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Helsinki, Finland: Trust Works in a Diverse, Urban School, Too.

Updated: Apr 26



Students are trusted to take care of their homework and preparation for exams from a very young age. At the latest, students are expected to take responsibility for their own studies when transitioning to 7th grade. Of course, some students need teacher support for learning and study skills. Family support varies. Some get a lot of support, some unfortunately have to survive completely independently. For example, schools can offer homework clubs to bridge this gap.


Teachers have the pedagogical freedom to choose their teaching methods and teaching materials. The school administration trusts teachers who have received a master’s degree for their position. In addition, Finnish teachers have at least three days a year of in-service training, in which they update their own pedagogical skills and learn new ways of working. Teachers are expected to follow a curriculum that is updated every 5 to 10 years.


We do not have an inspection system. However, schools may, at their discretion, assess the quality of the teaching they provide or participate in peer reviews. Schools can choose to take part in national tests, the results of which can be used to monitor learning outcomes. The only assessment that schools will have to take if they are included in the sample is the PISA survey every four years. The school and teachers also enjoy the trust of their homes and teachers are allowed to do their work in peace.


Principals have quite a free hand to run their own school. In many municipalities, schools have an annual budget, the use of which is decided by the school board on the proposal of the principal. Municipalities in large localities support schools that operate in socio-economically disadvantaged areas or in areas with a large number of pupils with an immigrant background. The school administration sets objectives, which may be related to educational issues and learning outcomes or economic activities. Schools can get performance bonuses for well-achieved objectives.


The agency that directs the activities of schools is the National Board of Education. The National Board of Education draws up the basics of the national curriculum. Based on this, municipalities and schools draw up their own curricula. The National Board of Education is also an expert agency that provides advice on problem situations if needed. The Board of Education supports schools, but even this agency does not inspect schools. Many countries wonder how this can be possible. We think it is possible because of the high level of education among teachers, a commitment to their work and an effort to act morally and ethically.


I have been a guidance counselor at Pitäjänmäki K-9 school for most of my career. This school has a student population of a. 40% with an immigrant or refugee background. For students coming from other cultures, it can be confusing at first that students are trusted. They need time before they learn to take responsibility for themselves. Sometimes this trust is also misused, e.g.


In order to create buy-in for students in a system that is based on trust, parents discuss the school's operating principles and the student's own responsibility, and parents are instructed in using the school's communication channel, which provides up-to-date information on homework and examinations for both students and guardians. A culture of trust coaches young people for the future, so it is also an important element in creating a wholesome society.


Satu Haime, MSEd, Guidance Counselor, has been teaching at the Pitäjänmäki K-9 school since the 90’s and has welcomed GEA teachers and university students at her school. The photo below features middle school tutor students at the Nuuksio National Park during a training. Their training lasts 30 hours, 12 of which are performed outside of school. These trainings include practicing team work, coming up with group rules and planning activities.


Photo credit to www.hel.fi and Satu Haime




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