I am confident to say that everyone who has gone to school remembers at least one of their teachers. Some have bad memories, others good, but everyone was influenced by the person standing in front of the class in some way. Finland is known for its high-quality education, but what is the role of teachers in this success story?
Competent Teachers Equals Competent Students
Teachers are the key to children’s learning. They interact with the students for hours during classes, accompany their learning process and have a great impact on them. However, the role of a teacher has changed over time. In 2016 a new national core curriculum was implemented in the Finnish schools. It put more emphasis on learning transversal competences and teaching bigger subject areas rather than single subjects. The ongoing change from distributors of knowledge to multi-skilled educators took a step forward. Nevertheless, whatever the teachers’ role and tasks might be in the future, the main job is still to enable the students’ learning.
“For students, the teacher is their most direct connection to learning”, says Johanna Ursin-Escobar. She works as the Education Development Manager at KOULU Group, a company providing teacher in-house training based on Finnish education principles. Compared to many other countries where ready-made lesson plans are given to the teachers, a teacher in Finland is responsible for their lesson plan and methods used. A good teacher uses student-centred methods and is able to communicate the learning objectives clearly to the students.
Because the teacher has such an important role in the learning process, having pedagogically and methodologically competent teachers is crucial. Many of the teachers already have the know-how of their subjects but pedagogical and methodological aspects of their teaching might be lacking. That’s why continuous teacher training is important. It provides professional development and empowers them as they feel more motivated and capable of doing their best in the classroom.
Respect for Autonomy and for the Teachers’ Profession
All the comprehensive school teachers in Finland have a master’s degree from university. The purpose of high education is to give the teachers a broad set of skills for their job. Teacher students learn to be analytical and critical thinkers while they gain general knowledge of the subjects. In addition to learning about the pedagogical theory behind teaching, they learn about the best and up-to-date practises based on academic research. During their compulsory practical training they learn to mix theory with practice. Universities encourage the students to be curious and eager to learn continuously.
The Finnish society has a low level of hierarchy in general. Interactions at workplaces are informal and direct even between managers and regular workers. This is also seen in schools where teachers have a high level of autonomy to perform their job and to do teaching in a way that most benefits the students. They are trained in the principles of the curriculum and the objectives that the students need to reach, but they are free to choose the learning methods. The autonomy that the teachers enjoy gives them the opportunity to participate in the planning of their own teaching and to put their expertise in use. The pedagogical expertise of the teachers is generally highly respected by the school management and the parents.
However, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Continuous personal and professional development and training, as well as following the research in the field of education are required if a teacher wants to stay competent. Discussing diverse issues with one’s colleagues is a big part of the professional development and beneficial for both parties, and cooperation among the whole school staff helps both with the planning and implementing of the teaching. But in the end, the responsibility lies in the teacher.
The Opportunity to Participate Improves Commitment
“Participation happens in all levels of the Finnish educational system”, says Ursin-Escobar. She means that from school managers to young students, everyone can participate in the development of the school and educational system. Although teachers in Finland are seen as an authority, students are still able to express their opinions during a class. In a bigger scale, they can take part in the national level decision making through student organisations like The Union of Upper Secondary School Students. As with teachers, the opportunity to participate in decision-making enhances the motivation. When students become motivated and committed to their studies they reach better learning outcomes.
Decision-making requires information retrieval. And finding relevant information requires critical thinking. When children are given the tools to practise researching and analysing the findings, they learn to argument their decisions and opinions based on facts. They also learn to view issues from several angles and to form their worldview independently.
Participation at schools has also a bigger impact in society. “When the students are engaged in school activities the school becomes more communal, and this increases the good atmosphere at school”, describes Ursin-Escobar. A positive atmosphere and a feeling of belonging inspires individuals to work for a better community. An environment where people from all backgrounds are allowed to share their thoughts and opinions tends to create the most suitable solutions. A group of people can solve new problems quicker and better than an individual. All this positive impacts can also be seen in the whole society when students start their working life and take forth their ability to do team work.
Written by Polar Partners’ marketing intern: Juliaana Kärkkäinen