03/05/2017

Views from Finland’s Education System

Introduction

My name is Dr Raimo Salo. I work as the Director of my private company called Finland School of Education (FSoE) and as well as a Coordinator for Minority Groups’ Education for the City of Oulu in Finland.

It has been a pleasure to work in the field of education for more than 20 years now. There has been several occupations along the road such as Class Teacher in two international primary schools in Finland (where the language of instruction is English), Technical Advisor in the Ministry of Basic Education in Namibia, Africa, Project Manager at the University of Oulu, Finland and as a Director / Teacher Trainer in FSoE. As a teacher trainer I have given lectures in more than ten countries and in several cities throughout Finland. It has been very rewarding to give my input also with some Finnish Universities to train teacher-students in their pre-service training courses as well as teachers in their in-service training courses.

You can find a map of cities where I have given trainings, lectures and workshops here: http://www.zeemaps.com/view?group=2521767&x=51.465677&y=38.558857&z=15

I used to work as a class teacher for seven years including two years as a Primary Years Programme Coordinator collaborating with IBO (www.ibo.org). As a coordinator I was in charge of e.g. organising the work in the school according to the standards set by IBO, developing the curriculum with PYP-teachers and organising in-service training courses for PYP team. Every year I used to have also non-Finnish students in my classroom which gave me lots of practical experience to work with multicultural families.

Currently, my main work includes development of minority groups’ education – especially focusing on pedagogical practices, assessment methods and the use of ICT in education. In my work I have planned and managed several national and international education projects in co-operation with schools. We have completed e.g. two EU Comenius Regio projects: 2009-11 with the city of Bournemouth, UK and in 2011-13 with the city of Emmen, the Netherlands.

 

Education is an investment – not a cost

As soon as migrants arrive to their new country everyone is allowed to attend school in case they are between 7 to 16 year olds. Actually, I would rather call them new Finns – not migrants. After all, every single person is a students attending our school system that caters for all according to their individual needs. In the long run the whole society benefits from the skilled people who can join our institutions according to their interest to become qualified professionals in the labour markets.

We in Finland have rather short history with welcoming new Finns to our country from other countries and cultures. There are many schools and teachers who have never taught other students than native Finns. Naturally, these institutions and individuals lack for experience. Thus, some may feel lack of skills and competence to teach students who do not master the language of instruction perfectly (the language of instruction in our schools is Finnish).

All individuals working in any schools should understand their role in creating a safe atmosphere for all students to learn and study. Another role for teachers is to get to know their students well enough to know the basics of their learning history and path they have walked before entering Finland. By this I mean e.g. to know whether a student can read and write and what are the academic strengths and weaknesses of a student.

Especially the teaching staff needs support from the management while facing the new challenges in their career. Support can be arranged e.g. by peer-groups which was one of the topics discussed in my PhD thesis published by the University of Oulu, Finland in 2014. Especially in the Finnish education system most teachers teaching the newly arrived students work alone in their school building without a colleague who is doing exactly the same work. This kind of support is organised in the city of Oulu since 2006 as I started my work in the Department of Education as a Coordinator. Those teachers meet monthly throughout the academic year to exchange views and practical challenges together.

 

My main messages about education

The focus needs to be turned from teaching into learning. Teachers’ and all other adults’ prime objective must be to support students’ learning processes.

This can be implemented e.g. by these five main points:

Assessment supports learning

Teacher’s work starts from creating assessment practices and procedures. Once you know what, when and how to assess, everything else follows more naturally. After being very clear with yourself and with your students about the assessment, planning and implementing lessons is far more easier. As a fact, all students are unique and individuals – period. As a result, they should be able to show their knowledge and competences in many different ways throughout the academic year – not just by writing and using their memorisation.

Interaction and communication supports learning

Organise your lessons in such a way that there are plenty of opportunities for students to interact with each other. By using new concepts in interaction, explaining the content to each other and making relevant questions you can find out whether they have understood at least the main points of the issues they are about to learn.

ICT supports learning

Let’s use the modern facilities to do such work that used to be done by pen and paper. Use the time saved to learn how to use ICT as a way to support learning processes. Guide your students to master also other learning to learn skills.

Learning environments support learning

When ever possible take your class out from a school building and take your students to the “real world” into the authentic learning environments. In my PhD study we had students visiting several learning environments once a month for 3,5 years. These newly arrived migrant students were not only able to use their new language skills but also getting support to integrate into their new home town and culture. In classrooms I used to have my students sitting in groups of 4-5 to enable the daily interaction between them.

Versatile teaching methods support learning

As a teacher you should make sure to master several teaching methods and develop your professional competence regularly. All students are individuals. Most of them learn in a different way so we cannot expect them all to learn just by listening to teacher’s talk. Talk with your colleagues, take in-service training courses, read books – what ever you do, remember to develop your skills from beginning to end of your career.

 

 

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