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The Secret to Finland's Success Educating Teachers

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					                                       Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education ~ Research Brief




                     The Secret to Finland’s Success:
                          Educating Teachers
                                                                                                September 2010


         About this Brief                                            By Pasi Sahlberg
                                             Director General, Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation
 In the last decade, Finland



                                       W
 has emerged as the leading
                                                ith its high levels of educational achievement and attainment, Fin-
 OECD country in educational
                                                land is regarded as one of the world’s most literate societies. More
 achievement. In examining the
                                                than 98 percent attend pre-school classes; 99 percent complete
 sources of Finland’s dramatic
                                                compulsory basic education; and 94 percent of those who start the
 rise to the top, research shows
                                       academic strand of upper secondary school graduate. Completion rates in
 one key element that has
                                       vocational upper secondary school also reach close to 90 percent (Statistics
 impacted Finland’s success
                                       Finland, 2010; Välijärvi & Sahlberg, 2008).
 above all others: excellent
 teachers. This policy brief
                                       Since it emerged in 2000 as the top-scoring OECD nation on the international
 details the key elements of
                                       PISA assessments, researchers have been pouring into the country to study
 Finland’s successful system,
                                       the “Finnish miracle.” How did a country with an undistinguished education
 examining teacher preparation,
                                       system in the 1980s surge to the head of the global class in just few decades?
 professional learning and
                                       Research and experience suggest one element trumps all others: excellent
 development, decision-making
                                       teachers. This policy brief examines the crucial role that teachers and teacher
 systems and practices for
                                       education have played in the dramatic transformation of Finland’s education
 curriculum and assessment,
                                       system.
 future policy issues for Finland,
 and lessons that the United
                                                           The Teacher within Finnish Society
 States can learn from Finland’s
                                       Education has always been an integral part of Finnish culture and society, and
 success.
                                       teachers currently enjoy great respect and trust in Finland. Finns regard teach-
                                       ing as a noble, prestigious profession—akin to medicine, law, or economics—
 This brief is made possible by
                                       and one driven by moral purpose rather than material interests.
 a generous grant from the Ford
 Foundation.
                                       Teachers also are the main reason Finland now leads the international pack
                                       in literacy, science, and math. Until the 1960s the level of educational
                                       attainment in Finland remained rather low. Only 1 out of 10 adult Finns in
                                       that time had completed more than nine years of basic education; achieving

  sco e
                                       a university degree was an uncommon attainment (Sahlberg, 2007). Back then,
                                       the education level of the nation was comparable to that of Malaysia or Peru,
     Stanford Center for               and lagged behind its Scandinavian neighbors, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
     Opportunity Policy in Education
                                       Today, Finland publicly recognizes the value of its teachers and trusts their
     Stanford University               professional judgments in schools. Without excellent teachers Finland’s
     School of Education               current international success would have been impossible.
Barnum Center, 505 Lasuen Mall
     Stanford, CA 94305                These educational accomplishments seem all the more remarkable given that
                                       Finnish children do not start primary school until age seven. The educational
 http://edpolicy.stanford.edu          system in Finland today consists of an optional pre-school year at age six,
     scope@stanford.edu                followed by nine-year basic school (peruskoulu)—a six-year primary school
         650.725.8600                  and a three-year lower secondary school (junior high school)—compulsory to
                                       all. This is followed by voluntary three-year upper secondary education with
2   Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education



     two streams: general and vocational education.               to explain why they have decided to become
     Content experts and subject-focused teachers                 teachers. These highly capable candidates
     provide instruction in the upper grades of basic             complete a rigorous teacher education pro-
     school as well as at the upper-secondary level.              gram at government expense.

     The Finnish education system does not employ             Until the mid-1970s, primary school teachers were
     external standardized student testing to drive the       prepared in teacher colleges. Middle and high
     performance of schools; neither does it employ a         school teachers studied in subject departments of
     rigorous inspection system. Instead of test-based        Finnish universities. By the end of the 1970s, all
     accountability, the Finnish system relies on the         teacher education programs became university
     expertise and accountability of teachers who are         based. At the same time, scientific content and
     knowledgeable and committed to their students.           educational research methodologies began to enrich
                                                              the teacher education curriculum. Teacher educa-
                    Becoming a Teacher                        tion is now research-based, meaning that it must be
     Among young Finns, teaching is consistently              supported by scientific knowledge and focus on
     the most admired profession in regular opinion           thinking processes and cognitive skills used in
     polls of high school graduates (Helsingin Sano-          conducting research (Jakku-Sihvonen & Niemi,
     mat, 2004). Becoming a primary school teacher            2006). The entry requirement for permanent em-
     in Finland is a very competitive process, and only       ployment as a teacher in all Finnish basic and high
     Finland’s best and brightest are able to fulfill those   schools today is a master’s degree. Preschool and
     professional dreams. Every spring, thousands of          kindergarten teachers must have a bachelors degree.
     high school graduates submit their applications
     to the Departments of Teacher Education in eight         Wages are not the main reason young people be-
     Finnish universities. Normally it’s not enough to        come teachers in Finland. Teachers earn very close
     complete high school and pass a rigorous matricu-        to the national average salary level, typically equiva-
     lation examination, successful candidates must           lent to what mid-career middle-school teachers earn
     have the highest scores and excellent interpersonal      annually in the OECD nations—about $38,500 in
     skills. Annually only about 1 in every 10 appli-         U.S. dollars (OECD, 2008). More important than
     cants will be accepted to study to become a teacher      salaries are such factors as high social prestige,
     in Finnish primary schools, for example. Among           professional autonomy in schools, and the ethos of
     all categories of teacher education, about 5,000         teaching as a service to society and the public good.
     teachers are selected from about 20,000 applicants.      Thus, young Finns see teaching as a career on a par
                                                              with other professions where people work indepen-
     There are two phases to the selection process for        dently and rely on scientific knowledge and skills
     primary school teacher education: First, a group         that they gained through university studies.
     of candidates is selected based on matriculation
                                                                           Educating Teachers for
     examination results, the high school diploma is-
                                                                        Knowledge-Society Schools
     sued by the school, and relevant records of out-of-
                                                              International indices suggest that Finland is one of
     school accomplishments. In the second phase:
                                                              the most advanced knowledge societies (Sahlberg,
       1. Candidates complete a written exam on as-           2007). Schools have played an important role in
          signed books on pedagogy.                           transforming Finland from a traditional industrial-
                                                              agrarian nation into a modern innovation-based
       2. Candidates engage in an observed clinical           knowledge economy. This would not have been
          activity replicating school situations, where       possible without considerable improvements in
          social interaction and communication skills         how Finnish teachers are prepared.
          come into play.
                                                              Universal high standards
       3. Top candidates are interviewed and asked            All teachers hold master’s degrees. Primary school
                                                       The Secret to Finland’s Success: Educating Teachers        3


teachers major in education, while upper grade          Strong preparation in content and pedagogy
teachers concentrate their studies in a particular      A broad-based curriculum ensures that newly pre-
subject, e.g., mathematics, as well as didactics,       pared Finnish teachers possess balanced knowledge
consisting of pedagogical content knowledge spe-        and skills in both theory and practice. It also means
cific to that subject. There are no alternative ways    that prospective teachers possess deep professional
to receive a teacher’s diploma in Finland: the          insight into education from several perspectives,
university degree constitutes a license to teach.       including educational psychology and sociology,
                                                        curriculum theories, assessment, special-needs edu-
Teacher education aims at balanced development          cation, and pedagogical content knowledge in se-
of the teacher’s personal and professional compe-       lected subject areas. All eight universities have their
tences. Particular attention is focused on building     own teacher education strategies and curricula that
pedagogical thinking skills that enable teachers        are nationally coordinated to ensure coherence, but
to manage the teaching process in accordance            locally crafted in order to make the best use of the
with contemporary educational knowledge and             university’s resources and other nearby resources.
practice (Westbury et al., 2005). Candidates in
primary teacher education study three main ar-
                                                        As a general rule, primary school teacher education
eas: (1) the theory of education, (2) pedagogical
                                                        includes 60 ECTS credits of pedagogical studies
content knowledge, and (3) subject didactics and
                                                        and at least 60 more ECTS credits for other courses
practice. Each student completes a master’s the-
                                                        in the educational sciences. The master’s thesis
sis. Prospective primary school teachers normally
                                                        requires independent research, participation in
complete their theses in the field of education.
                                                        research seminars, and presentation of a final educa-
Secondary teachers select a topic within their
                                                        tional study. The common credit weighting associ-
subject. The level of academic expectations for
                                                        ated with this research work in all universities is 40
teacher education is similar for all teachers, from
                                                        ECTS credits. The renewed teacher education cur-
elementary to high school.
                                                        riculum in Finland expects primary school teacher
                                                        candidates to complete a major in educational sci-
Finnish teacher education is aligned to the Euro-       ences and a total of 60 ECTS credit in minor stud-
pean Higher Education Area (2009) framework             ies of subjects included in the National Framework
being developed under the ongoing Bologna Pro-          Curriculum for basic schools.
cess. Currently, Finnish universities offer a two-
tier degree program. An obligatory three-year           Subject teacher education follows the same prin-
bachelor’s degree program is followed by a two-         ciples as primary school teacher education, but is
year master’s degree program. These two degrees         arranged differently. A prospective subject teacher
are offered in multi-disciplinary programs con-         majors in the field he or she will be teaching (e.g.,
sisting of studies in at least two subjects. Studies    mathematics or music). For this subject, advanced
are quantified in credit units within the Euro-         studies involving 90 ECTS credits are normally re-
pean Credit Transfer and Accumulation System            quired. In addition, 60 ECTS credits are required in
(ECTS) used in 46 European countries. ECTS is           a second school subject. Generally, the Department
based on the assumption that 60 credits measure         of Teacher Education organizes courses in peda-
the workload of a full-time student during one          gogical studies in collaboration with subject-matter
academic year, and each ECTS credit stands for          programs offered by certain faculties, which also
around 25 to 30 working hours. Teacher educa-           are responsible for teacher education of their own
tion requirements are 180 ECTS credits for a            students. Academic subject faculties, who also have
bachelor’s degree followed by 120 ECTS credits          an important role in teacher education in Finland,
for a master’s degree. Successful completion of a       issue master’s degrees for subject teachers.
master’s degree in teaching (including the bach-
elor’s degree) generally takes from five to seven-      There are two main ways to become a subject
and-a-half years (Ministry of Education, 2007).         teacher. Most students first complete a master’s de-
4   Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education



            Table 1. Structure of subject teacher education program at the University of Helsinki

           Bachelor’s level (25 ECTS credits)                   Master’s level (35 credits)

           First Term (18 credits)                          ▲   Third Term (17 credits)
           ❒ Developmental psychology and learning (4)          ❒ Social, historical and philosophical
                                                                  foundations of education (5)
           ❒ Special education (4)
                                                                ❒ Evaluation and development of teaching (7)
           ❒ Introduction to subject didactics (10)
                                                                ❒ Advanced teaching practice in Teacher
           Second Term (7 credits)                                Training School or Field School (5)
           ❒ Basic teaching practice in Teacher
                                                                Fourth Term (12 credits) Research seminar (4)
             Training School (7)
                                                                ❒ Final teaching practice in Teacher
           As part of Master’s program:                           Training School or Field School (8)
           ❒ Research methodology (6)

     gree with one major subject and one or two minor      Integration of theory, research, and practice
     subjects. Students then apply to the department of    Finland’s commitment to research-based teacher
     teacher education for their focus subject. One aca-   education means that educational theories, research
     demic year (60 ECTS credits) is spent in pedagogi-    methodologies and practice all play an important
     cal studies, focusing on subject-oriented teaching    part in preparation programs. Teacher education
     strategies. The other way to become a subject         curricula are designed to create a systematic path-
     teacher is to apply directly to the teacher educa-    way from the foundations of educational thinking
     tion program when applying to study a subject.        to educational research methodologies and then on
     Normally, after the second year of subject studies,   to more advanced fields of the educational scienc-
     students start pedagogical studies in the education   es. Each student thereby builds an understanding
     department. The curriculum for this second path-      of the systemic, interdisciplinary nature of edu-
     way is identical to the first, only scheduled dif-    cational practice. Finnish students also learn the
     ferently within the bachelor’s and master’s tracks,   skills of how to design, conduct, and present origi-
     typically over four academic terms as shown in an     nal research on practical or theoretical aspects of
     example of the University of Helsinki in Table 1      education. Another important element of Finnish
     (above).                                              research-based teacher education is practical train-
                                                           ing in schools, which is a key component of the
     Instruction in Finnish teacher-education depart-      curriculum, integrated with research and theory.
     ments is arranged to reflect pedagogical principles
     that newly prepared teachers are expected to prac-    Teaching practice is integrated into both theoreti-
     tice in their own classrooms. Although each uni-      cal and methodological studies. Over the five-year
     versity teacher has full pedagogical autonomy, ev-    program, candidates advance from basic practice to
     ery department of teacher education in Finland has    advanced practice and then to final practice. During
     a detailed and often binding strategy for improv-     each of these phases, students observe lessons by
     ing the quality of its teacher-education programs.    experienced teachers, practice teaching observed
     Subject-focused pedagogy and its research in, for     by supervisory teachers, and deliver independent
     example, science education are well-advanced in       lessons to different groups of pupils while being
     Finnish universities. Strategies of cooperative and   evaluated by supervising teachers and Department
     problem-based learning, reflective practice, and      of Teacher Education professors and lecturers.
     computer-supported education are common in all
     Finnish universities. A Finnish higher education      There are two main kinds of practicum experi-
     evaluation system that rewards effective, innova-     ences within teacher education programs in Fin-
     tive university teaching practice has served as an    land. The first—a minor portion of clinical train-
     important driver of these positive developments.      ing—occurs in seminars and small-group classes
                                                          The Secret to Finland’s Success: Educating Teachers      5


in the Department of Education, where students             in supervision and teacher professional develop-
practice basic teaching skills in front of their peers.    ment and assessment strategies.
The second—the major teaching practice—hap-
pens mostly in special Teacher Training Schools              Professional Learning and Development
governed by the universities, which have similar           Finnish teachers possessing a master’s degree have
curricula and practices as normal public schools.          the right to participate in post-graduate studies to
Some student teachers also practice in a network           supplement their professional development. Many
of selected Field Schools. Primary school teacher          teachers take advantage of the opportunity to
education students devote approximately 15 per-            pursue doctoral studies in education, often while
cent of their intended study time (about 40 ECTS           simultaneously teaching school. For doctoral stud-
credits) to practice teaching in schools. In subject       ies in education, students must complete advanced
teacher education, practice teaching comprises             studies in the educational sciences. This means
about one third of the curriculum.                         that subject teachers much change their focus from
                                                           their initial academic concentration, e.g., chemis-
Although Teacher Training Schools constitute               try, to education, so that they not only understand
the main portion of the network where Finnish              their subject expertly, but also how the content can
students complete their practice teaching, some            be better taught.
normal public schools (called Municipal Field
Schools) also serve the same purpose. (See Figure          While Finnish teacher education has been praised
1, below.) Schools where practice teaching occurs          for its systematic academic structure and high
have higher professional staff requirements, and           overall quality (Jussila & Saari, 2000), professional
supervising teachers have to prove that they are           development and in-service programs for teachers
competent to work with student teachers. Teacher           are more variable. In Finland, induction of new
Training Schoolsare also expected to pursue re-            teachers into their first teaching position is less
search and development roles in collaboration with         uniform than initial preparation. It is up to each
the Department of Teacher Education and, some-             school and municipality to take care of new teach-
times, with the academic faculties who also have           ers’ induction to their teaching assignments. Some
teacher education functions. These schools can,            schools, as part of their mission, have adopted
therefore, introduce sample lessons and alterna-           advanced procedures and support systems for new
tive curricular designs to student teachers. These         staff, whereas other schools simply bid new teach-
schools also have teachers who are well-prepared           ers welcome and show them their classrooms. In

          Figure 1. Structure of the University of Oulu and the organization of teacher education


                                   UNIVERSITY OF OULU

                       Administration           Board                Teacher
                                                                     Training
                                                                      School
                 Faculty of       Faculty of     Faculty of
                  Science         Humanities     Education
                                                                                      Municipal Field
                                                                     Teacher
                                                                     Training           Schools
                  Faculty of      Faculty of      Faculty of          School
                 Technology       Economics       Medicine



                 Research         Independent     Regional
                Coordination         Units         Units          Faculties with
                   Units                                        teacher education
6   Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education



     some schools, induction is a specific responsibility   the focus of the training, based on current national
     of school principals or deputy principals, while in    educational development needs, and the training is
     others, induction responsibilities may be assigned     contracted out to service providers on a competitive
     to experienced teachers. Teacher induction is an       basis. The Finnish Ministry of Education (2009), in
     area that requires further development in Finland,     collaboration with municipalities, plans to double
     as has been pointed out in a recent European Com-      the public funding for teacher professional develop-
     mission report (2004).                                 ment by 2016.

     Concerns have also been raised recently about                         The Teacher’s Tools:
     the variability of in-service education. Munici-                 Curriculum and Assessment
     palities, as the overseers of primary, middle and      Since teacher education became part of academic
     high schools, are responsible for providing teach-     university studies in the 1970s, Finnish teachers’
     ers learning opportunities, based on their needs.      professional identity and status have gradually
     Whereas some Finnish municipalities organize           increased. During the course of Finland’s education
     in-service programs uniformly for all teachers, in     reforms, teachers have demanded more autonomy
     others, it is up to individual teachers or school      and responsibility for curriculum and student
     principals to decide how much and what type of         assessment (Aho et al., 2006). The professional au-
     professional development is needed and whether         thority and autonomy that teachers have in Finland
     such interventions will be funded. Although            is an important factor in explaining why so many
     schools are equitably financed, the central govern-    young Finns consider teaching as their most ad-
     ment has only limited influence on the budget deci-    mired future job.
     sions made by municipalities or schools. Therefore,
     some schools receive greater allocations for profes-   While the National Curriculum Framework for
     sional development and school improvement than         Basic School and similar documents for upper
     others, especially where, during times of economic     secondary education provide guidance to teachers,
     downturn, professional development budgets are         curriculum planning is the responsibility of schools
     the first to vanish.                                   and municipalities. The school-level curriculum is
                                                            approved by local education authorities and teach-
     Teachers’ annual duties include three days devoted     ers and school principals play a key role in curricu-
     to planning and professional development. Accord-      lum design. Teacher education provides them with
     ing to a Finnish national survey, teachers devoted     well developed curriculum knowledge and plan-
     about seven working days per year on average to        ning skills. Moreover, the importance of curricu-
     professional development in 2007; approximately        lum design in teacher practice has helped shift the
     half was drawn from teachers’ personal time. About     focus of professional development from fragmented
     two-thirds of primary and secondary school teach-      in-service training towards more systemic, theoreti-
     ers participated in professional development that      cally grounded schoolwide improvement efforts.
     year (Kumpulainen, 2007).
                                                            Along with curriculum design, teachers play a key
     In response to concerns that participation in pro-     role in assessing students. Finnish schools do not
     fessional development may be decreasing (Ministry      use standardized testing to determine student suc-
     of Education, 2009), the government is planning        cess. There are three primary reasons for this. First,
     substantial increases in professional development      while assessment practice is well-grounded in the
     budgets and considering ways to require that all       national curriculum, education policy in Finland
     teachers must have access to adequate profes-          gives a high priority to individualized education
     sional training financed by municipalities. The        and creativity as an important part of how schools
     state budget annually allocates some $30 million       operate. Therefore the progress of each student in
     to professional development of teachers and school     school is judged more against his or her individual
     principals through various forms of pre-tertiary and   progress and abilities rather than against statistical
     continuing education. The government determines        indicators. Second, education developers insist that
                                                       The Secret to Finland’s Success: Educating Teachers     7


curriculum, teaching, and learning should drive         with and improvement of teaching methods, some
teachers’ practice in schools, rather than testing.     of the most important aspects of their work are
Student assessment in Finnish schools is embed-         conducted outside of classrooms.
ded in the teaching and learning process and used
to improve both teachers’ and students’ work                     Future Policy Issues in Finland
throughout the academic year. Third, determining        Finland improves its schools and teacher educa-
students’ academic performance in Finland is seen       tion programs through continuous evaluation and
as a responsibility of the school, not the external     review. In 2007, the Ministry of Education identi-
assessors. Finnish schools accept that there may be     fied these issues as important to address:
some limitations on comparability when teachers
do all the grading of students. At the same time,       1. Responding to the changing society. Declin-
Finns believe that the problems often associated        ing age cohorts and growing retirements create a
with external standardized testing—narrowing            challenge for preparing enough new teachers for
of the curriculum, teaching to the test, and un-        the future. Meanwhile, Finnish schools must ac-
healthy competition among schools—can be more           commodate a growing number of immigrant and
problematic. Since Finnish teachers must design         special-needs students. Teacher education must
and conduct appropriate curriculum-based assess-        continue to adapt to prepare educators for work in
ments to document student progress, classroom           a changing social and cultural world.
assessment and school-based evaluation are im-
                                                        2. Offering systematic professional develop-
portant parts of teacher education and professional
development.                                            ment for all teachers. Teacher education and
                                                        teacher professional development should form a
                                                        stronger continuum, with induction available to
Although Finnish teachers’ work consists primar-
                                                        all teachers and included as part of lifelong pro-
ily of classroom teaching, many of their duties lay
                                                        fessional development. Municipalities should be
outside of class. Formally, teacher’s working time
                                                        required to ensure that each teacher has access to
in Finland consists of classroom teaching, prepa-
                                                        relevant professional development.
ration for class, and two hours a week planning
school work with colleagues. From an internation-
                                                        3. Creating a teacher education strategy for
al perspective, Finnish teachers devote less time to
                                                        each university. Each university offering teacher
teaching than do teachers in many other nations.
                                                        education should have an updated, comprehensive
For example, a typical middle school teacher in
                                                        teacher education strategy, coordinated among the
Finland teaches just less than 600 hours annually,
                                                        university’s various units, and guaranteeing mobil-
corresponding to about four 45-minute lessons
a day. In the United States, by contrast, a teacher
at the same level devotes 1,080 hours to teaching        Figure 2. Average net teaching hours per year in
over 180 school days as shown in Figure 2 (OECD,          Finland, the United States, and OECD countries
2008). This means that a middle school teacher in       1200
the United States, on average, devotes about twice
as much time to classroom teaching compared             1000
with his or her counterpart in Finland.                  800

                                                         600
This, however, does not imply that teachers in
Finland work less than they do elsewhere. An             400
important—and still voluntary—part of Finnish            200
teachers’ work is devoted to the improvement of            0
classroom practice, the school as a whole, and                 Primary school   Middle school   High school
work with the community. Because Finnish teach-
                                                               Finland      United States       OECD average
ers take on significant responsibility for curricu-
                                                         Source: (OECD, 2008)
lum and assessment, as well as experimentation
8   Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education



     ity across institutions. These strategies should also
     put a strong focus on enhancing the university’s
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     tests. Teachers’ strong competence and prepared-                 Journal of Educational Research, 49(5), 475-485.
     ness creates the prerequisite for the professional             Välijärvi, J. & Sahlberg, P. (2008). Should a ‘failing’
     autonomy that makes teaching a valued career.                    student repeat a grade? Retrospective response from
                                                                      Finland. Journal of Educational Change, 9(4), 385-389.

                                                     sco e
                                                       Stanford Center for
                                                       Opportunity Policy in Education

				
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