EdPros Travel to Helsinki to Explore Finnish Education System

 UChicago Careers in Education Professions (EdPros) set out on their inaugural trek to Helsinki, Finland this fall. EdPros offers specialized preparation for students interested in pursuing careers in teaching as well as educational administration, research, and policy. The Finnish education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, so it was a natural destination for the program’s first international trek.

The trek began with a visit to the Trade Union of Education. Ritva Semi, a Special Adviser to the Trade Union of Education, discussed the union’s history and its active role in the Finnish education reform movement that began 40 years ago. Because the role of teachers’ unions has become such a controversial issue in the United States, the students took advantage of this opportunity to compare the challenges of Finnish teachers with those of American teachers. The students were surprised to learn that Finnish educators confront many of the same issues as American ones do: Ritva mentioned that many Finnish teachers wish that class sizes could be smaller and teacher salaries are relatively low compared to other professionals.

At the next site visit, students had the opportunity to explore the relationship between classroom teaching and education policy with the Finnish National Board of Education. Irmeli Halinen, the Head of Curriculum Development, explained that Finland has a core curriculum that is set at the national level and is deeply informed by teachers. The national curriculum identifies a set of competencies and local schools have the authority to create a more specific curriculum. The students found it fascinating that the number of standardized tests is dramatically lower in Finland than in the US: Finnish students do not take a standardized test until their university entrance exams!

The Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) hosted the students for a visit and lunch. Students had an opportunity to learn more about opportunities at CIMO and how Finland collaborates with other nations on education policy. This was followed by a visit to the Yhtenäiskoulu (YNK) School, a 12-year school that provides both primary and secondary education. Sari Tiita, the head of higher secondary education at YNK, explained that Finnish education emphasizes a holistic approach to student development.  The students’ conversation with Sari provided another opportunity to compare the American and Finnish education systems and think about how national policy influences classroom practices.

Over a traditional Finnish meal, students had the opportunity to speak with two American teachers working at the International School of Helsinki. In between bites of reindeer, the students were able to ask questions about what it was like to live and work in Finland as a foreigner. In typical UChicago fashion, there was also a spirited discussion of education policy!

The next day, students attended presentations given by the Playful Learning Center and the Department of Teacher Education. The Playful Learning Center, which was just launched, explores ways that computer games can be integrated into the classroom. The presentations sparked a thoughtful discussion of whether computer games actually inhibit collaborative learning.  The students also had a presentation from Katriina Maaranen, a researcher at the Department of Teacher Education. She provided an overview of university teacher training programs for both Finns and foreigners. The students were surprised to learn that foreigners can study at universities in Finlandfor free,  there is a unique program for English-speaking students, and students can receive their Master’s in teaching in as little as one year.

Next, students were excited to see everything they had just learned in action, by visiting a local primary school. To cap off the trek, students visited the US Embassy in Helsinki where they had the opportunity to meet Gottlieb Duwan, the Deputy Political and Economic Section Chief for the embassy. Gottlieb represents United States interests on both education and a variety of other public policy issues. Learning about his career path especially appealed to students interested in interdisciplinary policy work.

This trek was a perfect opportunity for the students to explore the relationship between theory and practice. Fourth year, Matthew Collins, commented that the trek, “significantly challenged my perceptions on how education can and should work for all stakeholders in education.  Teachers are not only masters of their craft, but life-long teachers.”

To learn more about the Trek Program, including a comprehensive map of trek locations and hosting opportunities, please visit our website. Interested in hosting students on a trek? Find out how here.