Home-School Collaboration in the View of Fourth Grade Pupils, Parents, Teachers, and Principals in the Finnish Education System

Article excerpt

Abstract

Although Finland currently holds the top ratings in international comparisons ranking education and children's health, there is evidence that the health of Finnish adolescents is being threatened by increasing obesity, serious risk behavior, and other health problems. In addition, subjective well-being at school is regarded as low by students. Besides the harm to individuals' health, these issues are influencing students' ability to learn and concentrate at school. Collaboration between home and school can be an effective tool for preventing these problems, given the knowledge that elementary school-age children's health learning is highly influenced by these two environments. While multiple international studies demonstrate the importance of effective home-school connections, the position of parents has only recently gained growing attention in the Finnish education system. This study examined home-school collaboration from the perspectives of children (aged 10-11 years), their parents, class teachers, and principals through questionnaires and interviews in four comprehensive schools (Grades 1-9). The results showed that the basic structures necessary to enable the children's academic success were established, but the potential to support their healthy growth and development collaboratively were only partly developed. The intent of the school personnel was to promote the children's learning and healthy development, but mutual collaboration between home and school was not goal-orientated, and therefore not fully nor systematically implemented in schools.

Key Words: home-school collaboration, parent-teacher, conferences, collaboration, parents, involvement, participation, comprehensive school, elementary school, Finland, PISA study, healthy, learning, teachers, students, principals

Introduction

Finland is a Northern European country of 5.3 million inhabitants (Statistics Finland, 2010). It has been ranked fourth in comparisons of child well-being among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (UNICEF, 2007) and among the best performers in educational attainment, based on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores in reading, mathematics, and science in 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2009 (OECD, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010). Due to the high standard of education in Finland, the learning opportunities of children from different backgrounds are similar, which is illustrated by very small differences in learning results between schools (Kupiainen, Hautamäki, & Karjalainen, 2009). In addition, the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE, 2010) explains Finland's success in education, for example, by the completely free-of-charge basic education (including teaching, learning materials, school meals, health care, dental care, and school transport) and the teachers' universally high level of academic education (FNBE, 2010).

However, the findings on Finnish school children's relatively poor well- being at school (e.g., Currie et al., 2004, 2008) have intensified the discussion about students' well-being substantially in Finland and have led to many new developmental procedures (Kämppi et al., 2008). Additionally, low rankings in international comparisons as well in national studies in areas such as adolescent risk behavior (Currie et al., 2008; Lavikainen, Lintonen, & Kosunen, 2009), overweight and obesity (Isomaa, Isomaa, Marttunen, & Kaltiala-Heino, 2010; OECD, 2009), and mental health problems (Luopa, Lommi, Kinnunen, & Jokela, 2010), are placing Finnish children and adolescents at risk in both physical and psychological dimensions of health.

A recently published Finnish document, "Quality to home-school collaboration" (FNBE & FPA, 2007), places functional home-school collaboration as a central element of children's and adolescents' well-being at school. According to the document, the common goal of the collaboration is to support children's learning and healthy growth and development, which involves the responsibility and commitment of all stakeholders. …