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Transitions, Justice, and Equity in Education in Finland  

Kristiina Brunila, Elina Ikävalko, Tuuli Kurki, Ameera Masoud, Katariina Mertanen, Anna Mikkola, and Kalle Mäkelä

The ethos of vulnerability plays a central role in shaping cross-sectoral youth transition policies and their implementations. Despite good intentions, the ethos of vulnerability emphasizes personal accountability and stigmatization. This is the situation in Finland, where young people tend to be recognized through the prism of inherent vulnerability, with a parallel notion of the self that is damaged and fragile. This “turn inward” to the self does not necessarily help to see problems as societal but as individual, which may perpetuate systematic inequalities.

Article

Constructions of Social Justice, Marginalization, and Belonging  

Yongjian Li and Fred Dervin

The theme of social justice appears to be central in education research. A polysemic and sometimes empty notion, social justice can be defined, constructed, and used in different ways, which makes it a problematic notion to work with intra- and interculturally. Global education research has often relied on constructions of the notion as they have been “done” in the West, leaving very little space to constructions from peripheries. This problematic and somewhat biased approach often leads to research that ignores local contexts and local ways of “discoursing” about social justice. Although some countries are said to be better at social justice in education (e.g., top performers in the OECD PISA studies), there is a need to examine critically and reflexively how it is “done” in different contexts (“winners” and “losers” of international rankings) on macro- and micro-levels. Two different educational utopias, China and Finland, are used to illustrate the different constructions of social justice, and more specifically marginalization and belonging in relation to migrant students—an omnipresent figure in world education—in the two countries. A call for learning with each other about social justice, and questioning too easily accepted definitions and/or formulas, is made.

Article

Quality and Evaluation in Finnish Schools  

Jaakko Kauko, Janne Varjo, and Hannele Pitkänen

The quality of education has been a central matter of global debate in the new millennium. The global trend supports test-based accountability models and increasing national data collection as techniques for supporting and increasing quality in education. In contrast, a central feature of the Finnish education system runs counter to the global trend: it does not have strong top-down quality control mechanisms. Historical development of the Finnish model has a strong continuity, which has stood up against the global quality and evaluation policy flows. The evolution of the Finnish “model” dates back centuries. The foundations of the Finnish quality system can be traced to participation in international comparative learning studies developing national capacity, the inspection of folk education supporting the tradition of nationally coordinated external evaluation, and the local supervision of folk schools through school boards emphasizing local provision and the quality control of evaluation. These developments culminated during the 1990s with the radical deregulation and decentralization of education governance. The current model is partly unarticulated. However, it is clearly distinguishable: in comprehensive schools (primary and lower secondary), ensuring quality is entrusted to education providers and schools. They are expected to conduct self-evaluation regularly. There are no national standardized tests, and sample-based testing for development purposes forms the core of evaluation data. Only the main evaluation results are published, making school rankings impossible. Yet there is a large variation in how the quality of education is approached and evaluated in Finland’s more than 300 municipalities. Significantly, the central government has no direct means to control the quality of local education. Its impact is indirect through aims to foster and promote the quality evaluation culture in schools and municipalities. Furthermore, international cooperation and participation in international large-scale assessments have been unable to politicize the national education development discourse. This somewhat uncoordinated yet economical and teacher-friendly quality system raises interesting questions for further research: is this only a Finnish peculiarity developed in a specific historical context, or does it make possible critical theoretical and societal conclusions that question the dominant global test-based quality trends? The buffering of international accountability-based testing and swimming against the global quality evaluation flow is built on (a) the compartmentalization of international tests; (b) the fact that national coordination began to see a deregulated system as a necessity and virtue, and was long fragmented in different evaluation functions; and (c) the important role the local level has played historically in upholding and evaluating the quality of education.

Article

Teacher Education in Finland and Future Directions  

Mirjamaija Mikkilä-Erdmann, Anu Warinowski, and Tuike Iiskala

Finland has gained increasingly more global interest among educationalists and politicians because of its excellent results on large-scale international student assessments like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). An interesting question is how a small country in the Global North with only 5 million inhabitants has managed to develop a school system that has gone from undistinguished to top-performing in two decades. The reasons for Finland’s successful and egalitarian school system can be investigated from many perspectives. One view regards teacher education, with the assumption that it has special characteristics that contribute to the success of Finland’s educational system. Factors include systematic selection, a progressive curriculum design that supports teachers’ learning of content knowledge, and the creation of teachers’ didactic skills. In addition, systematic teaching practices in special schools, called training schools, are used to help students integrate theoretical understanding and the practical skills needed for the teaching profession, especially those related to individual student learning in everyday classrooms. Furthermore, the role of empirical research skills in facilitating the development of teacher expertise is essential in Finnish teacher education. Generally, the concept behind Finnish teacher education seems to work very well. However, the system will face challenges in the future, such as how to develop new research-based methods of student selection that are valid and reliable. The educational path—from academic preservice teacher education in a university context to in-service teacher education—is developing and offers the newest research-based knowledge for all teachers, but there is still a lot work to be done in order to link all teachers within official continuous learning systems with universities throughout their careers. Finland’s teaching profession offers a great deal of autonomy and freedom, and the quality of school learning is based on teachers’ evaluations, not standardized tests. Like other countries, Finland is rapidly changing. Hopefully the most important feature of the Finnish educational system, the transparent dialog between the educational research community, the government, teachers, and parents, will carry over into the future. Without dialogue, educators cannot learn about the shared values supporting current and future schools.

Article

School Accountability  

Esther Dominique Klein

Accountability has always been deemed a necessity for schools to fulfill their purpose in society. Because of the nature of their operational core, this has for a long time been based on bureaucratic and professional accountability in most countries. In the second half of the 20th century, several countries have started implementing instruments of managerial accountability. While bureaucratic accountability means that accountability is focused on functionality and regularity, and professional accountability means that the profession itself defines standards and mechanisms of holding one another accountable, managerial accountability focuses on the effectiveness of schools based on externally defined standards instead. In many countries, this change of focus in the accountability system has entailed strengthening the managerial power of school leadership and introducing performance measurement through tests and inspection. This has shifted the power balance between teachers and schools on the one hand, and education authorities on the other. At the same time, it has created the opportunity for schools to use the new data for improvement, albeit with varying results. The fact that so many countries have adopted managerial accountability accordingly is not based on evidence about its positive effects, but on convergence in an international organizational field. However, comparisons of accountability systems in the United Stated, Germany, and Finland show that the adoption of this global strategy is dependent on how it fits with the local institutional norms in each country. While the United States have traditionally had a system of managerial accountability, the other two countries have only recently supplemented their systems with elements of managerial accountability, and the instruments are therefore adapted to each context.

Article

Climate Change and Worldview Transformation in Finnish Education Policy  

Harriet Zilliacus and Lili-Ann Wolff

The climate crisis calls for changes in all areas of human life. One such area is the education sector, which needs to be the target of urgent reform to be able to support these crucial changes. International sustainability policies call for transformative changes in worldviews that may inspire new ways of thinking and acting. Worldview transformation means a major change in deep-rooted ways of viewing the world that results in long-lasting changes in individuals’ sense of self, their perception of their relationship to the world, and even their entire way of being. Worldviews interface with perceptions of issues like climate change in ways that are frequently overlooked. The climate crisis demands a reorientation and transformation of worldviews, a change in which education can play a pivotal role. Therefore, the crisis also calls for rapid educational policy reforms. A central question is how to make worldview transformation related to sustainability visible in education policy. The general school education curricula in Finland (Grades 1–12) express sustainability as a core aim. However, it is debatable whether educational policy such as the Finnish curricula can promote worldview transformation. Contesting policy objectives and gaps between policy and practice can prevent education from dealing effectively with large worldview quandaries such as the climate crisis. In addition, unclear relationships between research and policy are fundamental obstacles during policy development. Finally, an overriding concern in policy is the lack of focus on urgent global dilemmas; consequently, it does not per se promote learning that could lead to radical change.

Article

Shared Sense-Making, Agency, and Learning in School Development in Finnish School Reforms  

Tiina Soini, Kirsi Pyhältö, and Janne Pietarinen

Curriculum reform is at the heart of educational change and impacts pupils, teachers, other educational professionals, and society at large. Moreover, the way we go about developing our schools and designing curricula defines our future and reveals where we stand regarding the role of education in society. In order to research the desired aims of reforms, it is crucial to understand curriculum making: How does the school develop, and what regulates the development? Learning is at the core of school development. It can be considered as both the aim and the primary means of achieving and sustaining any change in schools. Accordingly, the impact of a school reform is highly dependent on the quality of learning enabled within the school communities. Particularly, the extent to which the reform engages teachers in active and skillful learning by promoting their professional agency is a central determinant of the reform’s outcomes. The core curriculum is the single most influential regulator of school development in Finland. It is renewed approximately every 10 years and provides a common direction and basis for renewing school education and instruction, and sets the framework and foundation for district- and school-level curriculum development work. Teachers in Finland are curriculum makers not only in the class and school, but also at the district and even national levels of the school system. In such a system, teacher autonomy and teacher agency are at the core of school development. Moreover, teachers’ ability to understand the aims of the reform and to integrate, modify, and adopt them as part of their pedagogical practices is essential. This requires making sense of their aims. In Finland, shared sense-making has been the main strategy in the latest participatory reforms, with the aim of promoting transformative learning in professional communities in order to reach reform goals.