Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki
Teacher Education at the University of Helsinki (1995)
1 Background Philosophy
The Helsinki University Department of Teacher Education has a mission, a clear social task to produce and disseminate educational knowledge and, in particular, to train teachers for all levels of education from pre-school (kindergarten) to adult training.
The teacher education system in Helsinki has traditionally emphasised academic aspects of teacher education. Thus, teacher education consists of research-based academic studies, capitalising on the systematic study of education (educational sciences). One of the central principles is to implement equality at all levels of education.
Some of the most important tasks in teacher education consist of developing personal liberty and a spirit of co-operativeness, as well as reinforcing the democratic nature of society. Education serves as a solid basis for the spiritual development and economic welfare of the nation. One of the most important objectives must be the developing of children and young people into responsible members of a democratic society. Education should not be seen exclusively as an agent of economic progress nor as uniquely for personal growth.
One of the inherent ingredients in the Finnish teacher education is subject-related didactics or pedagogy. This is particularly so for subject-matter teachers, and in the form of pedagogy for primary teachers as well. The 1974 university degree reform brought into being this new field of study for each school subject or subject area: the fields of mother-tongue pedagogy, foreign language pedagogy, pedagogy of mathematical subjects, pedagogy of biology and geography, etc.
As a warranted proof of the importance of the subject-related pedagogy, new professorships in the pedagogy of different subject-areas were established for the education of subject teachers. Their task has been to formulate the goals and aims of their fields of study and to follow and lead research within it.
The new fields of study are still theoretically in their infancy, because they were originally created for the practical purpose of helping to educate subject teachers. Consequently, the body of knowledge partly consists of the traditional lines of pedagogy and the adopted views of how to teach the given subjects. Nevertheless, the reform has stimulated new research and investigation.
As a field of study, subject-specific pedagogy concerns itself with problems beyond the comprehensive and upper secondary school reality; it can respond to the issues of teaching and learning a particular subject in a more general sense. Many of the primary and secondary school subjects, such as foreign languages are also taught in vocational schools, in different institutions, as well as through courses for university students and adults in evening classes. This is of significance to teacher education as well.
The idea behind the Helsinki curriculum in teacher education is to combine practice and theory, so an inquiring attitude and skills might help the teacher in her everyday practice. This combination of practice and theory is also intended to give the teacher theoretical tools to enhance her autonomy and to liberate her from any unnecessary authoritarian beliefs. The teacher need not act like an educational researcher in her classroom, but the same skills and items of knowledge help her act in a more professional manner.
Class teachers' and subject teachers' programmes aim at educating teachers for general educational tasks and jobs. These teachers are expected to be capable and willing to develop Finnish education and the Finnish educational system independently and reflectively.
Teachers' programmes also aim at developing the teaching and curricula of different subjects, in co-operation with the university training schools, at supporting research on educational achievements, at strengthening educational studies that will support the qualitative development of teacher education, and to develop models of training and research that will support the continuing professional education of teachers.
The teaching staff, including the two University Training Schools, consists of some 350 teacher educators (professors, associate professors, senior lecturers, junior lecturers, instructors, tutors and assistants). The number of students, including the two University Training Schools, is around 2,500.
2 Different Sections and Their Profiles
2.1 Kindergarten and Class Teacher Section
After a long waiting period, kindergarten teacher education finally became a part of the university (August 1995), together with the other teacher training. This acknowledgement of the professional nature of early childhood education will allow for a smoother transition for children between home and school. At the same time, it will enable kindergarten teachers to develop the responsibility of creating a high quality environment within which each child can grow and learn.
Kindergarten teacher education leads to a B. Ed. degree, consisting of 120 credits and lasting three years. The main subject is pedagogy related to the early years. Another area of focus, of increasing importance, is to further develop subjects related to expression. The future strategy is to develop international contacts and lengthen the studies to 160 credits, as in the Class Teacher Section.
In class teacher education, the main subject is education with an emphasis on didactics, or on research on teaching. The relation of theory and practice is central in the conception of the role of education in class teacher education. The curriculum consists of a process shifting from practice through theorising to practice with the help of knowledge of research methods and contents. The programme for the primary teacher's degree (M. Ed.) corresponds to 160 credit units or study weeks, which is estimated to take four years to complete. It is also possible to study only 120 credits (B. Ed.), but it does not qualify for teaching positions.
The students in the Class Teacher Section are competent, profoundly committed to studying and capable of reflective thinking. They are selected from the top percentiles of their cohorts within the Finnish upper secondary schools.
Since 1994, there has also been a programme called Class Teacher Education with Emphasis on Foreign Language, with an annual intake of about 10 students. They will eventually be qualified to teach both in Finnish and in English.
2.2 Subject Teacher Section
In the Subject Teacher Section, educational and didactic studies support students' main subjects studied in other subject faculties. As studies in education for subject teachers are specific for the subject areas, this creates a common area of didactics and subject content knowledge. Teaching and research are assured by lecturers in didactics, specialising in different school disciplines, such as Finnish as a mother-tongue, foreign languages, mathematical subjects, and biology, but there are also lecturers specialising in primary and secondary education.
In the Subject Teacher Section, the education is co-ordinated and integrated with other university degree studies: the future teachers' educational studies and teacher training take place alongside their other academic subject studies before they complete a university degree (M.A.). Study periods, with concentration on subject studies, may be followed by periods of more intensive educational studies or periods of teacher training. The basic idea of this integration is to make teacher education more efficient and systematic by combining theory with practice, and to make better and more economic use of the teaching resources in universities.
The subject teacher's degree corresponds to 180 credits. Of these, 35 (sometimes 40) credit units form the actual educational and pedagogical part of the schooling given by the Department of Teacher Education. Specialisation in the subject-matter takes place in the respective faculties of the University.
As a field of study, subject-specific pedagogy concerns itself with problems beyond the comprehensive and senior secondary school situation; it can respond to the issues of teaching and learning a particular subject in a more general sense. Many of the primary and secondary school subjects, such as foreign languages, are also taught in vocational schools, in different institutions, as well as in courses for university students, and to adults in evening classes. This is of significance to teacher education as well.
2.3 Home Economics Section
Home Economics is a multi-disciplinary field of study and practice concerned with improving individual and family well-being, and with strengthening and empowering families both through formal and non-formal education. Home Economics as an academic discipline concentrates on the theoretical basis of household activities and the practical problems of everyday life.
The discipline produces prerequisites for developing home economics education at different levels. Home Economics, combined with educational sciences, gives many opportunities to maintain a strong degree programme and meaningful research programme, both directed to real problems of household activities and home economics education.
Finland is one of the few countries that has home economics teacher education at the Master's level. The majors are either home economics or education. The programme aims to educate home economics teachers for comprehensive school and adult education, as well as to produce experts with an academic degree for home economics and consumer consultation and for business and research. The role of educational sciences in the Master's degree is important. It is a separate discipline (a major or a minor) in each degree, but educational subjects are also integrated with the contents of home economics. This creates possibilities to specialise in the fields of nutrition education, consumer education, family education and environmental education. After the Master's degree, students may go on to postgraduate (licentiate or doctoral) studies, with home economics or education as their major.
The research in the Home Economics Section is educational research with emphasis on didactics or home economics research, closely related to behavioural sciences. The research rests on a wide knowledge base and utilises different kinds of research approaches and methods. The most important research fields are home economics education, family education and household activities.
2.4 Section of Textiles, Clothing and Crafts Design Studies
The Section of Textiles, Clothing and Crafts Design Studies provides Master level textile teachers for the compulsory school, especially for the senior secondary schools, various areas of adult education, consumer consultation and research. It is possible to major both in textiles, clothes and crafts design and in education, both offering eligibility for post-graduate studies. This qualification can be widened by minor disciplines, according to a student's own wishes.
The research areas in Textiles, Clothing and Craft Design Studies can be classified into seven main groups: Theoretical research concentrates on the research methodology concerned with crafts. End-Product research studies, for example, the form, colour and structure of hand-made products. These studies concentrate on the expression of cultural identity, products as symbols, the life cycle and the quality of products. Process research can be divided into two parts: The designing processes and creative problem-solving, and, on the other hand, the making-up processes. Consumer research studies, among other things, consumer behaviour in general, and relations between the quality and price of products. The environmental effects of textile products are an important field of investigation. Craftsmanship or entrepreneurship research studies designing and make-up processes of hand-made products from various points of view. Material research considers, for instance, the environmental effects of textile materials, and the quality of behaviour of textiles. Research on machines, tools and work space studies, for example, the effectiveness of household machines and tools, safety and the ergonomics of work conditions. Computer aided programs for the designing processes have also been developed.
Major studies in the field of craft pedagogy also play an important role in textile teacher education.
2.5 Special Teacher Education Section
The special teachers' programme aims at providing the awareness needed for the development of professional understanding of pupils with special education needs. It provides the knowledge required to develop intervention techniques and other special measures. Students should acquire the necessary skills to follow, evaluate and develop the profession by applying scientific methods.
Special education makes a study of the way in which general educational goals are achieved through specific means, and how universal developmental processes can be mastered by individuals acquiring abilities and compensating for impairments and disabilities. Thus, intervention is the main methodological approach in special education. The scientific goal is to study the formation of new skills, abilities, self-regulation and communication, to analyse the interaction of emotional and cognitive factors in learning activity, to find ways to form the intended mental activities, and to study how the school adapts itself to new demands on individual pupils.
Special education comprises the Professional Programme for Special Teachers, the Master Programme in Special Education, and the Doctoral Programme. The research is organised through the Centre for Intervention and Longitudinal Studies, which is divided into the Methods of Change Unit, Assessment and Diagnostic Unit and Case Library. International networking links the unit to many European universities--the development of thinking, developmental tasks and intervention studies with assessment and follow-up methods are the main research areas. The unit also franchises the European Advanced Diploma in Educating the Gifted (ECHA) programme and co-operates in European research programmes.
2.6 Media and Distance Education Research
and Development Unit
The aim is to develop and arrange distance and media education in the Department of Teacher Education and to conduct research in the area.
The Unit organises teacher education programmes for class and subject teachers as well as for adult educators. Different modes of distance education are used, such as audiographics and video conferencing, correspondence, intensive face-to-face periods, and e-mail. As most of the students choosing this kind of teacher education programme already work in schools, an effort is made to bring the course content and teaching practice near to their everyday work, so that theory and practice make a meaningful whole.
For all students in the Department of Teacher Education, the Unit offers an opportunity to do part of their teaching practice (about 2 credits) in distance teaching. From 1995 it is hoped that more than a hundred student teachers annually will learn to use audiographics or a videoconference to teach students at primary, secondary or adult levels of schooling.
The focus of research is, at the moment, on the development of applications of videoconferencing in classroom environments. A three-year project is currently taking place, where a University Training School class is connected to a small rural school class 1,200 kilometres away, so that the classes form a common virtual classroom with the help of videoconferencing. The aims of the research are to investigate the technical access of the system, to find suitable teaching methods, to analyse the instructional processes during videoconferencing, and discussion of the sociological aspects of the project. The project will be extended so that more and different kinds of schools will be included in the sharing and exchange of teaching.
Alongside and in addition to the activities of the Distance and Media Education Research and Development Unit, the Department of Teacher Education has a long, active, and even international tradition of and reputation for developing various forms and modes of telematics, modern information and communication technologies (MICT), computer-mediated human communication (CMHC), CAL (Computer-Assisted Learning), CELL (Computer-Enhanced Language Learning), and distance education at varying levels of schooling. This expertise concerns both methods and media collected from extensive teaching and research done in various sections of the Department.
Understanding open learning and distance teaching methodology, and mastering its tools and technologies, are widely regarded at the Department of Teacher Education as part of the core of education alongside traditional literacy. Also, the high importance and the pivotal position of open learning and distance teaching have been recognised at different levels of our schooling. It is also generally acknowledged that open learning and distance teaching is likely to fruitfully permeate various layers of secondary and university level education, at once underpinning and affecting the restructuring of schools in various countries. This especially applies to the development and elaboration of a methodology of open learning and distance teaching in teacher education.
At present, the Department of Teacher Education aims at establishing an international Research Centre for Educational Applications of Information and Communication Technologies, focusing on one hand on some of the national projects now being implemented within the scope of the department (such as the Kilpisjärvi Project), but, on the other hand, also extending its activities to international projects (such as the Open Learning and Distance Teaching in Teacher Education to Promote the European Dimension Project). As the Department of Teacher Education is the largest individual department of all departments within Helsinki University, this is a natural step forwards, to be firmly founded on the earlier experiences, expertise, research findings, and the knowledge base collected at the Department of Teacher Education during the past ten years or so. This has logically led to placing greater emphasis on media education, virtual pedagogy, and modern information and communication technologies as one of the main areas of development at the Department of Teacher Education.
As to teacher education, the main idea at the Department of Teacher Education is to familiarise as many as possible of its teachers and researchers with the existing technical facilities and with the educational perspectives provided by and accessed through modern communication and information technologies. One of the specific objectives within the Department of Teacher Education is to disseminate information and knowledge with respect to rapidly evolving open learning and distance education systems. [A comment: The Centre mentioned in this article was established at the Department of Teacher Education in August 1996. It is being directed by Professor Seppo Tella.]
2.7 University Training Schools
There are two Training Schools associated with the University of Helsinki Department of Teacher Education. Most of the teacher trainees' practical work is done in these schools, some in ordinary "field" schools.
Within the University Training Schools, the lower level of the comprehensive school is organised as a separate unit, offering education to pupils from the pre-school level up to the sixth grade. In addition to teaching practice, the school equips many student teachers in the Class Teacher Section with easily accessible research settings for their theses and other research projects.
Likewise, various teaching experiments and demonstrations in different subject areas are being carried out there, thus linking theory to practice. Furthermore, many teachers around the Helsinki area who are recipients of a scholarship, visit the school annually, observing instruction and discussing educational topics with the faculty.
The two Training Schools for Comprehensive Secondary and Upper Secondary School levels provide teacher training for future subject teachers. Teaching practice in real classes takes place in three periods: the Orientation Practice (2--3 weeks), the Basic Practice (6--7 weeks), and the Final Practice (6--7 weeks). Teacher training consists of class observations, demonstrations, trainees' own practice lessons, group seminars, and also trainees' participation in other school activities, projects, teaching experiments and staff planning meetings. In recent years, the Training Schools have organised several courses for in-service secondary school teachers, especially from the Helsinki area.
The Training Schools participate actively in the development of teaching practices. These development projects include, among other things, experiments in distance teaching. Computer-aided teaching and curriculum development are also among the central focuses at all levels of schooling.
3 International Co-operation
The University of Helsinki has accepted an international policy, whose aim is to promote internationalisation, and therefore the bilateral exchange programmes in particular, but also participation in the international research projects are considered very important. The Department of Teacher Education has chosen a lecturer to be responsible for international policy at the departmental level. Courses through English are being developed and implemented. Individual modules have been designed together with lectures, exercises and recommended literature, intended for foreign students.
The university has signed formal agreements with some 50 other universities, which means that both students and teachers may have activities in common more easily. The researchers and teachers, however, also have contacts with other universities with which they co-operate because of shared interests in research. These latter contacts and relations are most important because they are based on personal interests and joint projects.
The Department of Teacher Education has close co-operation with several other institutes at the University of Helsinki, in order to organise its international activities. Among these institutes are i.a. the following: the University of Helsinki Vantaa Continuing Education Centre, the Finnish ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Centre for Schools, part of the Vantaa Continuing Education Centre, and the Helsinki University Knowledge Services Ltd.
The researchers and teaching staff of the Department of Teacher Education take part in the activities of quite a number of international networks. A few examples will be given below:
The Department participates in ERASMUS, SOCRATES, TEMPUS, COMENIUS, NORDPLUS, Nord-Lilia and ISEP programmes or schemes. The different sections also have their own international connections through different channels. The Department of Teacher Education contributed substantially to ATEE's (Association of Teacher Educators in Europe) annual conference held in Finland in 1992 and several researchers collaborate with ATEE on a regular basis. AERA is the world's largest educational research network, organising each year a large seminar with about 10,000 participants. Freenet Finland is a telematic network for schools and colleges. The Department is represented in the educational committee of this network. L'Observatoire Européen is a consortium of 15 countries of the European Union, aiming at doing research on the emergence and dissemination of educational innovations during 1991998. The Department is represented in the Observatoire both by a national representative and by a member of the scientific committee. ENIRDEM (European Network for Improvement and Development of Educational Management) aims at enhancing international co-operation for the development of the educational field and school management in the former East European countries.
The European Dimension is a central area of focus in the activities of the Department of Teacher Education. It is concerned with taking part in teacher and student exchange programmes as well as actively creating educational networks with foreign partner universities. Part of the European Dimension is closely associated with cross-cultural studies, multi-cultural co-operation, and an enhanced awareness of and respect for other people's values.
3.2 Current International Programmes
The Department of Teacher Education is actively participating in quite a few international programmes and will continue to do so. In the following, only a few examples will be given of the current programmes. The first, as an example of international consulting services in which some ten teachers from the Department took part, and the second as an example of the very first European Union programme to be co-ordinated by the Department.
The Department of Teacher Education, together with the Helsinki University Knowledge Services Ltd., carried out a World Bank funded project in Bulgaria ("Consulting Services for Foreign Language Training Upgrading in Bulgarian Schools 1994--1995"). The basic strategy of the project was to provide up-to-date know-how and expertise for issues which might be bottlenecks in the effectiveness of the present language education in Bulgaria.
The project consisted of four concurrent stages, viz. (i) evaluation of the currently used training programmes, teaching methods, and qualification of the foreign language teachers, (ii) evaluation of currently used textbooks in the six foreign languages taught in Bulgarian schools, (iii) development of alternative foreign language curricula and teacher-training programmes, and (iv) finalising the recommendations, advice and giving an overall strategy for foreign language teaching and training of teachers. The project is reported in the publication series of the Department (Research Reports 155 and 156, Studia Paedagogica 10).
The Department of Teacher Education co-ordinates a SOCRATES 1995--1998 programme called OLE (Open Learning and Distance Teaching in Teacher Education to Promote the European Dimension). The foreign partners are I.U.F.M. de l'Académie de Grenoble, France; Kennaraháskóli Islands, Reykjavik, Iceland; Liverpool Hope Institute of Higher Education, Liverpool, England; Pädagogische Akademie des Bundes in Oberösterreich, Linz, Austria; St. Andrew's College, Glasgow, Scotland, and the University of Limerick, Ireland.1
The OLE Project is focused on opportunities for a better and more adequate use of open learning and distance teaching technologies in teacher education curricula to be explored and used by different European universities and their teaching staff and students. It is a module-based joint curriculum between the participating institutions. Another component of the OLE Project was an intensive programme for the participating institutions, organised in late spring 1996.
4 Research Policy and Publications
The Master's degree requires an independent empirical or theoretical thesis, which, after being approved by the Faculty, gives the student the right to continue in the post-graduate programmes, heading first for the licentiate degree with a more demanding thesis, and then for the Doctor of Education degree with a doctoral thesis to be defended publicly.
All students studying in the teachers' programmes write an independent Master's dissertation. In Helsinki it is considered important that the Master's theses are written individually. The topics selected for the theses equally cover a wide range of issues concerning the comprehensive school and a number of related areas.
The Master's theses are evaluated with a seven-grade scale (lowest being approbatur, highest laudatur) by two referees who prepare a written statement for the Faculty. The Licentiate theses are assessed through a two-tier procedure: a public discussion and the written statement. As to the Doctor's degree, a printed and published thesis is required, followed by a public discussion with an opponent, who prepares a written statement for the Faculty, which accepts the thesis.
The post-graduate studies and research are based on the seminar system, led by the professors as supervisors. All full professors have their post-graduate seminars, and all the professorial academic staff, including the docents, act or can act as tutors, depending on the topic of the student's post-graduate work.
Teachers in Finland complete an academic degree, i.e., they take a Master's thesis, primarily in education. The subject teachers major in other faculties, but do their educational studies at the Department of Teacher Education. The special teachers' programme consists of post-graduate, professional training, leading to a diploma.
The research policy is based on concerted freedom, i.e., all senior researchers and teachers are free to do research on their own topics, but there is an attempt to increase awareness of what is going on in order to have more "co-operative deals" accepted.
Research results are published in the research reports of the two departments (Teacher Education and Education), and also, to an increasing extent, in international journals.
The Department of Teacher Education has several publication series, viz. the Research Reports Series, with some 170 publications, some of which are in English, German or Swedish. Another series, Studia Paedagogica, co-published with the University of Helsinki Vantaa Continuing Education Centre, has more pragmatic purposes; the publications and guides in this series aim at adopting a more tangible approach to the issues under discussion.
The Department publishes two journals: "Educator" concentrates on less scientific problems and issues of teacher education and "Didacta varia" on scientific articles, book reviews, conference commentaries, the official statements of the opponents of doctoral disserations, etc.
In connection with the OLE project, one more series has been launched, namely, OLE Publications. In this, new articles written in foreign languages will be published, mainly on themes and topics connected to the aims and goals of the OLE project but giving a chance to other writers as well.
5 To Sum Up
From an international perspective, teacher education
is usually grounded on one of three different solutions. First, teacher education
(or usually training) is provided by the university faculties (dedicated subject
departments), that is, derived from a philological background. Second, teacher
education can be located in special colleges or institutes, often quite separate
from the universities. Third, subject education given in subject departments
is combined with teacher education given in specialised teacher education departments,
usually belonging to the Faculties of Education. Sometimes three different traditions
are described as: (i) the German "research model", (ii) the English
"personality model" and (iii) the French "professional training
Finnish teacher education in general, and the Helsinki model in particular, is essentially based on a research-based model, however, including a great deal of personality model features.
Teacher education is to be seen as a continuous process, starting with initial (pre-service) teacher education, followed by in-service and continuing education. It is teacher education that counts, not teacher training, which, more or less implicitly, refers to old-type seminars or teachers colleges, underscoring practical skills and experience-based practices and techniques.
The requirement of science- or research-based knowledge for prospective teachers is not unique in teacher education. Nevertheless, to prevent students from having to take such knowledge for granted, as a kind of ideology or through indoctrination, it is necessary to teach them the epistemic nature of scientific and research-based knowledge. For this, future teachers are taught on what assumptions and preconditions science and research operate and what methods of inquiry are used.
The Finnish academic teachers' programmes attempt to offer a more general and global experience of classroom teaching, because the continuously arising practical problems vary in kind and complexity to such an extent that it is unrealistic to be able to anticipate them all. In this sense, the teacher's profession sharply differs from vocational skills that are required in craftsmanship, for example. Consequently, it is justified to regard teacher education as educating and shaping intellectual capabilities and skills, rather than as training merely a limited set of more or less mechanical techniques and skills. Therefore, it is reasonable to emphasise the academic way of educating teachers. Such schooling provides them with a better means of reflective thinking and flexible action and behaviour, which is needed in communicating successfully in the teaching transaction. Routines and habits develop with time.
Briefly, the aim of teacher education is to create a pedagogically thinking teacher, who, at the same time, is a full professional in educational issues, with adequate amounts of theoretical background knowledge and a reflectively-critical attitude towards the challenges encountered in the teaching profession.
1The participants of the OLE project can be accessed through a mailing list address firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found on http://www.helsinki.fi/~tella/.
[NB. The article was written in December 1995, so some information has changed.]