How to prevent social exclusion in schools?

In Finland you sometimes hear someone saying that our modern school system first and foremost serves the educational needs of girls. And boys are somehow treated worse. It’s then explained that because the school system is better tailored for girls, boys get frustrated with school and underperform. Whatever the case may be, in general girls seem to be performing better in school than boys (according to University of Helsinki’s study, only in Finnish). In the study it’s concluded that girls in average have a more positive attitude towards learning.

Additionally, one could argue that the school system’s ‘mistreat’ of boys is one of factors leading to their exclusion from the society in the longer run. One is considered to be socially excluded when you’re neither working, training, studying — or basically doing things, which are seen as productive in the society (while being both physically and mentally able). Also an acronym, NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is commonly used in this context.

Furthermore, according to Eurostat’s publication released on August 2016, the share of socially excluded young people in Finland aged from 20-24 was 15.7 %, up from 11.6 % in 2006. Finland scores unfavorably high among Nordic countries with having the biggest share of socially excluded people (Denmark and Sweden closest both at 9.3 %). Overall, social exclusion seems to be increasing in Europe. Financial crises have surely had an impact, but there could be other factors involved as well. In Italy it increased from 21.6 % in 2006 to 31.1 % in 2016 and respectively from 10.6 % to 15.0 % in United Kingdom. In total, during 10 years it has grown in 18 of 28 EU member states. And based on the study made by OECD, higher share of socially excluded are in fact boys/men in Finland.

However it’s not only limited to boys. Whether it’s based for instance on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and so on, social exclusion appears to be an expanding phenomena and one place to look for reasons is the school system. Let’s investigate how ‘ideal’ equality should be pursued in teaching.

First of all, we should acknowledge that people are different in many unique ways. Some are more talented than others. But everyone should be able to learn and a teacher should encourage everyone. Yet during teaching we shouldn’t specifically favor anyone and at least we should not show it. Pupils should still receive praises and blame accordingly, but there’s a thin red line between praising and favoring as there is with blaming and discounting. I recently read a newspaper article in which pupils were interviewed about their school life and one person was saying how their teacher favors someone, underrates others and how bad it made the particular person feel. People are now and then quick to draw conclusions and some young people might perceive favoring in different ways — perhaps be more sensitive about it. Teachers who aren’t aware of this might verbally or nonverbally show their favoritism and at the same time discourage others. Encouragement is always extremely important, but the key is how often and in which ways should it appear.

Secondly, social exclusion might be a by-product of pupils not feeling they can influence teaching and school surroundings. In my opinion, the basic dilemmas in schools are a) pupils don’t care enough about the subjects taught and don’t feel the relevancy and b) pupils don’t feel they have enough influence what is taught and how. I argue that these dilemmas are also, as time goes by, affecting the development of social exclusion. It’s easier to feel you’re an outsider when you don’t care or when nobody cares about you. That’s why we need to give pupils more influence in schools as well as create possibilities for giving feedback that actually has an impact. I’ll inspect inclusive teaching methods in the next post.

Of course the problem isn’t solvable solely in schools. Naturally families and friends also affect in varying degrees to a person’s growth. But ideally when schools, families and friends work in parallel, social exclusion could be prevented.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic. Please share, if you have more ideas about preventing social exclusion or anything else concerning teaching.

Pedagogical Studies — Path to Teacherhood

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Faculty of Education’s main building is called ‘Educarium’. This is where most of the theory concerning teaching will be taught in the University of Turku.

Pedagogical Studies in Finland last one academic year (60 credits) and grant one the right to teach from secondary school to University of Applied Sciences.
But what exactly do these studies include?

For instance in the University of Turku pedagogical studies include sosiology, psychology, pedagogy, knowledge from the teaching subject (e.g. social studies), educational legislation and four teaching internship periods. Teaching methods consist of expert lectures, independent studying, group work, observing school lessons, practising teaching and writing a short thesis.
Detailed course descriptions can be found in Finnish here. Since the course details exist only in Finnish I thought it might be useful to list them in English as well.

Let’s go through the courses one by one, starting from the basic studies:

  • Sociology of Education (4 credits)
    -History of education
    -Basic concepts of sociology
    -Education and learning as a cultural phenomena
    -Possibilities of education and growth
    -General knowledge of methods used in educational sociology
    and how to apply those in practice
  • Educational psychology (4 credits)
    -Interactive nature of a person’s growth and learning
    -Biological, psychological, social and cultural aspects of growth and learning
    -Different development phases
  • Principles of subject teaching (3 credits)
    -Orientation for subject teaching
    -Introduction to various curriculums
    -Inspecting teaching material critically
    -Basic principles of planning a lesson
    -Ethical principles of teaching and studying
  • Basics of school administration and legislation (2 credits)
    -Principles of school administration and legislation in various school levels
  • Internship in a school, part 1 (5 credits)
    -Familiarization with school environment and different learning groups
    -Inspecting group management
    -Reflecting one’s own school background and cultural factors to teaching
    -Inspecting curriculums
    -Information technology in teaching
    -Includes 6 hours of teaching
  • Principles of learning and reviewing teaching (3 credits)
    -Basic concepts of teaching, learning and reviewing
    -Interactive approaches to teaching
    -Supporting pupils’ learning
  • Educational theory (4 credits)
    -Basics of educational theory
    -Classical questions of educational theory and common research topics

Next we’ll go through the advanced courses:

  • Subject teacher’s development (6 credits)
    -Inspecting more in depth various learning environments and the use of information technology in teaching
    -Evaluation of teaching methods
    -Lesson planning
  • Supporting students’ learning and well-being (2 credits)
    -Identifying common learning disabilities
    -Teaching methods that identify individual learning needs
    -Supporting learning and interaction
  • Subject teacher in a work environment and society (4 credits)
    -Teacher’s ethics
    -Active citizenship, human rights and democracy
    -About safe working environment
    -Planning cross-curricular subject teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 2 (5 credits)
    -Planning, carrying out a lesson and reflecting upon it
    -Making use of information technology in teaching
    -Creating a safe learning environment
    -Includes 20 hours of teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 3 (6 credits)
    -Improving school subject knowledge (e.g. math)
    -Planning a teaching period based on a curriculum
    -Improving group management skills
    -Inspecting electronic applications for school tests
    -Teaching people from various cultures
    -Thoughts about one’s own teaching style
    -Includes 20 hours of teaching
  • Internship in a school, part 4 (4 credits)
    -Improving communication and social skills
    -Acknowledging teachers’ impact on society
    -Inspecting cooperation between schools and the society
    -Awareness of constant need of teaching evolution
    -Includes 16 hours of teaching
  • Developing subject teaching and research (3 credits)
    -General information about subject research (e.g. biology)
    -Information searching skills
    -Analysing research material
  • Seminar (5 credits)
    -Planning and carrying out a short thesis
    -Presenting the thesis and reviewing other students’ theses
    -Researching teacherhood

I conclude by acknowledging that this post might have been a bit boring, but during next posts I shall go through important themes in teaching and will investigate how the Finnish education system could be improved. Stay tuned.

And please, any comments and questions are very welcome!

How to become a subject teacher in Finland?

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University of Turku’s slogan is ‘free people’s gift to free science’. The university was founded with the help of over 22 000 donors in 1920, a few years after Finland’s independence in 1917.

Hello world! In order to become a subject teacher in Finland one needs to take an entrance exam, which commonly is a two-phased interview. You can take the entrance exam after you have become a student in an university and studied at least 50 credits or even after you have finished your studies. Further, every subject teacher in Finland has a Master’s Degree (or should have these days). Eventually, a subject teacher will be granted the competence to teach one or more subjects in various school levels, from primary school until University of Applied Sciences. University teaching has its own set of studies, in which one needs to apply separately.

Each university has their own process for the entrance exams, which differ slightly. In the University of Helsinki for instance if the amount of applicants exceeds a particular subject’s quota by 1.5 times there is a advance screening phase. Applicants are then reviewed based on the amount of credits they have. Thus, only certain applicants are called in for the interview. On the other hand, in the University of Turku there exists no such phase. Eligible applicants are publicly announced (online and on notice board), even though they aren’t called in individually for the entrance exam.

One thing of note is that if you don’t study or haven’t studied the exact subject (e.g. history) you might still be eligible to apply. You just need a Certificate of Equivalency from a university which means that your studies equate the one you’re applying to. Also if you plan to teach in different school levels, such as in senior high school, you need to have at least two subjects to teach and at least 120 credits worth of studies in one subject.

International students may also apply. You need to have good skills in Finnish, be a student of a Finnish university and have a right to study a Master’s Degree (Master’s Degree Programmes excluded). One may wonder whether ‘good skills’ in Finnish should be necessary if you would teach English in senior high school. Perhaps the requirements will change in the future?

The actual interview consists of 2-3 educational experts who review each applicant first in a group and then individually. Criteria include motivation, interaction skills and developability. Both phases last about 10-15 minutes.

After a successful entrance exam one is admitted to study Pedagogical Studies, which grant you the right to teach. These studies last one academic year. I’ll discuss more about them in future posts! If you’ve got questions or comments, please share them.

*Update on 23rd of April, 2017*
After further research I discovered there is at least one English pedagogical study programme in Finland. It’s in the University of Helsinki and called STEP (Subject Teacher Study Programme in English). Requirements include that you must have ‘good skills’ in English, a Master’s Degree and completed at least 60 credits of basic and intermediate studies in subjects found below.
It gives one the right to become a subject teacher in comprehensive and upper-secondary schools / senior high schools in Finland.
You can become a subject teacher in the following:
English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Swedish (as the other domestic or foreign language), Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
More info: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/studying/how-to-apply/non-degree-programmes-for-teacher-qualifications