The Development of Equal Opportunity of Education in Finland
”The Finnish education system offers everybody equal opportunities for education, irrespective of domicile, sex, economic situation or linguistic and cultural background. The school network is regionally extensive, and there are no sex-specific school services. Basic education is completely free of charge (...).” (FINNISH NATIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION, 2009)
Since the 19th century the Finnish society and its socio-economic as well as political conditions have undergone an extensive development until the educational system has reached its current state which is described in the given quote by the Finnish National Board of Education. Within the scope of these developments, the idea of equality in education has been interpreted differently by different agents in different times. There had been two important reform periods with their own definitions of equality in education: the formation of the comprehensive school in the 1960s/70s and the changes in the school system influenced by neo-liberalist economics in the 1980s/90s (AHONEN, 2002: 173). The aim of this essay is to examine especially these two different approaches towards equality in education in the 20th century. However, in order to set the frame for these milestones in the Finnish educational history, a short historical outline about the rise of mass education in Finland is given first.
The educational system had its beginnings within the state church and was securalised in the 19th century. In 1842 a statute on uniform education, which recognised schools for girls and women, meant the first step towards an equal education of both genders (LEIJOLA, 2004: 5). A statute on the establishment of the public school system was passed in 1866 (FINNISH MINISTRY OF EDUCATION, 2005: 4) and school districts were formed in 1898 which defined a maximum of two kilometres journey to school (LEIJOLA, 2004: 5). Nevertheless, "the 1866 Common School Act did not bind local authorities in rural areas to establish schools, nor did it oblige parents to send their children to school. At the end of the nineteenth century, two thirds of the children in Finland did not have a chance to go to school” (RANTALA, 2001: 153).
 Due to the limited scope of this essay the author concentrates on the development of equality in basic and secondary education. Upper-secondary education and higher education cannot be studied further in detail.