Finnish student teachers’ perceptions of their development of 21st-century competencies

December 2021

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:5, 638-653

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigated student teachers’ perceptions both of acquiring 21st-century competencies in TE, and of how they applied their competencies to their teaching practice.
Gender differences and differences between perceptions of student teachers at universities and at universities of applied sciences were also investigated.
In addition, the authors analysed what were the best practices and major obstacles in acquiring 21st-century competencies.
This study aimed to investigate how Finnish student teachers assessed their learning of 21st-century competencies and how well they applied these competencies to their teaching, and using the following research questions:
(1) What are the student teachers’ perceptions of their 21st-century competencies acquisition in TE and what differences exist between student teachers regarding gender and types of university?
(2) What are the student teachers’ perceptions of how well they applied their 21stcentury competencies to practice and what differences exist between student teachers regarding gender and types of university?
(3) What relationships exist among competencies in TE and in teaching practice, and between competencies acquired in TE and applied in practice?
(4) What are the student teachers’ opinions regarding best practices and major obstacles, and suggestions for supporting their learning of 21st-century competencies?


Data collection and participants
This study used a mixed method approach.
Data were collected voluntarily online between December 2017 and June 2018 from student teachers at two Finnish universities and three universities of applied sciences.
Confidentiality and autonomy were explained to participants at the beginning of data collection.
The total number of respondents was 227, of which 55% were from the two participating universities and 45% from the three participating universities of applied sciences; 24% were male and 76% female student teachers.
Of the student teachers, 12% were studying to become kindergarten teachers, 14% class teachers, 21% subject teachers, 8% special education teachers, 30% vocational education teachers, and 15% other teachers, mainly higher education teachers.

The research instruments
Previous studies (Hixson, Ravitz, and Whisman 2012; Ravitz 2014) had validated the questionnaire using scales from 1 to 5.
The scale for student teachers’ self-assessment of their competencies is also from 1 to 5 as with previous studies.
However, the main questions were modified to suit student teachers, as the original instrument was intended for schoolteachers, and background information questions were added.
Qualitative data collection used open-ended questions regarding best practices and major obstacles to acquiring 21st-century competencies, along with suggestions for supporting student teachers’ learning of 21st-century competencies in TE.
All questions concerned both subject matter studies and pedagogical studies with teaching practice as part of them:

Analysis methods
This study used the mixed method approach.
Quantitative data analysis used descriptive statistics and correlations.
Descriptive statistics inform the mean value and standard deviation of the student teachers’ perception of how well they acquired their competencies.
The t-test was used to compare gender differences among student teachers and differences between student teachers from universities and universities of applied sciences.
Relationships between the student teachers’ competencies learning in TE and their teaching in practice were described by correlations.
The qualitative data analysis used content inductive analysis to identify the key information from qualitative data; such analysis complements quantitative data by providing a deeper understanding of students’ quantitative assessments (Mischler 1986).
Inductive content analysis revealed the major aspects contributing to the student teachers’ learning of 21st-century competencies, such as courses, teacher educators, teaching method/ learning settings, and learning strategies.
The authors strove to identify how these aspects contributed to the student teachers’ learning of 21st-century competencies.
Additionally, they intended to identify the major obstacles in their learning.

Findings and discussion
The student teachers’ self-assessment revealed that TE trained them very well in 21stcentury competencies.
Many factors may have contributed to this positive result, such as the strong focus of the Finnish education system on 21st-century competencies in the latest national core curriculum (FNAE 2014) and teacher education programmes (FNAE 2018).
Another possible factor concerns the quality of teaching practice, which has many phases and is connected to theoretical studies.
A third possible factor concerns Finnish TE’s long history of promoting the development of competencies and social-emotional skills, as the teaching profession involves everyday interaction with people (Niemi 2002).
A fourth possible factor concerns the high quality of candidates admitted to TE in Finland (FNAE 2018; Niemi 2015).
However, the competencies of ‘Local connections’ and ‘Global connections’ remain lower than other competencies both at a theoretical and teaching practice level.
Further development in these two competencies is needed in the future.
This study demonstrated the importance of student teachers’ competency learning by integrating the learning in TE and in teaching practice.
Ball (2000) highlights the importance of integrating knowledge with action.
This came out very clearly in the student teachers’ responses.
Combing theoretical learning and applying it in practice is the best way to learn and develop the competencies.
Both the quantitative and qualitative data suggest the most effective way of learning is combining theoretical learning and applying 21st-century competencies.
This is a continuous process.
Revealed were high correlations among competencies achieved in TE studies and in practice.
This demands the whole TE systems and their culture to foster these competencies extensively (see e.g. Binkley et al. 2012; Griffin et al. 2012; Lee and Tan 2018).
Based on the qualitative data, the authors discovered that student teachers learn both from and with each other through group work, teamwork, peer learning, collaborative learning, coteaching, learning communities, networking, and sharing.
This finding fits well with the social-cultural theory (Vygotsky 1978), according to which learning is a socially and culturally related process that occurs when interactions exist between learners.
Both quantitative data and qualitative data, based on student teachers’ self-assessment, demonstrated that the competency of collaboration was assessed with the highest scores among the eight competencies in this study.
Student teachers described many positive elements of TE, especially the group work supported the students’ learning of 21st-century competencies.
Some improvements are still needed to maximise the benefits, such as smaller group sizes, clearer instructions for group work, and finding suitable time slots for group work.
Additional suggestions for improvements were:
(1) more integration of theory and practice,
(2) more courses which consists of 21st-century competencies, and
(3) courses which have teaching methods that involve students in active roles and collaboration.
Student teachers also need more time to develop their competencies.
Student teachers learned both from their courses and teacher educators; however, insufficient support from teacher educators was one obstacle to their learning.
In conclusion, based on self-assessment, the Finnish student teachers successfully achieved their 21st-century competencies both in TE and in teaching practice.
No difference existed between female and male student teachers’ perceptions.
Regarding the different types of universities, the perceptions of student teachers from universities of applied sciences were slightly higher for almost all competencies, and significantly higher for certain competencies than student teachers’ perceptions from universities.
In addition, student teachers felt that they best learn 21st-century competencies from group work by learning both from and with each other; from certain courses and teacher educators; and from teaching practice.
The major obstacles were too little time, deficient resources, insufficient support from teacher educators and inadequate teaching methods in some courses.

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Updated: Apr. 08, 2022