As we outlined in Part One of our focus on the Finnish education system, the curriculum is seen not only as continually under review – those who review it are all educational professionals including practising senior teachers in schools. Recommendations are not subject to political or bureaucratic vetos, since Finland’s professional educators are held in high esteem and trusted to make good decisions on behalf of all learners.
The Curriculum as a document guiding the school’s activities
The national core curriculum and the local curricula based on it deal extensively with the whole area of schools’ operations.
The curriculum does not only define the aims and contents of subjects.
All sectors that affect the school’s work are central.
These sectors include common values, general aims of teaching and education, conception of learning, development of the learning environment, the school’s operational culture, decisions regarding the organisation of work, the allocation of teaching hours, and the choice of teaching and working methods.
When teachers discuss these themes in their schools and write down their thoughts and ideas on the curriculum they learn to view the school’s operations as a whole and also commit to take responsibility for the whole and not just for their own class or subject.
In that process their expertise is strongly developed.
Important sectors in the curriculum are
* the policies and action plans regarding student counselling
* support needed by pupils to learn
* special needs education
* multicultural education
* cooperation between home and school
* school meals
* school transport
* student welfare services
Each school draws up a ‘knowledge strategy’ which defines
* how information and communications technology and virtual teaching are used in instruction;
* what kind of equipment is needed
* how the technical know-how of teachers is organised and developed
Schools also draw up a plan regarding how they attend to the safety of the learning environment, how they follow pupils’ absences and how they protect pupils from bullying, violence and harassment.
Also written down in the curriculum are
* the principles of pupil assessment
* its implementation in practice
* how the school evaluates its own operations
* the objectives and principles of cooperation with parents
* objectives and principles of cooperation with other schools and ‘other operators’
The objectives of teaching and the abilities required for the future
The importance of clear objectives in guiding and developing teaching is emphasised in the curricula. They are considered essential for the planning of teaching.
The central objectives are common but they can be completed by local aims and they can be achieved through different contents and using different methods. Curriculum content can therefore be dealt with flexibly and the issues which are essential in a particular area or school can be emphasised.
It is stated in the national core curriculum that the teacher selects the teaching and working methods.
The methods must be selected in a way that they enhance
* abilities such as the willingness to learn
* the command of one’s own learning programme
* the ability to work in a systematic and target-orientated way
* the ability to acquire, apply and evaluate information
* communication and social skills.
[Motivation, autonomy, study skills, communication skills, plus personal and social intelligence!!!]
This definition of objectives is a good example of Finnish education policy. The objectives are described through the abilities required for the future, and they are expressed as extensive competencies.
This is also seen in the government decree of 2001 regarding common objectives for education. The decree states that instruction must set the basis for extensive general knowledge and offer ingredients and incentives for the for the extension and deepening of the world view.
This requires knowledge of
* human feelings and needs
Teaching must offer
* aesthetic experiences from different cultural spheres
* opportunities to develop crafts and creativity
* opportunities to develop physical skills
The importance of thinking and communication are specifically emphasised.
The objectives in the decree are divided into three main spheres:
1) Objectives regarding growth as a person and as a member of society are defined.
These aims emphasise the stable growth of a person, a respectful attitude towards other people, and a respectful attitude towards the environment and work.
Responsibility, cooperativeness, tolerance and activeness are stressed as well.
[Personal and Social Intelligence]
2) Essential knowledge and skills.
3) The importance of learning to learn, and pupils’ legal right to receive teaching guidance and support in accordance with their level of development and needs.
[See also the UNESCO Declaration on the Rights of the Child]
Descriptions of good performance and the final evaluation criteria used at the end of basic education work as a tool for teachers, with the help of which they can relate their own assessment with the national standard and, therefore, standardise pupil assessment throughout the country and enhance equal treatment of students in the assessment process.
Subjects and Cross-Curricular Themes
The national core curriculum defines the objectives and contents for all subjects and for the seven cross-curricular themes. The subjects in basic education are
* mother tongue and literature
* the second national language (Finnish or Swedish)
* foreign languages
* environmental and natural studies
* biology and geography
* physics and chemistry
* health education
* religion or ethics
* social studies
* visual arts
* physical education
* home economics
* educational and vocational guidance
In addition pupils are offered school-specific optional subjects from which they may choose.
How the lesson hours are divided is decided locally.
The cross-curricular themes reflect the central phenomena of society. They are
1) growth as a person
2) cultural identity and internationalism
3) media skills and communication
4) participatory citizenship and entrepreneurship
5) responsibility for the environment, well-being and a sustainable future
6) safety and traffic
7) technology and the individual
These themes are implemented in the subjects and in the different activities of the school (eg festivities, excursions and school camps, school meals, club activities, etc) and thus connected with the operational culture of schools. The aim is to strengthen the extensive abilities of pupils and their ability to function in society.
The implementation of the cross-curricular themes requires good cooperation between all the teachers and the school’s other personnel, and also cooperation with partners outside school.
Conception of Learning
The premise for providing instruction is the conception of the pupil as an active learner.
Supporting the individual learning process is important and essential, along with the importance of communal process and interaction for learning.
The aims of learning are
* knowledge and skills
* the ability to use the knowledge and skills
* the ability to reflect on one’s actions in relation to values
Learning to learn and learning good working habits are considered more and more important.
The learning environment and operational culture of the school are considered very important to learning:
1) Classrooms, corridors, common facilities, the playground and other nearby surroundings.
2) The learning environment is also formed from the psychological and social characteristics, and from the school’s prevailing atmosphere.
The national core curricula emphasise the development of an open, encouraging operational culture that is based on interaction. The school’s organisation of work and teaching approaches create the pedagogical environment.
Essential in the learning process is the acknowledging and setting of objectives, and the target-orientedness that follows. Learning happens in the best possible way by working on questions and solving problems. Knowledge is built little by littleon the basis of earlier knowledge.
The pupils are guided towards understanding their own learning processes – their ability to guide their own learning and development, and to take responsibility for these processes, is strengthened.
What is important is that the whole school community develops its operations as a genuine learning community on the basis of the curriculum. In that way everyone, not just the pupils but the teachers and other personnel working in the school, have the opportunity and challenge for continuous lifelong learning.
At all levels of education in Finland, trusting this willingness to learn and to take responsibility for one’s own learning is of the utmost importance.
The above information is taken from a paper by Irmeli Halinen of the Finnish National Board of Education. Any errors in transcription are the responsibility of 3Di Associates.
3Di invites readers to comment on the above in the feedback box below. We are keen to promote a conversation regarding the extent to which individual schools in Britain already work in similar ways to the Finnish ‘model’, and the extent to which our whole system is similar or dissimilar to the one acknowledged to be the world leader in enlightened policy and practice.
- The Future of Education – in Finland and Elsewhere (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Our Friends in Business (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
- Lessons from Finland (dianeravitch.net)