The view from here - Finland

Ed Dutton

Nordic paradise hides a behavioural hell

Finland, according to many a politician, is a paradise for teachers, with some of the best Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores in the world and national respect for the teaching profession.

But it seems that life on the educational front line in this Nordic country is giving the lie to its reputation: according to recent research, Finnish primary schools are haemorrhaging teachers, who have been driven to the edge by some of the most unruly classrooms in the developed world.

Helja Misukka, director of educational policy at Finland's OAJ teaching union, surveyed a thousand teachers from around the country and found that 70 per cent of them felt "behaviour was getting worse all the time" and pupils were extremely aggressive. These results were backed up by a survey from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which found that Finland's classroom discipline was the third worst among its members, ahead of only Argentina and Greece.

According to Ms Misukka, younger teachers in particular felt classroom discipline was so difficult that "they can't really teach the national curriculum ... The teachers just feel that they can't cope and they feel really disappointed with their job". She also found that the larger the school was, and the bigger the city it was in, the worse pupil behaviour seemed to be.

"This is a problem because in Finland we have more and more big schools," explained Ms Misukka. "We are closing 100 schools a year. Twenty years ago, we had 5,000 schools in Finland. Now we only have 3,000."

She wondered if the poor behaviour could be put down to Finnish pupils being encouraged to be "critical" and to "think for themselves". But Finland's problems go beyond plain bad behaviour, according to Ms Misukka. She said that Finnish teachers have less and less support from parents, who are now far more inclined to take their child's side and blame the teacher, and that all this is leading to a teacher exodus.

She is not alone in characterising Finnish classrooms as increasingly unbearable for school staff. Dr Kari Nissinen, of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyvaskyla, has conducted research that produced similar conclusions - including that, currently, 40 per cent of Finnish primary schoolteachers eventually leave the profession.

Dr Nissinen found that male teachers were more likely to leave than females, perhaps in pursuit of "higher earnings", and secondary school "specialists" were more likely to stick with teaching than their primary counterparts. Of those who left, roughly half went into some other form of teaching, such as private tuition, while the rest entered business.

Dr Nissinen suggested that an increasing "macho culture" with attendant "street behaviour" among boys might explain the decline in pupil standards, as might a Finnish inclination to be "negative" and "critical" in surveys.

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Ed Dutton

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