Commentary

In teachers they trust

TODAY Special Report: Finland's Education System
In Finland, there are no national exams until the age of 18. Private tuition is also unheard of. Yet, Finnish students frequently excel in international tests. TODAY Senior Reporter Ng Jing Yng spoke to Finnish educators about the success of their education system.
Every Finnish school is a good school, because every teacher is highly-trained and qualified. In a two-part special report, we look at the secrets of Finland’s education model.
Published: 3:59 AM, March 4, 2013
Updated: 1:56 PM, October 22, 2013
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All student teachers undergo multiple teaching practicums as part of their five-year programme. Each one lasts between two weeks and a year.

Guided by teacher mentors, student teachers are attached to teacher-training schools set up by the universities, where they plan, teach and observe lessons. These 12 teacher training schools across Finland function as normal schools, with pupils coming from nearby homes. These schools also partner regularly with universities to produce the latest research in education.

Final-year student teacher Mikko Honkamaki, from the University of Jyvaskyla, worked with different mentors during each of his four practicuums — which broadened his perspective on various teaching styles — and got advice before and after each lesson. He also got to observe and critique fellow student-teachers, and vice-versa.

“Watching my peers forced me to focus on my own way of giving instructions ... Receiving and giving feedback has also been crucial to my growth as a professional,” he said.

LEEWAY TO DECIDE

It was a cold winter’s morning when TODAY visited Maininki School in Espoo city, half an hour outside Helsinki, and Ms Rose-Marie Mod-Sandberg was conducting an English Language lesson with her eight-graders (Secondary 2 equivalent).

The classroom was quiet as some students had fallen ill; it was a smaller than usual group. Ms Mod-Sandberg, 55, decided to get her pupils to share about their favourite American cities and imagine what they would do if they got there. As the mood lightened, she gave out worksheets which each student completed on their own.

She has the leeway to tailor her lessons according to her students’ abilities or interests on that very day itself, she told us. For instance, if the children were keen on a topic that was meant only for next year, she could dive into it. And if they seemed more tired than usual — such as after a strenuous Physical Education lesson — she could choose to do something less demanding, and pick things up later.

“If I want to teach a topic, I can teach it anyway and anytime I like,” she said. “Finnish teachers undergo a long training, so (school leaders) can trust us to be professional and to act in the pupils’ interest”.

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