In this post I convey some thoughts about innovation and change in the field I am researching. What is the motor of change in schools, what changes are actually happening and who are the agents that influence or introduce change.
Janne Säntti and Jari Salminen, teachers and teacher researchers have written a very comprehensive historical overview of education in Finland . They identify change with the three cultural periods or “economies” that Finland underwent since 1945 written by Alasuutari . The moral economy (1945), the planned economy (1960s) and the competition economy (1990s). Säntti and Salminen provide a chronicle of how elementary school teachers and their education was affected by these three periods, and find this evolution “coherent and consistent with Finland’s political agendas”.
In the moral economy, schools were organised to serve the interests of an economy sustained mainly by agriculture and forestry. Democratisation of policy meant in this context that education followed rather patriotic and Christian values, academia and scholar achievements were less of a concern. The school teacher in this period is described as a vocational, role-model figure with dominion of a set of practical skills (“tricks of the trade”) and even a certain personality.
Left: Lemi, Kärmeniemi, South-eastern Finland. Photo: Kaipainen P., 1954, Lappeenrannan museot.
Right: Ylioppilaskirjoituksista / Matriculation examination Tampere, 1948. Photo: Jukka Raunio, Museokeskus Vapriikki
The subsequent planned economy was characterised by industrialization, urbanization and the construction of the welfare state. Policy planning was heavily regulated by the state. By the late 1950s post-war babies had increased the number of registered students in primary school (in five years from 34.000 to 210.000 ) and this required the state to build up educational infrastructure. In this period (between 1970-1982) the compulsory 9 year education was introduced in Finland. The teacher is also different, a professional, acquainted with psychology and didactics, eager to test modern methods of classroom work translating in setting goals and observable actions.
The competition economy was initiated by certain reforms introduced in the early 1990s. Two of them especially affected education: decentralisation and a rhetoric of service and customer orientation, competitiveness and effectiveness. These reforms translated in municipalities having administrative authority over education, some schools specialised depending on what the region had to offer (i.e. jobs) and parents could choose a school for their children, that is empowering them over state regulations. The type of teacher described by Säntti and Salminen in this period is that of a self-evaluative, research-based educator with relatively high freedom of action.
Säntti and Salminen stop here their chronicle of education in Finland. They argue that despite the changes in education policy in the recent years, there has not been a major social or political change in Finland since the competitive economy. Though things have changed since 1990, specially since the economic crisis of 2008, from the point of view of economy and the political climate that followed it is still to determine if ours is an extension of the competitive economy or constitute a new economy in recession. Certain is that both the state of economy and political climate go hand in and and are agents of change in education. In their paper, Säntti and Salminen worry that the innovation and competitiveness rhetoric that predominates has reached the education research community, and warn of this distraction from tackling more close-to-praxis challenges that education is dealing with these days.
In my conversations with teachers I have stumbled upon some of these every-day challenges, to be explored more in depth:
- Investigating cultural heritage across subjects I realise how curriculum and school administrations are very subject-structured. In addition to the fact that many teachers are hired to teach a subject and sometimes a number of hours per week, each subject is so packed that there is little chance for teachers to take time to join forces to observe phenomena more globally: “They have been taught picture analysis in the first year, and I wanted to go over it. (…) I always say, if you have learned something, for example picture analysis in art so ‘use it, please'”. (talking about Romanticism with a language and literature teacher in lukio).
- Are teachers expected to integrate digital sources even if in their daily lives the devices from which to access them are not used or don’t feel familiar? And, if teachers do have the habit of accessing digital sources for preparing lessons, some schools’ infrastructure do not allow to use them in the class as spontaneously as it comes in their daily lives: “Sure, I could take my students to the computer lab, but I have to book it days in advance” (History teacher in secondary school)
Literature:  Säntti, J. & Salminen, J., Development of Teacher Education in Finland 1945-2015, 2015 In: Hungarian educational research journal. 5, 3, p. 1-18.  Alasuutari, P. (1996). Toinen tasavalta: Suomi 1946-1994. Tampere: Vastapaino.  Janne Mikkonen, Educational policies Finland 2014, Population Research Unit, University of Helsinki (http://www.perfar.eu/policy/education/finland Accessed 14.11.2016)