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Minister Ville Tavio's speech in FinCEED Partnership Forum

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Publication date 2.11.2023 13.16
Speech

Dear participants,

I will start with a few points on Africa, before moving on to the subject of the learning crisis.

Our government’s programme reaffirms the close partnership between Finland and Africa. I quote: “Africa is an important continent for Finland and the EU, as developments in Africa have direct effects on the future of Europe.” 

Finland's Africa strategy is still relevant and valid. The current government will continue the implementation of the strategy and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is commissioning a study on the status of its implementation. 

What we already know is that official visits from African countries to Finland have become more frequent after the strategy’s launch. We have also increased our cooperation with African countries in the field of circular economy, to name one example.

African countries’ ability to adapt to climate change, protect biodiversity and respond to challenges of population growth will have far-reaching impacts on the development of the African continent, but also tangible influence for Europe and Finland. Which brings me to education - and the learning crisis.

Dear participants, 

What do we mean when we talk about the global learning crisis? According to new UNESCO estimates, there are 250 million children worldwide out of school. They urgently need learning opportunities, and the hope, protection and opportunities that education provides. 

At the same time, and even more worryingly, 70 per cent of children who are in school cannot read a simple sentence. This is the learning crisis.
One of the three topics of this Partnership Forum is education in emergencies, and rightly so. There are 224 million children affected by conflicts, who have no access to education, no mental health services, not even one school meal a day to fill their stomachs. 

The scale of the problems are so alarming, that you may want to ask what a small country like Finland could possibly do. Well, I would like to be an optimist! We are here to solve problems and we should not be afraid to tackle even the most difficult questions on the planet. 

Finland is showing leadership; we are getting out-of-school children to school, improving learning outcomes, advocating for school meals, and focusing on conflict-affected children.

I like to believe that “we practice what we preach”. Inclusion, equality and quality are key factors in Finland’s domestic education policy, which is why they are also priorities in our development cooperation. Before going into details about our development cooperation, I want to reflect on some key lessons and experiences from Finland.

First, Finland has chosen to invest in equality, because a small nation like us simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind in society. Harnessing the potential of every individual is not only morally correct, but also the smartest policy for wellbeing and prosperity in society. 

Second, according to our experience, investing in education and knowledge from early childhood to higher education, science and innovation can transform a poor nation into a thriving economy. Countries can only be as strong as their human capital. Within one hundred years of our independence, Finland has developed from one of the poorest to one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Finally, for us inclusion and quality in education go hand in hand – and this requires long-term commitment by the entire society. We are proud of the educational system that offers equal opportunities for all. Children can attend schools anywhere in Finland and still receive the same high-quality education. 

Dear participants,

I am turning now to the question of how to mobilize and develop existing Finnish expertise for the benefit of developing nations. The Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Education and Culture recognized a while ago the huge interest in the developing countries and among international development agencies towards the Finnish education system. 

The interest is such that we can hardly respond to the demand. What is needed for a wider impact is a combination of three things: 

First, a deeper engagement of Finnish education experts in systemic development of our partner countries education sectors; 

second, influencing major development agencies – international financial institutions, the UN and the EU – to provide more effective education aid;

and 

third, supporting innovations and facilitating business opportunities for education technology companies to solve education challenges.

I will use FinCEED - The Finnish Centre of Expertise in Education and Development - as an example of our government’s efforts to mobilize Finnish expertise for solving global education challenges. Strengthening Finland’s role in solving the global learning crisis is the very reason for FinCEED’s establishment.

As you probably know, FinCEED operates under the Finnish National Agency for Education and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs provides its core funding from development funds. 

What started with our Ministry’s seed funding, is already reaping benefits. The  core funding is leveraging substantial EU development funding in several Team Europe Initiatives. 

FinCEED will for instance co-manage the EU’s Global Gateway Regional Teacher Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa. In order to do so, FinCEED is already recruiting a substantial number of experts. At the same time, FinCEED is collaborating with Finnish education providers and expert organizations. 

The establishment of FinCEED was an innovative, forward-looking initiative, and represents out-of-the-box thinking. Human and financial resources in Finland are scarce. We can only punch above our weight, if we collaborate very efficiently between authorities, universities, schools, education exporters and technology companies. Our plan is to export this way of working also to the EU Team Europe, and other, initiatives in future.

Dear participants,

Education in emergencies is one of the topics of this Forum. I am pleased to reiterate Finland’s latest additional commitment of 8 Million Euros for Education Cannot Wait. 

Education Cannot Wait has already invested in 44 low-income, crisis-affected countries across the globe and reached 9 million children and adolescents with quality education. We value ECW’s holistic programmes that support the learning and well-being of crisis-affected children, also through school meals. 

As the co-chair of the School Meals Coalition, I want to highlight the importance of school meals as a critical tool and investment to keep children in school and help them learn. School Meals programmes are among the smartest investments for the future. “A school meal goes far beyond a plate of food” is not just a smart catch phrase, but the bottom line of our work.

They produce high returns in terms of education results, gender equality, health, social protection and economic and agricultural development.
Looking also from a pure economical point of view the returns on investments in school meal programmes can also be very high. It is estimated that 1 US dollar invested in school meals, could yield up to 9 dollars in economic returns.

Dear friends,

Needless to say, Finland cannot solve the global learning crisis alone. However, I believe we have a tangible contribution to make. Finland has strengthened its global role in education and we will honor our international commitments. 

It is only through wide partnerships that we can find innovative solutions for the global learning crisis. We need to push together for change and that is why I am so glad to be here with all of you today. 

I wish you a fruitful event in discussing education issues as well as other complex and urgent problems facing humanity.

Thank you.