Combining Research And Practice: An Inside Look At Finland’s Teacher Training Schools

Since the inception of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, Finland has attracted international attention and recognition for its sustained leadership as a high-performing education system. As highlighted in the Linda Darling-Hammond led, NCEE supported Empowered Educators study, a major driver of Finland’s success lies in its clinically robust, research-based teacher preparation. The Empowered Educators research team identified a commitment to professionalizing teaching as an occupation as an essential element of systems that produce high-quality teachers and teaching. Key to this professionalization is strong initial teacher education and induction.

While Finland is one of the few countries that requires all teachers to obtain a master’s degree for licensure, it is not the just the length of study, but also the intellectual rigor and clinical preparation that make Finland a world leader in teacher pre-service and preparation. With no alternative routes into teaching, Finland has restricted K-12 teacher preparation programs to just eight research universities. Entrance into these programs is highly competitive consisting of both a three-hour entrance exam, the VAKAVA, that tests applicants’ inference and analytical abilities followed by an interview designed to assess candidates on a holistic basis and evaluate their interest in and capacity for teaching. While the interview process varies by university, teacher educators who administer the interviews look at the motivation, willingness to work collaboratively, and passion for teaching in prospective candidates, ensuring the selection of high-quality teachers who are able to meet not just the academic demands of the profession, but also exhibit a deep commitment to the work.

Once accepted into initial teacher education, the 5-year combined undergraduate and master’s program consists of deep dives into subject matter, simultaneous study of pedagogy and theory, and the study of research methods – competencies considered central to teacher development. In addition, Finnish teacher preparation includes substantial clinical requirements with extended opportunities to learn from expert teachers demonstrating research-based practice at “teacher training schools” associated with the university’s teacher education program.

The video below, ‘Learning to Teach in Practice: Finland’s Teacher Training Schools’, highlights one such clinical setting at The Viiki Teacher Training School affiliated with the University of Helsinki. The video was funded by NCEE and the Ford Foundation and is one of many resources produced by the Empowered Educators study.  In addition to various tools, original documents, and interviews with policymakers and practitioners, this video can be found on the Empowered Educators online resource library along with a series of e-books and country briefs covering each of the seven jurisdictions studied, including Finland, and policy briefs on critical topics relating to the recruitment, development and support of high-quality teachers.