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Education In Finland

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Autor:  anton  03 July 2011
Tags:  Education,  Finland
Words: 2781   |   Pages: 12
Views: 276

1. Students in Finland

The Finnish school system has been intentionally developed towards the comprehensive model which guarantees equal educational opportunities to everyone irrespective of domicile, gender, financial situation or linguistic and cultural background (section 25 Basic Education Act, herein BEA). With this objective in mind, accessibility of education is ensured throughout the country. Finland does not have segregated educational services for different genders, i.e. no girls’ and boys’ schools. Basic education is provided completely free of charge (including teaching, learning materials, school meals, health care, dental care and school transport – section 29 to 33 BEA).

Basic education is an integrated nine-year structure intended for the entire age group (section 9 BEA). Schools do not select pupils; instead, every pupil is guaranteed access to a school within their own domiciled area. Even children with the most severe intellectual disabilities fall within the framework of common basic education (section 15, 16 and 17 BEA).

At the same time responsibility for basic education was given almost exclusively to the providers of education, i.e. in practice to municipalities (section 4 BEA). Only a few special schools and university training schools remained as state maintained schools. Schools continued to follow the nationally accepted curriculum defined and approved by The Finnish National Board of Education (herein FNBE).

The education system is flexible and its administration is based on intense delegation and provision of support. Steering is based on objectives set out in the Basic Education Act and Decree and within the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education. Responsibility for provision of education and implementation of objectives rests with local authorities (municipalities). FNBE gave only very broad aims and contents for the teaching of different subjects. The providers of education and finally schools set up their own curricula on the basis of the national core curriculum. In these plans local needs could be taken into consideration and special features of the school could be made use of.

New allocation of lessons for basic education was adopted in 2001 and the new National Core Curriculum for Basic Education was introduced as from 16th January 2004. While there are no programs for gifted children, teachers are free to devise ways to challenge their smartest students. The smarter students help teach the average students.

Students must learn two foreign languages -- Swedish is required by law (section 12 BEA), and most also take English. In addition, other mother tongues, e.g. Saame, the Roma language, sign language or �some other language which is the pupil’s native language’ can be taught when there are at least three pupils who’s parents would like their children to be taught in their native tongue (section 12 BEA). Art, music, physical education, woodwork and textiles (which is mostly sewing and knitting) are obligatory for girls and boys. Hot and healthy school lunches are free.

Activities at all levels are characterised by interaction and partnership building. In order to develop the school system, there is co-operation between different levels of administration, schools and other sectors of society. Finnish school authorities also co-operate a lot with subject associations and teacher and rector organisations. This has secured strong support for development measures.

Plenty of attention is focused on individual support for pupils’ learning and well-being and relevant guidelines are included in the National Core Curriculum. Every pupil receives support to help them perform their studies successfully. Only 2% of pupils have to repeat a year. Years are mostly repeated during the first or second school year. Only 0.5% of pupils fail to be awarded the basic education certificate. More than 96% of those completing basic education continue their studies at upper secondary level. As compared to countries like America, only 75% of students successfully progressed to high school, with a significantly higher drop-out rate. And all together about 91% of finish pupils gain their university entrance diploma, which is compared to European neighbors the highest result, in Germany there are about 56% of pupils who obtain their “Abitur”, the German equivalent of a university entrance diploma. (OECD-Studie "Bildung auf einen Blick" Paris 2003)

Organisation of schoolwork and teaching is guided by a conception of learning where pupils’ own active involvement and interaction with teachers, fellow pupils and the learning environment are important. Pupils process and interpret the information that they absorb on the basis of their prior knowledge structures and learning by doing (playing, experiencing). This is quite different from their Asian counterparts where learning is mostly done by one-way download from teacher to student and memorization from book). Also, based on our team mate, Stephen’s personal experience as assistant teacher in Normalikoulu, Jyväskylä and his teaching experience in German schools, Finish pupils seem to be more independent in their learning and working. Since PISA there have been many discussions going on to �research’ the reasons and factors why Finland is one of the top countries considering education. It is hard to give a simple conclusion, but one other reason might be that relation between pupils and teacher is more based on trustfulness rather than for instance in Germany or many other Asian countries, where it is still more common to have control over the learning process of a pupil.

By giving extra resources to schools, the aim was to guarantee the fairly small number of teaching groups in the teaching of the whole age group. At the same time the providers of education were given more and more opportunities to decide on how to organize teaching. Many schools introduced flexible groupings of pupils where pupils with different ability grouping studied in their own groups. This is evidenced from the results of our interviews, the three schools organized themselves according to the local needs, but they are still pretty much governed by the Basic Education Act and Decree (herein BEC). This is consistent with the results of our interviews, for example Mr. Timo Härkönen illustrated that the teachers have the discretion to adjust the syllabus to fit her students’ progress and needs, for example for students with special needs or leaning disability.

Unlike their counterparts in Asian countries, students in basic education here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. The BEA stipulated that they must have enough time for rest, recreation and hobbies over and above the time spent in school (section 24 BEA). They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. They also do not attend all kind of enrichment classes and private tuitions after school.

All the above are fairly consistent with the interviews we have undertaken with the principals in three different schools located in two city-schools (Jyväskylä, Joensuu) and a village school (Pohjavaara).

2. Evaluation of Education

At the beginning of the 1990s the system of inspecting textbooks was discontinued. The central administration of education trusted the providers of education and teachers more and more, and their judgment to choose the best possible teaching materials on the market. This procedure made possible free competition of teaching materials and their development to correspond to the curricula. By the beginning of the 1990s the system of school inspection was discontinued. The realization of national goals was instead systematically evaluated by national and international surveys of learning results.

i) Students’ Evaluation

Assessment of both schools’ learning outcomes and pupils is encouraging and supportive in nature. The aim is to produce information that will help schools and pupils to develop. Unlike their Asian counterparts, there are no national tests of learning outcomes and no school league tables. Pupils and schools are not compared with each other. National assessments of learning outcomes are based on samples and the key function of assessment is to pinpoint areas requiring further improvement in different subjects and within the entire school system.

Many schools introduced flexible groupings of pupils where pupils with different ability grouping studied in their own groups. It was, however, possible to move from one group to another also in the middle of the school year. When evaluating pupils for school leaving certificates the same criteria were applied irrespective of the group in which they had studied. Teaching at schools was inspected by the school inspection system.

It was discovered in our interview that, Finland is also very different as compared to Germany, or other European countries; the curriculum is the main orientation for the teacher. There are no counselors or anybody to watch what the teachers or schools are doing. There are only few final tests which are optional, i.e. not compulsory, but most of the teachers take part and there are also school or regional specific tests for the pupils to give feedback to the teacher, but these are not national exams. Also, children’s progress is appraised by the teacher on a daily basis during their interactions, lessons and activities. This is more effective in our interviewees’ opinions as compared to a national periodic exam which only captures a �static’ progress at a point in time. One of our interviewee, Mr. Timo Härkönen has rightly pointed out that children at this age progressed at varied speed, it may not be fair nor accurate to appraised them at a static point hence determining their future using these results as a benchmark.

In our interviews, the interviewees are fairly satisfied with the current evaluation system. There is a challenge highlighted by one of our interviewee when changing from one school to another, for example when students make continue their path to higher schools (lukio). Where there are many different schools in cities like Jyväskylä, if a student gets for instance mark 9 or 10 (i.e. excellent result) this could mean a different quality, depending on which school that student comes from. The problem is that there are no entering tests for the higher schools (lukio) and only the grades are considered. So some students, although have attained good grades, but face difficulties to study and follow the lessons in lukio. On the contrary, it is also possible that someone who is better qualified cannot enter the lukio because he has bad marks. So, it was suggested that there should be some kind of “entrance test” even at the lukio lelve because the evaluation of the pupils only by grades is sometimes not enough.

ii) Teachers Qualification and Evaluation

Teachers working at all levels of education are well-trained and strongly committed to their work. All teachers are required to hold a Master’s degree and initial teacher training includes teaching practice. The teaching profession is highly respected and popular in Finland, which makes it possible to select the best young students. Teachers have an independent position in their work.

Usually teachers are fairly eager to participate in courses for self-development. There are courses organized at municipality level, and also in national level. The topics are different, sometimes for general planning of the work or about reflection about oneself or teacher trainees, there is a certain theme and if the teachers are interested in certain questions they are free to ask. The expenses are mostly paid, nonetheless, there are times, the teachers will pay out from pocket if they are so interested in some of the topics.

In the course, teachers typically share best practices and exchange ideas and problems with each other. Teachers also see personal development as essential part of their teaching profession because the world is changing every day, rapidly, so, they must keep pace.

There are no external inspections by education ministry or FNBE, most evaluation are done within the school between principals and the teaching staff. However, our interviewees believe there are no real problems with this arrangement. They are of the view that the entry qualification, the ability to select the best candidates at entry level, the social status of the profession (respectable profession) plus the ongoing development for teachers are sufficient to maintain the quality output from the teachers. Only a few percent of the applicants get through the tests and the educational studies at the university are not easy, for instance as a physics student you have to go through a lot of physics and after that you start your educational training. This point was actually very interesting as compared to the German system because there also does not exist an official evaluation of the teacher, after he or she has completed studies and started to work as a teacher. However, this is different compared to the system in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China etc where invigilators will go observe the teachers throughout the life time of their profession.

In Finland the evaluation system seems to work very well and teachers are maintaining high integrity of the profession as a prideful responsibility. In is interesting to note that there are entrance tests for applicants to become a teacher and only the ones who show high qualities considering subject and social matters can begin their teacher training. Similar entrance test are lacking in other countries. For example when Finland achieved excellent results in PISA, there has been much discussions going on in Germany about the lack of similar entrance tests, considering social abilities and a lack of teacher evaluation, as the quality of teaching often varies in Germany and this directly links to how and what pupils learn at school.

3. Challenges in Teaching Profession

Unequal distribution of male and female teachers: This issue was highlighted by two of our interviewees. In their opinion, there are more and more divorced families in Finland. Students from such background typically live with their mothers and hence, in their opinion there should be more men in the teaching profession as a positive role model to these students. They suspect the reason for such imbalance distribution is due to man does not see this as a career with to earn big money!

4. Conclusion

The education system in Finland has been developed systematically with careful considerations, and the results can now be seen clearly. Nevertheless, one must be on the alert when decisions on the education system and resources are made. Teachers’ professional skills must be maintained and they must be updated by continuous in-service training.

Special attention must be paid to its being within teachers' reach. Developing new teaching methods and their introduction in schools must be supported. Schools must be guaranteed sufficient resources for obtaining teaching materials and equipment and also for training teachers to use them. An important task for the 21st century is to attend to pupils’ well-being.

In our opinion, after reviewing the BEA, BED and speaking to our interviewees, we conquered that the current laws are sufficient and effective, nonetheless, the environment is changing rapidly, what guaranteed success for today’s world, may be obsolete for the future. As such, continuous efforts must be undertaken to review the contents of the laws, the curriculums, teaching methodology, media etc in order to adapt to the changing needs and students’ learning capabilities going forward.

Quoting an article from Wall Street Journal dated 29 February 2008 by Ellen Gamerman, it was said that the Finnish Education System took away the competition and pressure on Finnish children to get into the "right schools". This allows them to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. Whilst many U.S. or Asian parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools or nurseries, Finnish children don't begin school until age 7.

Once school starts, Finnish children are more self-reliant and independent. While parents in many other countries fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finnish children do much more on their own e.g. some first-grade students trudge to school by ski through a stand of fields in near darkness during winter months or take the school bus (it is also the public bus) to school without the company of their parents.

At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables and put them away after finishing. There is no internet filter in most schools. Finnish children can walk in their socks during class, and at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.

But that’s what education is all about… teaching responsible, independent, capable children to become the pillar of the society in the future.

References

1. Basic Education Act 628/1998

2. Basic Education Decree 852/1998

3. Board of National Education Website

4. Article: Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why by Ellen Gamerman, February 29, 2008; Page W1

5. Article: Lessons From Finland: The Way to Education Excellence by Walt Gardner

6. Article: Suutarila Journal; Educators Flocking to Finland, Land of Literate Children By Lizette Alvarez April 9, 2004

7.Website: www.eurydice.org ; The information network on education in Europe



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