Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 40, No. 5, 600–609, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this article is to identify and discuss the changes that have taken place in Finnish teacher education during the last 40 years (1974–2014) with an emphasis on the current challenges Finnish education faces today.
The beginning of Finnish teacher education can be identified with the year 1852 when the first professorship in education was established at the University of Helsinki. The professorship, placed in the Faculty of Theology, was the first to be established in education in all the Nordic countries.
The Teacher Education Act ratified in 1971 brought about a major reform in teacher education in Finland. As a result, in 1974 teacher education in primary and secondary schools was reassigned from teacher training colleges to universities. In 1979, the basic qualification for secondary and elementary school teachers was defined as a master’s degree obtained in programmes requiring four to five years to complete.
Official Finnish educational policy in the 1970s strongly emphasised educational equality. The aim was to equalise educational opportunities. Finland has created an educational system with the following characteristics: uniformity, free education, free school meals and special needs education. The principle of inclusion has also been an important guideline.
In the 1980s, legislative reforms changed the educational system in Finland. The centralised decision-making of the 1970s changed in favour of decentralisation. The trend of decentralising education continued into the 1990s. Curricular redesign characterised all levels of education in Finland and was closely connected with other megatrends such as deregulation, evident in other European countries. This trend increased opportunities for teachers to influence their work and introduced decision-making into school communities. All of this development gave a special character to Finnish education, namely a culture of trust. Teachers are trusted and given a great deal of professional freedom in curriculum design, teaching methods and learning materials.
Universities in Finland also have a high degree of autonomy in designing their curricula.
All eight Finnish universities have teacher education programmes for classroom teachers and subject teachers and, since 1995, for kindergarten teachers, who are subject to a bachelor’s degree examination. A unique feature of Finnish teacher education is that both elementary and secondary school teachers must earn a master’s degree and their academic status is the same.
The components of research-based teacher education in Finland Current teacher education in Finland is based on the idea of the autonomous and professional teacher who continues to develop throughout their working career and on the ideal of life-long learning. The goal of teacher education is to educate pedagogically thinking teachers who can combine research findings about teaching with the profession’s practical challenges. The aim of research-based teacher education is to be able to make educational decisions based on rational argumentation in addition to everyday or intuitive argumentation. Research-based thinking means using research competencies in one’s own teaching and in making one’s own educational decisions.
The latest teacher education reform has been influenced by the Bologna Process, which was intended to align policies in higher education among participating European countries. The Finnish universities revised their curricula for teacher education following the guidelines set up by the Bologna Process in 2005. The new Finnish reform based on the Bologna Process aims further to reinforce the academic basis of the teaching profession. The new curriculum for teacher education emphasises the readiness of teachers to apply research-based knowledge to their daily work. Part of this curriculum is the requirement that student teachers must conduct studies of their own.
Doctoral education for teachers
Finnish universities have their own doctoral programmes for teachers within teacher education departments. The faculty in these departments is very competent. Professors and lecturers teach future teachers with scientific and pedagogical competence. The faculty publishes its research results in leading international research journals and monograph series in teacher education. International students apply to Finnish doctoral programmes and want to be educated in Finland.
Professional challenges for Finnish teachers
Finnish teachers are facing more and more challenges due to the rising number of immigrant students and children who have learning difficulties. Finland today has urban schools in which issues of equality and diversity are challenging educators to pay special attention to the moral dimension of their work. Thus, along with the didactic aspect which is needed to help students improve their learning, teaching has a strong moral dimension, and teachers therefore need the moral competence to educate and support the ‘whole’ student.
Professional and ethical teachers need competencies that are related both to their character and to their conduct if they are to promote the holistic development of their students.
In this article, a short history of Finnish teacher education has been presented and the main developments during the last 40 years discussed. The status of the teaching profession has remained very high in Finland during all these years. Teachers are trusted and respected, and the profession attracts good students year after year. This is a unique advantage to teacher education in Finland by comparison with other countries. The ethical role of a teacher has changed from that of a religious and moral example to a principled professional who needs moral competence in pedagogical encounters. Beginning in the 1970s, the professionalism of teaching has been supported by an academic university education, with more and more trust given to teachers during the 1980s and 1990s through the decentralised curricula. The principles of ethics for teachers published in 1998 by the Trade Union of Education also strengthened the professional role of teachers in Finland. Teacher education in Finland has become increasingly research-based. Teachers graduate with a master’s degree, and today they have opportunities to continue their studies in doctoral programmes. All of these developments have made Finnish teacher education ever more academic, research-orientated and competitive. However, some challenges for the future can be identified. Finnish teachers are facing more diversity than before in their student populations. This will demand high-level ethical and pedagogical skills to cope with these new challenges. Moreover, teachers need to master the rapidly changing developments in information and communication technology in order to function in the same learning environments as their students.