Reading: Finnish culture & education systems 1: The role of significant others in intercultural teacher education

Before I moved to Finland I was worried about what it would be like living in a place with far less ethnic and cultural diversity than New Zealand. Auckland, my home city, is one of the most diverse in the world, with 39% of our population born overseas and 220 different ethnic groups recorded as living there. Being one of only a handful of Pākehā on the packed Dominion Road bus is what feels normal and “home” for me. Finland doesn’t have the same history of immigration, and the majority (93.4% as at 2014) of inhabitants are ethnic Finns. The capital city Helsinki is much more multicultural than Oulu, where I live in the north. I’m happy to say that I need not have worried so much, because the friendship family we are forming in our class of 20 has 19 different nationalities represented. Every class discussion, shared meal and party develops our intercultural awareness and expands our perspectives. It is a privilege and joy to be a part of such a group and to learn so much from each of its members.

One of the readings we have been assigned for our Orientation to the Finnish Culture and Education Systems is Katri Jokikokko’s article on the role of significant others in the intercultural learning of teachers. Katri is a graduate of the Intercultural Teacher Education programme at the University of Oulu, which is a five year master’s degree in primary teaching. (All teachers need to have a master’s research degree in Finland). The ITE programme’s aim is to respond to the challenges posed by multiculturalism in the Finnish education system and provide competences for international tasks in the field of education. I would love to study the ITE course but I already have a teaching qualification, and I think if I’m going to dedicate another five years to study after my MA I should probably just do my PhD!  

The article is interesting because it is compiled from data taken from ten biographical interviews in which Finnish teachers talked about their lives through the lens of intercultural learning. Their reflections often involved other significant people who played an important role in the development of their intercultural awareness and shifting attitudes towards diversity. While I had a range of questions, some of them critical, about the research, it was helpful for me to reflect on my own life’s journey and the role that significant others have played in it.

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Notes: Comparisons of EdGlo countries’ education systems

The cultural knowledge and varied experiences brought by the international students is what makes this Education and Globalisation master’s programme so unique. While the programme itself is comprehensive and the lecturers are knowledgeable and thought-provoking, much of our learning comes from each other.

The 20 people in our class come from 19 very different countries:  Kurdistan with Finnish citizenship, the United States, United States-Taiwan, China (2x), South Korea, Australia, Australia-United Kingdom dual citizenship, Kenya, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Ghana, New Zealand (I’m the first Kiwi!), Canada, Finland, Iran and India.

Our common language is English, but only six of us are mother-tongue speakers. We range in age from about 23 – 53, and the majority of us have a background in teaching.

Last week’s assignment for the Orientation to Finnish Culture and Education Systems course was to present for 15 minutes about our own countries’ education systems. Two people presented on other international experiences they had – S from Kurdistan-Finland talked about immigrant language support in Finland and R from UK-Aus presented about his time teaching in the West Bank, Palestine.

It was fascinating to learn about the way education is valued and approached differently across the world. In many ways it made me even more grateful for the high quality of education we provide in New Zealand. The comparisons with regard to access, autonomy and corruption etc. made me see even more that my gripes with our system are very “first-world problems”, but at the same time they have made me more firm in my determination to help maintain and improve what we have so that we don’t regress into further inequalities.

I have pasted my notes from my classmates’ presentation sessions below. Because they’re just my notes I took down as they spoke, I don’t have the references for stats etc. that they referred to. If there’s anything you’re especially interested in I can ask for them and pass them on to you though. Some of the detail is anecdotal as it comes from my classmates’ experiences as students and teachers in their home countries. I hope you find this as interesting as we all do!

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