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