Pedagogical freedom — secret to Finland’s success?

Perhaps one of the most differentiating factor that makes Finnish school system unique, is the way of allowing teachers autonomy and pedagogical freedom (also called as didactical freedom).

It means that teachers in Finland possess a wide liberty to design and carry out school lessons. While the curriculum gives instructions on what and how to teach various topics, it doesn’t mandate time limits that for instance a civics teacher should give 2-hour lessons about European Union for high school students. Instead it’s taught as much as seen necessary by the teacher, in the appropriate course naturally.

A teacher may also choose what kind of textbook/ebook one uses and which teaching methods are applied with a certain class. That’s mainly because what works with some, might not work with others. Since each pupil is an individual and their development phases delicate as well as diverse, it’s best to tailor the teaching to suit different needs.

Pedagogical freedom also tells us that in Finland teacher’s expertize is quite trusted. After all, every qualified teacher from elementary school onwards holds a Master’s degree. No need for extra surveillance and strict mandates on how teaching is to be carried out (that’s left for the parents ;)).

Teaching is seen as a complex set of interactions. Improvization, lightning fast reflexes and adaptation to new circumstances are absolutely needed in teacher’s profession. That’s why pedagogical freedom gives room to manouver in ever-changing times…

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 🙂

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 verifiablePreschool 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 🙂

Finnish schools are dissolving traditional division to girls and boys

Based on the newest curriculum concerning basic education Finnish National Agency for Education (Opetushallitus) has released a guide how schools should take into account gender variations, which these days transcend girl and boy centric approaches. Gender-conscious teaching means that teachers are sensitive in recognising individuality and personality of each pupil, regardless of their background. In practice this means that teachers guide pupils to make individual choices instead of maintaining segregation in education and job market.

This line of thought also includes that teachers should acknowledge there are more genders than two and therefore pupils shouldn’t be only recognised as boys and girls. Recognising various sexual orientations and a multitude of identities is crucial in teaching as it helps to break stereotypes, prejudism and broadens one’s understanding.

The key is to realize that any person can become anything. A gender or being genderless shouldn’t dictate one’s life choices. That’s why teachers should encourage pupils pursue their abilities despite of deep cultural assumptions how one ‘should behave’. As with any possible topic teachers should be aware and be willing to discuss about new fields which might not be that known to them. Thus we achieve better level of inclusion among pupils.

Anything to comment?

Today’s teaching models

As a teacher student it’s fascinating to speculate ‘what kind of teacher will I become?’. Based on Dr. Sue Askew, an university lecturer in health education in the University College of London, I’ll go through present day models of teaching. They comprise of roles for teacher, goals of teaching, what’s the view on learning and how feedback is seen.

  • Receptive transmission
    Role of teacher
    is to be an ‘expert’ and goals for teaching are to impart new knowledge, concepts and skills.
    (This is fairly basic and could be seen as the minimum base for teaching).
    View of learning includes that a cognitive dimension is stressed. Learning is individual and affected by ability which is fixed. Learning involves increased understanding of new ideas, memorasing new facts, practising new skills and making decisions based on new information.
    (Memorasing is currently losing ground in teaching, since understanding and making connections are more emphasized).
    Feedback discourse is considered as traditional discourse in which ‘expert’ gives information to others to help them improve. Main goal through feedback is to evaluate and it’s seen as a gift for the pupil.
    (Feedback is then sort of given one-way. Most teachers I have encountered have utilized feedback in this manner).
  • Constructive
    Role of teacher
    is to be an expert. Goals incorporate facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And helping to make connections, discover meanings as well as to gain new insights.
    View of learning is based on cognitive dimension, although social dimension is recognised to some extent. Learning is affected by abilities which can be developed and is affected by experiences. Learning involves making connections between old and new experiences, integrating new knowledge and extending established schema.
    (It’s important to see learning as an ability that can always be developed, as contrast it being somehow ‘fixed’ ability).
    Feedback discourse means an expanded discourse in which ‘experts’ enables others to gain understandings, make sense of experiences and make connections by the use of open questions and shared insight. Primary goal is to describe and discuss. Feedback is considered as two-way process.
  • Co-constructive
    Role of teacher
    is based more on an equal power dynamic. Teachers view themselves as learners. Goals include facilitating the discovery of new knowledge, concepts and skills. And to help make connections, discover meaning plus gain new insights. To practise self-reflection and facilitate a reflexive process in others about learning through a collaborative dialogue.
    (In general I see this style progressive and good, but it could also weaken teacher’s credibility. Yet, it has to be acknowledged that a teacher is never ready and there’s always room for improvement).
    View of learning includes that the cognitive, emotional and social dimensions of learning are seen as interconnected and equally important. The view of learning is extended to include reflection on the learning process itself and meta-learning, that is learning about learning.
    (This manner brings up sociological dimensions of teaching, which should be better understood in order to improve pedagogical thinking).
    Feedback discourse is based on expanded discourse involving a reciprocal process of talking about learning. Primary goal is to illuminate learning for all. Feedback is a dialogue, formed by loops connecting the participants.
    (Finally, this manner stresses that feedback should go both ways and that teachers should also receive feedback from pupils).

As always, comments and feedback are most appreciated 😉