Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

The Reality of Research-Based Practices in Finnish Elementary Teacher Education Programs

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

The Reality of Research-Based Practices in Finnish Elementary Teacher Education Programs

Article excerpt

THE FINNISH PHENOMENON

Educators around the world have tried to explain how Finland has become the only non-Asian country among the top-five global performers on international standardized assessments. Explanations include the trust Finns place in teachers (Hancock, 2011); that Finnish students do not begin their schooling until the age of seven, rarely have homework, and enjoy an average of 75 minutes of daily recess (Taylor, 2012); the fact their only standardized assessment is a college matriculation exam (Strauss, 2011); and Finland's commitment to providing high-quality education regardless of race, ethnicity, income level, or place of residence (Sahlberg, 2011). A lesser-known rationalization for Finnish academic performance presented in a handful of academic articles concerns Finland's research-based approaches (Jakku-Sihvonen et al., 2012; Jyrhama et al., 2008; Lauriala, 2013; Sahlberg, 2011; Stewart, 2012; Toom et al., 2010; Westbury et al., 2005).

DEVELOPMENT OF THE NARRATIVE INQUIRY

How does Finland uniquely prepare its elementary education majors, and what do "research-based approaches" mean to Finnish educators? These form the primary and secondary research questions for this study. Using the story constellations approach to narrative inquiry, I interviewed current professors, preservice teachers, and program alumni from at one of Finland's eight university-based teacher education programs to gain insight into elementary teacher education programs in Finland and the link between data-driven decision-making and strong academic performance.

LITERATURE REVIEW

To better understand research-based approaches in Finnish teacher education programs and their implications on academic outcomes, I reviewed previous literature on Finnish teacher education programs and research-based approaches.

Academic Outcomes

Between 2000 and 2015, Finland's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores for mathematics, reading, and science placed them among the top-performing countries in the world. For several PISA administrations, including the 2012 PISA, Finland was the only non-Asian country to perform within the top five. In 2012, Finish students ranked sixth in mathematics, third in reading, and second in science from among all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries ("PISA 2012 Results in Focus," 2013), and in 2015, they ranked thirteenth, fourth, and fifth, respectively ("PISA 2015 Results in Focus," 2016).

Finnish students are not only, on average, some of the highest-performing 15-year-olds in the world, but the percentage of Finnish students performing at a high level also surpasses the percentage of those performing at a low level. On the 2012 PISA, 15.3% of Finnish students scored a level five or six (with six the highest level) in mathematics, while 12.3% scored below level two. In comparison, 13% of students in OECD countries were top performers, and 23% did not reach level two. Thirty-two percent of all students who took the PISA assessment were unable to reach level two ("PISA 2012 Results in Focus," 2013).

Teacher Education Curriculum

Alongside Finland's educational reform in the 1970s, Finns began to view teacher education as a means of national education (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2012). Teacher education became part of higher education programs in 1979 and, not long after, primary and secondary school teachers were required to obtain a 5-year master's degree (Hancock, 2011; Sahlberg, 2011; Stewart, 2012). Currently, the only way to become a teacher in Finland is to gain acceptance into one of the country's eight university-based teacher education programs (Jakku-Sihvonen et al., 2012; Sahlberg, 2011).

Finnish research-based teacher education programs form part of three major foci: educational theory, research, and subject didactics and practice (Jakku-Sihvonen et al. …

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