What makes Finnish teachers special?

"Finnish teacher training and education can be seen as a new form of design, which can be applied all over the world", says Professor Kirsi Tirri from the University of Helsinki.

The atmosphere at Finnish schools has been described democratic and cosy. The child has the role of an active learner and operator. Children also learn from each other, they are allowed to talk, to move and to try out things. This is all based on something known as the "new concept of learning": the more the learning comes from learners themselves, the better. In Finland, this tenet has been observed for quite a long time.

As far back as in the 19th century, Uuno Cygnaeus, the "father of primary education" in Finland said that the best kind of class was one where the pupils spoke more than the teacher. Finnish educators also subscribe to John Dewey’s idea of "learning by doing".

– The idea of child-centred education is part of academic teacher training. We are constantly developing learning forms and methods in which the child is taken into account even more, says Tirri.

Many Asian countries have also fared well the in the OECD Pisa Surveys, and by contrast, the education systems there are very authoritarian. They find the activeness of Finns somewhat perplexing. Owing to cultural differences, this special quality in Finnish schools may be difficult to apply in very hierarchical societies.

Different children learning together

Another strength of the Finnish education system that might, however, be more easily transferred to another country is integration. A Finnish classroom has pupils from many different cultures and of varying levels of performance. The teacher’s job is to provide instruction adjusted to the needs of the various groups represented in the classroom. More advanced students are given different exercises and tasks than those for students who are less advanced, and multiculturalism is a benefit to all.

What is also exceptional in Finland is the high standard of teacher training. All teachers have a university education. They are taught by methods that are based on scientific research and best practices.

– We also combine theoretical knowledge with practice. The university has its own teacher training schools, which are ordinary schools that also function as "laboratories" for teachers where they can put what they have learnt into practice. They are always supported by a supervisory teacher, says Tirri.

The joy of learning is born in childhood

Parents are interested in knowing who teaches their children. This question is, in fact, of wider social significance.

Finland has a very rare situation in which only the very best applicants are selected for teacher education programmes. This year, only 6.7 per cent of the applicants were accepted. It is, in other words, more difficult to enrol in a teacher education programme than in a medical school or a law school.

Teacher training students are highly motivated. They find that their work has significance: teachers play an integral role in the upbringing of children. Classes are about much more than learning mere facts. It is the society in miniature size.

– Since we are aiming at life-long learning, the early experiences of learners are crucial. That is the time when the joy of learning and desire for knowledge is born. Children are always almost in love with their first-grade teachers, Kirsi Tirri says.

– Finnish teachers teach their people to become humane, ethical adults who have a will to keep learning for the rest of their lives.

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Text: Siina Vasama
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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