Tuesday 8/4/20

Finland, the right place for adult learning

In Finland, the rate of adults participating in learning activities is among the highest (28.5%) and almost triples the European average (11.1%).

Photo by Maria Nancy Ballesteros from Pixabay.
Photo by Maria Nancy Ballesteros from Pixabay.

Finland is well known in the world for the quality of its educational system. But what many do not know is that for a large percentage of inhabitants of this northern European country, learning does not end in youth, but extends throughout life.

In fact, in this country it is common for people to study and add academic degrees to their CV throughout their lives. Hence, to jump from one professional sector to another is also easier than in other countries.

The latest data published by the European Statistical Office (Eurostat) corroborates this statement: in Finland the participation rate of adults in learning activities is 28.5%, one of the highest in Europe along with those of Switzerland and Sweden. The European Union (EU) average stands at 11.1% and hardly advances a few tenths each year.

The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) stated as one of its targets that, at the European level, an average of at least 15% of adults should participate in lifelong learning by 2020.

Far from the objective

But the latest results from the EU labor force survey show that the club is still far from reaching its objective: in 2018, the average participation rate stood at 11.1%, this is just 0.2 percentage points above the rate for 2017. In fact, the rate has been increasing gradually but very slowly since 2015, when it was 10.7% according to Eurostat.


The analysis of the differences between the member states makes it clear that not all European governments perceive equally the importance of promoting lifelong learning. In fact, one could speak of a north-south gap.

In the EU member states, the highest rates of adult participation in learning were in Sweden (29.2%), Finland (28.5%) and Denmark (23.5%). Outside the EU, but still within Europe, Switzerland (31.6%), Iceland (21.5%) and Norway (19.7%) stand out.

Gender differences

In contrast, there are five EU member states that show participation rates below 5%. And those are Romania (0.9%), Bulgaria (2.5%), Croatia (2.9%), Slovakia (4%) and Greece (4.5%). Outside the EU, the lowest rates included in the Eurostat report are for North Macedonia (2.4%), Montenegro (3.2%) and Serbia (4.1%).

Gender differences can be also appreciated. On average, across the EU in 2018 the participation rate for adult learning among women was considerably higher (12.1%) than the rate for men (10.1%).

Adult learning refers to the participation of adults in lifelong learning. It is defined as the share of people aged 25 to 64 who stated that they received formal or non-formal education and training in the four weeks preceding the survey. 

The intention or aim to learn is the critical point that distinguishes these activities from non-learning activities, such as cultural or sporting activities.