The Finnish Teacher Education Experience: Lessons to carry home


I was fortunate to be part of a delegation of 21 heads, administrators and principals of schools from across India nominated by The Progressive Teacher Magazine in association with the University of Helsinki to experience a four day exposure to educational practices in Finland entitled ‘Global Best Practices in School Education’ from the 22nd to the 26th of May 2016. The 23rd of May 2016 began with our first visit to the University of Helsinki- a sprawling set of imposing buildings spread over a large area and housing various faculties/ departments of the University covering various disciplines of study. We headed straight to the Department of Teacher Education for an introduction to Finnish Teacher Education and teachers at school.

An education system that’s best for the world

We were introduced to the Finnish model by Prof Kirsi Kettula, Head of Transnational Education, University of Helsinki, Centre for Continuing Education. She began by acknowledging the fact that everybody thinks that the Finnish education system is ‘best in the world’ but what Finland is looking for is an education system that’s ‘best for the world’! The University is consciously trying to build tomorrow´s world by taking increasing responsibility for the resolution of global problems. To me that encompasses the goals and aspirations of a nation that does not believe in competition and ranking but rather in creating a system of education that is world class and yet represents equity along with tremendous trust, responsibility, life-long learning, and creation of quality based on steering instead of controlling.

Emphasis on research

Another thing that she said was that all teachers do research and that all researchers teach. Their motto being – ‘We research what we teach and we teach what we research`. All teacher educators hold Ph D degrees. Teacher educators are required to research and their teaching is based on their or others´ research. Activities are so organised as to give students the opportunity to practise argumentation, decision making, justification and analysis when enquiring into and solving pedagogical problems. This means that the teachers are well equipped with skills of analysis and problem solving and can effectively engage their students in the same. This was followed by a presentation by Dr Heidi Krzywacki, Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Six different teacher education programmes and no distance education teacher training programmes

She informed us about the fact that the Department of Teacher Education provides six different educational programmes that include elementary (class teacher) education, craft science and textiles teacher education, home economics teacher education, kindergarten teacher and early childhood education, secondary (subject) teacher education and special education. It is indeed remarkable that there are a variety of teacher education options available – not just a standard B Ed degree which can be done by correspondence and distance learning over one or two years. I enquired and was told that there are no B Ed courses that were by distance learning mode or by correspondence.

A rather striking aspect of their training programme is the duration of the training – we were informed that it was a rigorous five year teacher training programme – for each of the above categories of teachers.

Free of charge teacher education programmes

Teacher education is free and based on the concept of equity. No reservations. No capitation fee or buying of seats. It is totally and completely based on one’s ability! It consists in most cases of an entrance exam and a detailed interview. The courses are based on detailed planning of what the basic qualifications are required for a particular type of teacher. For example, for qualifying as a subject teacher, knowledge of how to teach, study and learn the subject, along with subject content knowledge and knowledge related to the different learners who form part of this category is important. Whereas for qualifying as an elementary teacher, teaching of various disciplines at the elementary level, combined with professional competence on cooperating with all members of the school community, pupils and their parents as well as societal bodies is important.

One thing is sure, whatever the category of teacher education training, substantial research work and writing a thesis on some pedagogical problem is a necessity. This develops in them a spirit of enquiry, a thirst for researching and learning new things and an analytical frame of mind. It helps them to follow the same in the classroom teaching and learning process and make all students’ learning also research based and not based on just accepting knowledge and memorising the same for an examination process.

As a result of the above aspects of teacher training, the teachers´ role in the Finnish school education system is much different. This no doubt impacts the main cornerstones of the Finnish education policy.

Cornerstones of Finnish Education Policy

The cornerstones of Finnish Education Policy include: There is a common, consistent and long term policy in place for the past 40 years for the entire nation. It includes compulsory education, free of charge to all, including meals, books, transport and health care. There is a well-organised special education, too. There is no streaming, no selection, no special schools to draw above average students, etc. Most importantly, there is devolution of decision-making power to the local level – where each headmaster is the pedagogical director; local authorities, along with the teachers plan local curricula, organise general assessment and use this data for evaluating their schools and allocation of resources. Finally, it goes without saying that there is a complete culture of trust – no inspectors, no national examinations, only sample based monitoring.

All this is possible because of the comprehensive nature of teacher education. Finnish teachers are considered as educated professionals. They are trained and qualified to focus on supporting and guiding the students (including the special needs ones) instead of comparing them with each other. Each individual student is given her/ his study and development plan. Very few children need to repeat a year. When we visited the Kasavouri School (grades 7 to 9) we saw this in action.

Learning for my school

I belong to City Montessori School, Lucknow – a Guinness Record Holder for the largest number of students in a school (above 52, 000 students as of now). Our school is spread across twenty campuses in the city of Lucknow. The number of teachers is more than 1800. We have a Quality Assurance and Innovations Department, which does regular observation of teachers across the twenty campuses and observation of written work of students too.

In the past we have been having in-house training for our teachers in teaching pedagogy and subject content about twice a year. This involves outside resource persons who conduct workshops, seminars, etc. There are generally lectures and demonstrations not involving so much of a research element. We will now try to have more campus specific training with an attempt at an introduction of some relevant and important research component, making such training more regular in the academic calendar.

Also, we will try to focus on even more level specific training than in the past. We will also try to involve our very senior, experienced teachers to a larger extent than in the past in these trainings.

Role of the government and policy makers

But we are constantly reminded that these are just minor tinkering changes that we can introduce within the boundaries of our school. For far reaching changes there has to be a paradigm shift in India´s teacher education policy and programme; and for this the Indian government has to take a call.

(The write up is based on the presentations of Dr Kirsi Kettula, Head of Transnational Education, University of Helsinki, Centre for Continuing Education and Dr Heidi Krzywacki, Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland)

Susmita Basu
Head Quality Assurance and Innovations
Department, City Montessori School, Lucknow

Our delegation reached Helsinki on 22nd May. A warm welcome dinner was hosted by S Chand Group with an Indian cuisine. On 23rd May we visited the University of Helsinki Centre for Continuing Education. We were welcomed by the Director. The entire delegation was eager to hear Dr Heidi Krzwacki, Associate Professor, University of Helsinki, Department of Teacher Education.

We as educationists were keen to know about the education system in Finland. It was a learning experience. We were briefed about the history of Finland. In Finland the elementary school begins for a child at the age of seven years. Education is compulsory till the age of 16 years followed by vocational courses. Entire education in Finland is free up to University level irrespective of nationality. Teachers are required to hold a masters degree. All subject teachers are masters in their related subject and they also teach pedagogical skills.

The Motto in Finland is – We research what we teach and we teach what we research.

We visited the National Board of Education where the basic school structure was explained After a brain storming session we boarded the cruise for Helsinki sightseeing followed by delicious dinner at Hotel Samrat. On 24th May we visited Saunalahti School, Espoo (grade 0 – 6), a modern and innovative school. To our astonishment students of age six were taught cutting and stitching .To develop their motor skills, eye coordination and concentration, creativity was the key for their learning. The students are involved in practical work rather than theory. Movement of the students in school was not restricted and they were not confined to their classrooms.

Dr. Jari Salminen, Associate Professor, University of Helsinki , Department of Teacher Education shared with us the reforms in education system in Finland and the historical background of Finland. After this historical review of Finland we had a city tour by bus to visit interesting places in Helsinki like Senate Sqaure, Sibelius Monument and Temppeliaukio. The authentic Italian food at Ristorante Siciliano was a cherry on the cake after the Helsinki tour.

On 25th we visited Kasavouri School (grades 7 -9). We were welcomed by the Principal Riitta Rekiranta and Vice Principal Leena Maija. The infrastructure of the school we visited was designed to promote collaboration. Classrooms branch off from shared learning areas where students from various classes work together and teachers can interact in a common space. The high school students have all sorts of cozy nooks to work together comfortably on campus and they move freely around the building with minimal supervision. They believe in positive thinking. The students are taught to respect life. The school believes in pupil centered teaching methods and phenomenon based learning.

On returning to Helsinki University we were introduced to Principal Mikko Lappenan. He gave us an overall view of good practices of school governance and administration, the involvement of parents in their child’s academic growth. The Viherkallio school is 100 years old situated in middle of Espoo in Helsinki. The school caters to special children also. Mr Mikko Lappenan explained about the 21st century skills, interaction and co-operation; emphasis on drama which helps in interaction with the students.

On 26th May we visited Heureka Science Center. The center was very interesting, with a great range of activities and hands on experiments. We spent about three hours at this museum.

Last but not least the S Chand Group organized this educational trip flawlessly. I wish we as educationists are able to change our education system in India with the help of such tours. The Finland educational tour was an eye opener for our delegation.

Smita Savant,
Sinhgad Spring Dale School,