Elementary Teacher Education Programs in Finland: Research-Based Practices and the Quality Teacher
Franco, Ashleigh F.
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Throughout the past decade, Finland’s educational system has been in the international limelight due to its consistently high scores on standardized assessments, such as the PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS. A deeper look into the country’s educational system reveals that roughly only 1 in 10 applicants is accepted into elementary teacher education programs (Sahlberg, 2011; Stewart, 2012). Research also reveals that teacher education programs focus heavily on research-based approaches (Lauriala, 2013; Toom et al., 2010; Westbury, Hansén, Kansanen, & Björkvist, 2005; Jyrhämä et al., 2008; Sahlberg, 2011; Jakku-Sihvonen, Tissari, Ots, & Uusiautti, 2011), and Finns have a different perspective on “quality teaching” compared to Americans (Rice, 2003; Goldhaber, Liddle, & Theobald, 2013; Parpala & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2007). Using the story constellations (Craig, 2007) approach to narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), this study draws upon the experiences of educators from the University of Helsinki’s Department of Teacher Education. Participants, including two professors, two preservice teachers, and two program alumni, shared their stories of experience (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990) through a focus group, interviews, and shadowing experiences. These narratives were then burrowed into within the broader context of Finland’s outstanding performance on international assessments. The analysis of the constellation of participant narratives highlights how the University of Helsinki’s elementary teacher education program is structured, how it employs research-based methods, and what Finnish educators have come to believe about quality teaching and assessment. An in-depth, comprehensive curriculum, limited practicum experiences, personal humility, and a focus on moral matters and research-based approaches emerged as commonalities among narratives. The narrow gap between theory and practice is evident through Finland’s teacher training schools and emphasis on research at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Further, we have to wonder how much participants’ attitudes in regard to their own capabilities have influenced the country’s educational performance. Varying views on assessment are an example of how narratives diverge. International standardized assessments do not impact educators’ daily lives; however, some elementary educators value formative classroom assessments more than others do. Ultimately, some aspects of the existing literature are confirmed. For example, research-based approaches are a critical component of elementary teacher education programs (Lauriala, 2013; Toom et al., 2010; Westbury, Hansén, Kansanen, & Björkvist, 2005; Jyrhämä et al., 2008; Sahlberg, 2011; Jakku-Sihvonen, Tissari, Ots, & Uusiautti, 2011), and, generally speaking, an in-depth curriculum and alignment between teaching and assessment are viewed as quality teaching (Parpala & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2007). Other areas, though—both strengths and challenges—are disconfirmed through the unfurling of participants’ narratives of experiences in the University of Helsinki’s elementary teacher education program. Examples include participants concurring that teachers are not compensated well enough, and that increasing preservice teachers’ practicum experiences would be a much-welcomed change.
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