Assistant Professor Athanasios Koutsoklenis visited Helsinki SEN research community seminar

Helsinki research community of special educational needs (SEN) received an international guest from Greece last Friday. What did we learn during the day about the Greek education system and evidence-based practices?

Last Friday (20th of October, 2023), our research community gathered for a joint seminar day with a guest from Greece, Assistant Professor Athanasios Koutsoklenis. Koutsoklenis was in Finland at the invitation of his colleague and a member of our community, university lecturer Juho Honkasilta. Assistant Professor Koutsoklenis started the day with a presentation on the Greek special education system. The Greek special education system places a strong emphasis on individualized support, whereby a single child in need of support is supported by a single teacher, rather than teachers planning and delivering lessons through co-teaching. In Greece, the education system is also closely linked to religion, as reflected, for example, in common prayer times at the beginning of each school day.

The seminar continued with presentations by members of our research community, Joseph Gagnon and Piia Ruutu. Professor Gagnon presented fresh research findings from Finnish data on the interventions secondary school teachers use to prevent and address behavioral challenges. Gagnon and his colleagues sought to find out not only what forms of support teachers provide, but also what forms of support they feel they have a responsibility to provide. Guest researcher Ruutu continued by presenting data and findings on school attendance problems and school exclusion among young people. Of particular interest in Ruutu's research was the way in which school attendance problems can manifest themselves in a variety of ways in young people's lives. Some youngsters may not participate in activities such as hobbies and peer activities in addition to school, while for others, peers may act as a catalyst for both school attendance and school disengagement. 

The afternoon culminated in a friendly debate where our guest Athanasios Koutsoklenis and Professor Pirjo Aunio gave opening speeches on their perspectives on evidence-based practices in education. The debate focused in particular on the basis of which individuals with special needs are defined (e.g., attention-deficit disorders) and whether such definitions are necessary. In addition, one theme that emerged from the debate was the importance of ensuring that the intervention programs used in the school world are not only theoretically sound but also based on empirical research evidence. 

Many members of our research community feel that these seminars contribute to our work in a number of ways: learning from international visitors, spending a day focusing on exploring issues from new and inspiring perspectives, and finding new opportunities for collaboration. This autumn's retreat was no exception!