View from here - Tradition takes a battering

4th June 2010 at 01:00
The reputation of Finnish schools as a haven of good behaviour and orderly teaching is becoming a thing of the past, as Ed Dutton reports

Finland is widely recognised for its excellent education system, but Finnish teachers are complaining that formerly respectful classes are becoming increasingly unruly.

A recent survey of secondary teachers found three-quarters claimed that "maintaining order" diminished their ability to teach. A quarter reported having to deal with aggressive "shouting out" and verbal abuse of other pupils every day, while 72 per cent claimed to have had heated arguments with pupils. Only 1 per cent of the 600 teachers surveyed from Finland's larger cities did not report "disturbances".

The survey results correspond with a questionnaire conducted by the OAJ teaching union in 2008, which found that more than half of teachers felt that pupil behaviour had declined over their careers. They blamed "excessive class sizes" (described as "classes with more than 20 pupils") and "objectionable behaviour" by parents.

Helsinki University education expert Hannu Simola is sceptical of the survey results, however. "Teachers always and everywhere claim there are catastrophic changes in pupils' behaviour and that appreciation of teachers has declined," he asserted. "In Finland, due to its late move from an agricultural and obedient culture, life in the schools is rather nice.

"It is still possible to teach in the traditional way in Finland, because teachers believe in their traditional role and pupils accept their traditional position.

"Teachers' beliefs are supported by social trust and their professional academic status."

However, Turku University law researcher Henrik Elonheimo believes that the teacher survey results chime with his own examinations of youth crime in Finland. He found that a quarter of men and boys aged between 16 and 20 have a criminal record, but that 70 per cent of youth crime is committed by just 4 per cent of young men.

He says: "Youth crime is not really increasing, but there is a polarisation. The level of crime committed by a small percentage of the population is increasing, and it is becoming more violent. These criminals will already have problems in early life and I suspect that what teachers are really seeing is an increase in bad behaviour by a small minority of the pupils."

Dr Elonheimo said changes in society could be responsible: "Traditionally, there were few social differences in Finland and it was quite equal in terms of income. This has definitely changed in recent years, and it has changed more rapidly in Finland than in many other European countries."

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