What Educational Objectives Are Considered Important by Preschool Teachers in Helsinki and Tallinn?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The role of preschool education and its influence on a child's ability to cope at school is considered important in many countries. Questions related to children's school readiness have become especially topical in the Nordic countries where compulsory school education begins later compared to many other countries. In some Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway) compulsory school education begins at age six, whereas in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Estonia children go to school at age seven.

The aim of the present article is to compare the views of teachers living in Estonia and Finland, countries that have similar cultural space but different socio-political backgrounds, about the teaching and development of a child going to school. The comparison is based on the principles of child-centred pedagogy. The authors of the present article view school readiness as a consistent process, taking place in the preschool period, which continues uninterruptedly in the context of school. Proceeding from this, it is extremely important for a kindergarten as well as a primary school teacher to become aware of the objectives of preschool education and the ways of achieving them. The term preschool training in the present context means education given a year before the beginning of compulsory school education.

There is no uniform understanding of school readiness and the methods of testing it. Shepard & Graue (1993:304) have noted that tests should not be applied to forbid a child entrance to school, to leave a child in kindergarten for a longer period or to send the child to a special class for risk-group children which has been separated from mainstream classes. The studies on testing school readiness by Shepard & Graue demonstrate that there exists a conceptual confusion while defining children in need of special training and those at risk because of their living environment. The various tests used do not allow differentiation because of their ambiguous objectives.

Parents, teachers and educational administrators may give different content to the 'readiness' and look at it from different perspectives. Different visions of school readiness may give rise to different courses of action, which mainly complicate the situation of the children who belong to the so-called risk group and need special measures to support their learning. Postponing the beginning of school is no longer considered the main way of achieving school readiness. Measuring school readiness helps class teachers to compile individual programmes for children based on their results, which will help to prevent further academic problems. At the same time, the results of the tests do not allow adequate assessment of the real school readiness of a child or whether the child is in fact ready to go to school.

In both Estonia and Finland the most essential requirements for the qualification of kindergarten teachers, teacher training and educational activity at kindergartens have been taken under state supervision and regulation.

The article gives an overview of the general pedagogical basis of the study, of state regulations and objectives related to preschool education, and the methods of research, as well as presenting a comparative analysis of research data.

Theoretical background

The objectives of preschool training include teachers' views of the ways children learn and of educational theories. The theoretical basis of the present article relies on the principles of child-centred pedagogy where compiling the curriculum and planning the activities proceed from the child and his/her character traits. Child-centred education has a long tradition (Hytonen 2001, Hytonen 2002), which relies on respecting individuality and the idea of the equality of individuals: each child is considered good the way he/she is. Learning is viewed as an active process where cooperation with and learning from each other has an important role. …