In a quiet classroom adorned with the joyful creations of small children, Ville Sallinen is learning what makes Finland’s schools the envy of the world.
Sallinen, 22, is teaching a handful of eight-year-olds how to read. He is nearing the end of a short placement in the school during his five-year master’s degree in primary school teaching.
Viikki teacher training school in eastern Helsinki describes itself as a laboratory for student teachers. Here, Sallinen can try out the theories he has learned at the university to which the school is affiliated. It’s the equivalent of university teaching hospitals for medical students.
The school’s principal, Kimmo Koskinen, says: “This is one of the ways we show how much we respect teaching. It is as important as training doctors.”
Welcome to a country where teaching is a highly prized profession. Finland’s teachers have kept the nation near the top of the influential Pisa performance rankings since they were first published in 2001, leading to an influx of educational tourists as other teachers have endeavoured to learn from the Finnish experience.
Finland is going through a deep economic crisis, and there are financial pressures on schools, just as there are on the rest of the public sector. But the five-year master’s degree for primary school teachers is not in question. Competition is fierce – only 7% of applicants in Helsinki were accepted this year, leaving more than 1,400 disappointed.
Leena Krokfors, professor of teaching at Helsinki University, says: “The beef in the Finnish teacher training system is the time that students have to learn, and while politicians are happy for Finland to produce good teachers, that’s OK.”
The high-level training is the basis for giving young teachers a great deal of autonomy to choose what methods they use in the classroom – in contrast to England, Krokfors says, where she feels teaching is “somewhere between administration and giving tests to students”. In Finland, teachers are largely free from external requirements such as inspection, standardised testing and government control; school inspections were scrapped in the 1990s.
“Teachers need to have this high-quality education so they really do know how to use the freedom they are given, and learn to solve problems in a research-based way,” Krokfors says. “The most important thing we teach them is to take pedagogical decisions and judgments for themselves.”
In Britain, by contrast, academies, private schools and free schools can hire people to teach even if they are not qualified. Labour claimed in 2013 that becoming a teacher in Britain was now easier than flipping burgers.
For a small, agrarian and relatively poor nation, educating all of its youth equally well was seen as the best way to catch up with other industrialised countries, according to Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educationist at Harvard who has done much to popularise Finland's methods abroad.
The Finnish dream, as he calls it, was for all children, regardless of family background or personal conditions, to have a good school in their community – a focus that has remained unchanged for the past four decades.
In the early phase, during the 70s and 80s, there was strict central direction and control over schools, state-prescribed curriculums, external school inspections and detailed regulation, giving the Finnish government a strong grip on schools and teachers. But a second phase, from the early 90s, consciously set out to create a new culture of education characterised by trust between educational authorities and schools, local control, professionalism and autonomy. Schools became responsible for their own curriculum planning and student assessment, while state inspections were abandoned. This required teachers to have high academic credentials and be treated like professionals.
Krokfors adds her own explanation for the high regard in which teachers are held: “If we look back at Finland’s history, teachers have always been seen as the people who brought civilisation to small villages” as the country modernised in the middle of the last century, she says.
Not only is teacher education in Finland strongly research-based, but all the students on the primary school master’s course are engaged in research themselves – a point of pride for Patrik Scheinin, dean of the faculty. The course aims to produce “didacticians” who can connect teaching interventions with sound evidence, he says.
“We want to produce cognitive dissonance. The task of a good didactician is to disturb the thinking of someone who assumes they know everything about teaching,” Scheinin says. “Just because you’ve been doing something for 20 years and it works for you doesn’t mean it works for other teachers, other students, or in other subjects.”
In the city centre at Helsinki Normal Lyceum, another of the 11 university teacher training schools scattered around the country, student teachers are running day-long multidisciplinary workshops for pupils aged 13 to 19. In one, Maria Hyväri, 24, is discussing Dewey, Steiner and Montessori, and asking pupils to think critically about teaching methods at the school. Classes are mixed and there is no streaming.
“I want to make a difference,” she says. “There are all these new teaching tools and ideas, and it’s great because here we can try different things – it makes me feel inspired.” Because the school is full of student teachers, pupils are “used to being experimented on,” she says, although sometimes they might get a bit tired of the constant rotation.
Hyväri is in the middle of an undergraduate degree in French and English, but she has chosen to take an additional pedagogical year in the middle of her five-year degree, which will launch her on to a teaching track in her final two years to emerge qualified as a secondary school teacher. During this year she spends about half her time in the school, and half in the university’s teaching department.
For Olli Mättää, a teacher trainer at the school, Finland’s Pisa scores are a byproduct of the system rather than a central goal. “When we got the results, we were thinking, if we are that good, how bad are the others? We were taken by surprise,” he says.
It showed that the country was doing some things right, he says, and vindicated the decision in the 1970s to make primary school teacher education a university degree. Teacher training schools are highly sought after by parents, Mättää says.
Educationists point to historically specific factors that have helped to fashion Finland’s schools, such as the country’s small population, its relatively late dash for modernity, and broad acceptance of values such as equality and collaboration that are embedded in its version of the Nordic welfare model. But the decision to make teaching an advanced degree subject has given teaching a high profile in Finnish society.
“Teachers in Finland are autonomous professionals, respected for making a difference to young people’s lives,” says Sahlberg.
As a result, those who choose to train are devoted to teaching for life, he says. “My concern is with fast track teacher preparation programmes turning teaching into something you do for a while and move on, and almost anyone can do it."
Back in primary school, Ville Sallinen got the teaching bug eight years ago while still at school, when he started coaching football. It sparked his interest in working with children. He is not particularly academic, he says, but like many students his passion for teaching got him on to the master’s course.
“I would like to have more experience in schools like what we are having now,” Sallinen says. “Next year we have no practical element. It is good to get experience in a real school.”
At the end of each day, he sits down with his mentor, Tunja Tuominen, to deconstruct teaching moments and to theorise them. Says Tuominen: “Student teachers come here like little chicks, mouths wide open and eager to learn.”
Fonte: David Crouch, para The Guardian, em 17 de junho de 2015. Foto: David Crouch. Disponível em http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/17/highly-trained-respected-and-free-why-finlands-teachers-are-different?CMP=share_btn_fb.