7 multidisciplinary learning aspects teachers in Finland must pay attention to

According to the newest Finnish basic education curriculum from 2016, every teacher needs to pay attention to certain important general skills and incorporate them into teaching, regardless of the subjects they teach. Let’s go through those skills.

1. Learning to care of yourself and everyday skills

This is something schools are often said overlooking. Teachers need to make sure pupils learn for life, not (just) for school. In my opinion, coping with life is one of greatest lessons schools can offer. And one can only wonder the vexed question: Where’s the balance between theoretical and practical knowledge?

2. Thinking and learning to learn

It’s always pivotal to learn to think for yourself, not just follow others and trends. If a society is to evolve, someone needs to be the pioneer with new ideas. Additionally, with teacher’s support one should discover the best way that advances learning.

3. Cultural skills, interaction and learning self-expression

Interaction, group skills and problem-solving are deeply advocated by the newest curriculum. In theory the more there’s interaction, the less there’s distrust, exclusion and xenophobia.

4. Multiliteracy

Information flow is growing rapidly and pupils are exposed to various interest groups. That’s why one should learn to filter it and distinguish ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’. I’ve been thinking about a course model that revolves around the idea on how to identify false/correct sources. Needless to say though, multiliteracy needs to evolve leaps and bounds from the current level.

5. Information and communication technology

Schools are in the midst of a technology revolution that seems never-ending. Some teachers are uncertain how to use new technology, when and how much. And how much new technology really helps learning? Are old teaching methods abandoned too easily?

6. Working life and entrepreneurship

Closely connected to ‘everyday skills’, working life shouldn’t stay too distant from pupils. Let’s not forget creativity: Could pupils start a fictional company? In any case, it’s a good lesson of how to think a little bit ahead.

7. Participation and bulding a sustainable future

Pupils should be introduced to various ways of how to influence near and far as well as be encouraged to find suitable ways for them. Not e.g. by creating a bad conscience of events happened in the past, but through real interest. In the end teachers have to ponder, how practical and close to everyday life teaching about participation can be.

Comments welcome 🙂

Phenomenon-based teaching – is Finland scrapping subject teaching in schools?

Phenomenon-based teaching or teaching by topic means that instead of simply teaching various subjects separately in schools we teach broader themes and topics, which cross subject limits. For instance teaching about United Nations and inspecting it through history, religion, geography, math etc. simultaneously. Or teaching about money and how to spend it: first going through history how money has become a currency for transactions, then inspecting it with moral values and philosophy. And further pondering in math how to save money by calculating interest rates.

Independent raised a small storm some time ago by suggesting ‘Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education system‘. Finnish National Agency for Education was quick to respond: ‘Subject teaching in Finnish schools is not being abolished‘. Yet, in the statement it was acknowledged that while teachers in Finland have a wide liberty carrying out teaching, phenomen-based teaching is emphasized in the new curriculum that came into effect in 2016. Pupils should already participate each year in at least one multidisciplinary learning module that contains teaching by topic.

The benefits of phenomen-based teaching include that instead of memorizing facts and figures or accepting knowledge ‘as it is’, we’d focus more into understanding, analysing and interpreting phenomenas. Additionally, pupils should not just think based on the subject which lesson they are in, but rather connect things they learn through multiple subjects.

What makes the Finnish school system different from the US?

Business Insider Nordic recently published an article ‘7 reasons Finland’s education system puts the US model to shame‘ that covers a comparison between the two’s basic education systems. Similar articles have been previously written as well, for instance by The GuardianFinland has an education system the US should envy – and learn from‘ and Business Insider4 reasons Finland’s schools are better‘. Naturally, it’s never as simple as these articles would have you to believe.

So let’s examine the differences between American and Finnish basic education systems. I’ll go through 7 claims that were presented in the Business Insider Nordic’s comparison article.

1. Competition isn’t as important as cooperation

Partly true. Finland has basically no private schools for basic education. And pretty much the only standardized test is matriculation exam that we have in senior high school at age 18/19.
But after 1998’s school district reform parents have been able to sort of ‘choose’ in which school does their child initially go (parental choice). According to some educational experts that has been one of the reasons leading to rising inequality and competition between Finnish schools. As a consequence, parents try to get their child to a school that has a better reputation. Additionally, some schools compete by offering courses in less-spoken languages than English, such as German, in order to attract pupils (though it’s also a question of resources as not every additional course is viable in small schools).

2. Teaching is one of the most-respected professions

Might well be, but difficult to measure. At least class teacher education is one of the most popular subjects in Finnish universities. In the University of Turku almost as much as people applied for it than for medicine.
Further, all eligible teachers have a Master’s Degree, aside from kindergarten teachers who have a Bachelor’s Degree. Teachers are paid average wages in Finnish scale, but high on global scale (around 3000 euros depending on the school level, plus e.g. service increments based on how many years one has been a teacher).

3. Finland listens to the research

Depends, difficult to measure. There are various types of ‘research’, it’s not a one kind of entity and surely some research institutions have agendas that stem from different ideologies. Also for sure political decision-making affects to a degree. So it’s all relative how well things compare to other countries. Yet, I’d conclude by saying that some things are decided based on thorough research, others not.

4. Finland isn’t afraid to experiment

Holds true in some aspects, I’d say. At least in the teacher training we are encouraged to try out different teaching styles and not just copy existing teaching models. Also basic education curriculum gives much freedom for teaching methods. Though some teachers might be fed up with their work and have lost their interest to experiment so in the end it’s highly individual how experimenting plays out.

5. Playtime is sacred

True. As it’s stated in the article, Finnish law requires teachers to give students 15 minutes of play for every 45 minutes of school lessons. There are studies that suggest 15 minute recesses improve learning (study found here). And in general the attitude that ‘kids should stay as kids as long as possible’ is evident in the society.

6. Kids have very little homework

True, one of the lowest amount globally. It’s also verified in OECD study: In average Finnish pupils (in all schools) spend 2.8 hours per week doing homework, while e.g. in Australia it’s 6.0, in USA 4.9 and in Vietnam 5.8. On top of that Finnish pupils enjoy long, 10-11 week summer holidays, which enforces the idea of appreciating leisure.

7. Preschool is high-quality and universal

Partly verifiable. Preschool and daycare are both universal until age 7. Quality is subjective though, for some it works better than others.

Finally, I’ll be making an article on things that Finland could learn from the US education system so stay tuned 🙂

Why teaching about marginal issues matters?

Many of us have been taught deeply about important historical events, about times when our country faced a moment of crisis. In the case of Finland, such instance is probably best known as the Winter War (1939—1940). While those struggles should not be forgotten or be left out from the curriculum, there are also other historical themes which could be taught to pupils more in depth.

It’s eventually a choice what we teach and how. A constant debate exists how much emphasis is to be put on certain topics and how the ever-present lack of time should be handled in teaching. Yet, I argue that marginal issues concerning for instance ethnical minorities could be addressed better through teaching. After all, we teach since we want to create awareness and improve critical thinking, not just reproduce lessons exactly the same way as was taught earlier.

Further, marginal issues should be more present during school lessons, because:

  • Today’s marginal issues could be tomorrow’s majority. During European history several natural scientific theories were put in margin due to the fact they didn’t fit into catholic church’s agenda.
  • It gives opportunities to explore new fields. Not everything has yet been researched and pupils should be encouraged to enter topics which aren’t mainstream.
  • They expand awareness. Teaching ultimately creates awareness and it’s our job to prepare pupils with better cognitive skills. Pupils learn to inspect a phenomenon through multiple angles.
  • They offer means to handle new knowledge. Pupils face new knowledge currently at the greatest speed ever. Handling and filtering incoming data is crucial. We don’t want anyone to feel powerless amidst information flow and that they can’t have an influence.
  • That’s a way to present pupils opportunities of discovery. The joy of making new findings and connecting them to earlier lessons is important for school motivation. It also underlines that anyone can make information discoveries.

All in all, this blog post leads us to question:
What topics are left out of the curriculum and why?
(I’ll come to that more in future posts).

Please share if you have ideas concerning the topic.


Why was modern school system created?

These days we take education somewhat for granted in many parts of the world and perhaps rightly so. But I decided to go way back and inspect historical reasons for why the modern school system was created in the 18th and 19th century in Europe.

One explanation for modern school system is found through functional approach: schools were created in response for the representation dilemma. Before industrialisation and urbanisation seized Europe there wasn’t really a need for large-scale schools — parents taught their children all the necessary skills needed for instance in farming. But troubles appeared when factories started spreading, towns began changing and work places started moving farther away from the people. How could people learn without actually seeing how things were done in the industrialised society? School system was therefore needed to fill the knowledge gap.

Another explanation is to see schools as a product of modernisation, an evolution of societies, which was an evident result of the Age of Enlightenment (breakthrough in the 18th century). According to Zygmunt Bauman modern society could be described as a dream of humans to create order to world’s disorder and to be capable of ruling life through rationality and knowledge. Development of modern school system is a prime instance how that kind of order has been tried to achieve and maintain.

Thirdly, one could see schools being formed to gain social control. When legislation to restrict the use of child labor was put into effect in the most industrialized country in the world, England, in early 1800s a chain reaction leading to mass compulsory education began. It was common that everybody in worker families contributed by working in factories and it wasn’t until 1860 that use of child labor was effectively put to a halt. Parents had to work, often times for the whole day and children started roaming around cities, creating fears of social problems. That’s why schools were introduced — in a way to ‘store’ these children in a safe place of order.

Further, modern school system has been the central institution for separating people into different social and cultural layers. Main rule of thumb has been that the greater the degree, the greater the social and cultural status one has possessed. Schools are even as of today an important place where people find their calling, identify their own skills and compare them to others and eventually receive counsel to which area should they spesialize in.

Anything to comment? Please share your ideas!

Teacher’s survival strategies

Lately I’ve been reading this book concerning sosiology of education, since it’s the first mandatory book of teacher studies. It has many fascinating topics, including a chapter about teacher’s survival strategies.

First introduced by Peter Woods in 1979, teacher’s survival strategies involve ways for a teacher to make teaching more pleasant — in other words to cope with the reality of schools. These strategies incorporate a dual nature, meaning that they form through teacher’s professional role as an advocator of state’s interests but also by personal ideals, which are based on teacher’s own history and experience as a pupil. The aforementioned clash of profiles results in teacher’s survival strategies.

Let’s check out some of them.

Socialisation means that a teacher tries to evoke certain ideals for ‘good pupils’. In practice a teacher shapes pupils to meet her/his ideals, which consist of e.g. proper behaviour and language.

Then there’s domination, meaning that a teacher may use varied degrees of power over the classroom. Domination is described as an easy survival method, due to the fact that pupils are subjected to teacher’s control both being underaged (and therefore under guardianship with limited rights) and due to their institutional position as pupils.

Teacher may also utilize trading, i.e. a teacher might get pupils to promise to remain quiet for certain period of time by promising they can see a movie in the classroom.

Fraternization means that a teacher could seek to come in good terms with pupils through e.g. similar humor. And young teachers might try crossing generations by utilising cultural identification, e.g. using references from popular culture.

Exiting means that a teacher could completely exit situations which involve conflicts or difficult problems. Teachers could for instance ignore identifying learning disabilities.

Routines and rituals are used for instance to ensure peaceful classes. A school could be traditionally seen as peaceful and that’s then used as an argument for demanding peacefulness from pupils.

Professional therapy means that a teacher could see teaching first and foremost as a therapeutic activity. It’s then enough seeing pupils working on something appearing busy and enthusiastic and to think that the therapeutic, pupil-centric teaching is that way being realised.

Morale boosting occurs when a teacher justifies the importance of teaching, for instance after a bad day. This could happen along with discussions and professional humor shared in the senior common room with other teachers as well as by seeking their approval for methods used in teaching.

Comments and thoughts welcome!

Inclusive teaching strategies

In the previous post I discussed briefly about equality in teaching and how social exclusion could be prevented in schools. In order to expand the topic I decided
to present ideas concerning inclusive teaching methods, because improving them could help to activate pupils more profoundly and make learning altogether more enjoyable an experience. I started thinking this topic after recently watching a video about ‘how to activate pupils more’. A subject teacher described his inclusive teaching method simply by saying that to activate pupils during lessons he states them what is mandated in the curriculum and asks them how could the goals set in the curriculum be achieved. That way, in theory, teaching meets the demand of the pupils’ better while at the same time fits in to the curriculum.

Furthermore, it must be noted that inclusive teaching shouldn’t be about the teacher transferring as many responsibilities as possible to the pupils, but rather about teachers really trying to understand pupils’ educational needs and make improvements based on their feedback. Although a teacher should always be the fair authority in the classroom, whose expertise can be relied upon.

Let’s investigate inclusive teaching methods, which in my opinion consist of:

  • Possibility to influence what is taught
    (e.g. history of modern technology or history of video games)
  • Possibility to influence teaching methods
    (e.g. group work or a school play depicting a historical epoch)
  • Possibility to influence school surroundings and rules
    (e.g. what’s the preferred time for a lunch)
  • Possibility to give feedback
    (e.g. a short questionnaire in the beginning/end of the course
    or feedback at the end of each lesson, which then affects consecutive lessons

Firstly, possiblity to influence what is taught is pivotal if the modern school system is to be flexible and meet the constantly changing interests of the people and the world outside schools. It’s easy to teach the same things year after year, but by doing so we would do a huge disservice to the people. It’s clear that the effectual curriculum with its time limits should be followed, but there is also room for fresh ideas from the pupils. Subject teaching needs to be relevant, interesting and beneficial.

Secondly, possibility to influence teaching methods opens new ways for interaction.
I recently heard from a friend that one teacher has a system in which pupils earn collectibles (points) through ‘good behavior’ and once enough collectibles have been earned the pupils can decide a school trip destination from a selection. In my mind, this method teaches not only strategical thinking, goal-orientation but also about choices.

Thirdly, possibility to influence school surroundings and rules is connected to everyday things happening in the school environment. Timetables concerning lunch and recess or necessary school yard equipment — everyone has their own preference and not all is realizable or even practical. But concessions should be made if the wishes are reasonable and the rules for instance outdated. Therefore, a teacher should also be aware of trends and evaluate them.

Fourthly, possibility to give feedback both openly and anonymously enables active participation in common affairs. Feedback is often mentioned but still much overlooked. Some teachers don’t really care about the feedback due to thinking they know better, whereas some understandably just want to survive another work day in school. Yet, feedback could give us insights what works, what doesn’t and why.

Finally, these methods should be optional and none should feel they’re being forced to participate. Though everyone should be introduced to the advantages of participation. 

Please comment, subscribe and share your ideas about inclusive teaching.

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

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?

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