up in Lahti, close to Helsinki. I started school in a class specialized in music. In addition to hanging out with friends and enjoying school, my early youth included lots of sports, especially ice hockey.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “straight A student”, but my interest in social affairs eased my school path tremendously. My highlight was finishing second in an 8th grade writing competition in middle school. I wrote an essay with the title "I will become a bricklayer" and won 500 Finnish marks (c. 84 euros) as a prize!

Although sports and studies took up almost all my time, I remember my youth in Lahti with great warmth. Most importantly, the numerous friendships that have lasted throughout my life.

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