Finland has had a strong tradition of literacy since the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran Church aimed at widespread literacy to enable the common man to read the Bible. In the next century, proof of literacy became a requirement for the right to marry. By the second half of the nineteenth century, legislation was in place for a general system of elementary education, although the tsarist regime did not allow its realization. After independence, a Comprehensive Education Act was passed in 1921 that met the state's constitutional requirement to provide "universal compulsory education," including elementary education, at no cost. Legislation also stipulated that Finnish citizens had a duty to be educated.
In the postwar period, the basic goal of Finnish education authorities has been to create a system that would provide equal educational opportunities for everyone, would guarantee the country a populace able to meet the technological challenges of the international marketplace, would encourage democratic values, and would allow each person the fullest realization of his or her potential. Work to realize this goal has led since the 1960s to profound changes in the organization of the country's school system. The old elementary school system that determined at an early age whether pupils were to follow a general or an academic course of studies was replaced by a uniform comprehensive system that postponed this decision until the mid-teens and that, even then, did not bar anyone from higher training at a later time. Secondary education was broadened and reformed to allow a greater range of choices and opportunities. University education was expanded and distributed more equally across the country, its control was democratized, and access to it was widened.
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