Monday, 11 June 2012

Notes from the Education Seminars #5: How could we learn from each other and collaborate around the topics of education*?

Auli Toom, Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences in the University of Helsinki blogs about the importance of collaboration in education

The discussion around the topics related to (Finnish) education and schooling seems to be lively, although it has started several years ago after the first PISA results. We have already got used to the thousands of questions that researchers, policy-makers, journalists and other visitors have in their mind when they come to our educational policy institutions, teacher education departments at universities as well as our local schools. We have many relevant and definite answers to the presented questions, but we also have areas that we don’t know anything about – yet. We also have some serious signals, like teachers’ and pupils’ well-being, emotional load and stress related to school work, that should be taken into account immediately.

Based on these conversations and thoughts, I have started to consider how we as researchers and professionals of education could learn from each other effectively and collaborate more innovatively, rather than only compare each other. How could we take a step further from mere comparison and start to work towards shared aims and aspirations? I have also thought what should be done now in order to guarantee the best possible basic education and teacher education also in the future. Future learning environments, teaching and learning methods, instructional tools and equipments as well as professional practices should be created during the next coming days. The efforts from policy makers, educational researchers, teachers as practitioners as well as pupils and parents are truly needed.

I’d like to share some thoughts and topics that could be valuable on all levels mentioned previously as well as a way towards the education and schooling of the future.

Trust between each other and in education

Trust between individuals and groups, is required to provide the basis for social order, and it is a foundation of solidarity and integration within societies. It facilitates stability, co-operation and cohesion and it is the basic premise upon which different approaches to educational policy and educational practice can rest. Trust is of prime importance in education: it ensures that participating individuals at every level of the educational system can be allowed greater freedom and be expected greater autonomy. I consider especially important trust relations between persons (administrators, teachers, students, parents) in all levels of schooling. These experiences of trust (and distrust) in daily schoolwork have deep and lasting impact on individuals and their communities.

Hope for a better society and life

Hope refers to a desire for positive futures that are considered possible, but not guaranteed. The term consists of understandings of future-oriented thought, feeling, and action. It is “an element of human nature, way of knowing, form of action or behavior, [and] learned orientation to the future”. As Inglis states, “a society’s education entails (in all senses) its future”. Hope is premised on the idea that human beings are capable of shaping the forces that structure their lives. In educational literature these themes connecting education and hope are echoed by many authors. These idealistic tones relate closely to education’s tasks and ability to promote social hope in societies.

The language of hope is a powerful tool to move teachers and students in their educational settings. Teaching as teacher’s primary work can also be seen both as a practice and as a “discipline of hope”. Conceptualizing education as a resource of hope gives us an insight to the power it can have for people in general, and people in educational institutions in particular: the hope that education can promise brighter individual and societal futures. Uncovering this idea allows us to better recognize how hope works to orient people’s social action – in this case, shaping the character of educational practices and its’ outcomes.

These themes are enormous and they really demand collective responsibility and continuous negotiations between everyone – but so are the matters of education as well. I think that they are Big Issues, important for us all – and worth the collaboration.

Auli Toom, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Faculty of Behavioural Sciences
University of Helsinki, Finland

* Toom, A. & Husu, J. (2012). Finnish teachers as ‘makers of the many’: Balancing between broad pedagogical freedom and responsibility. In H. Niemi, A. Toom & A. Kallioniemi (Eds.), Miracle of Education: The principles and practices of teaching and learning in Finnish schools (pp. 39-54). Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.