The view from here - Finland - Teachers 'pressured' to keep concerns quiet

Finland may be heralded for its highly successful education system, officially ranked among the best in the world. But its teachers are not happy.

Many in the country claim to have been banned from speaking out about problems in their schools - a clear breach of their legal rights - according to a survey carried out by Finland's leading teaching union.

The OAJ survey found that a third of Finnish teachers had been instructed not to speak to the media or to parents about subjects including financial cuts and bullying. Oddly, some have also been told that they cannot discuss the presence of mould in schools - a particular problem in Finland.

Ten per cent of those surveyed said they had experienced "direct pressure" not to make their concerns public. Some teachers claim to have not spoken out for fear of missing out on promotion, having their hours cut or even being fired.

According to Nina Lahtinen, the OAJ's lawyer, teachers are obliged to keep certain information secret, such as students' personal issues, and will only be dismissed for breaching confidentiality after being given an official warning.

However, she emphasised that teachers cannot be fired for discussing "public issues" that are under the control of the local education authority - and these were precisely the issues that teachers were being pressured not to discuss.

"The survey shows that teachers are told not to talk about certain things such as air-quality problems, mould in the buildings, or bullying and harassment," Ms Lahtinen said.

She said the issue had come to the fore as the financial crisis had developed and cuts had been made to Finnish education by local authorities, leading to problems not being fixed and resources being limited.

"Teachers find that they cannot give extra teaching hours, the classes are bigger, there are fewer substitute teachers, the schools use old books, they don't get new computers, they don't pay for teacher mentoring, or there are no after-school clubs," Ms Lahtinen said.

"Parents need to know about these issues because they are the decision-makers when it comes to voting in the municipal elections."

Olli Luukkainen, president of the OAJ, is deeply concerned about the survey's findings.

"This is not good and of course we do not like it," he said. "Particularly when the problem is air quality in the schools, which we have a problem with in Finland - then this is a serious health issue and teachers must be able to make their concerns public."

Ari-Jukka Luhtavaara, head of daycare at the Helsinki Kindergarten Association, said that employers did not want to gag teachers but wished to avoid worrying the parents.

"Parents have the right to leave their children at daycare without being told by the teachers how terrible things are here," he said, adding that it was the teacher's duty not to cause parents and students unnecessary distress.

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