Changes loom for would-be teachers

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It’s only been two years snce sweeping changes were made in how aspiring teachers get taught themselves in Norway. Now nearly all the political parties in Parliament want to make more changes, and convert current curriculum to master’s degree programs.

The goal is to attract and retain good teachers, and boost the scores of their pupils. Norwegian politicians want what’s called lærerutdanning (teachers’ education) to become a five-year master’s degree program like it is in Finland, where primary and high school students regularly score among the highest in the world on standard tests. Much of the strong results in Finland have been tied to strong teaching, and not least how teaching as a profession is far more respected in Finland than it is in many other countries.

Higher status
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend how Finnish teachers enjoy status approaching that of doctors and lawyers. Teaching colleges can choose from a wide variety of applicants and competition is tough.

At the University of Helsinki, for example, there were 3,500 applicants for 120 spots this year, and the successful applicants not only had to have good grades but also pass entrance exams and survive personal interviews. The program they embark upon then runs for five years and yields a master’s degree.

“You’re more respected among parents and in the community if you have a master’s degree,” teacher Taija Riihiranta, age 34, told Aftenposten in Helsinki. Henna Koskenlahti, age 29, agreed; “Three- or four-year programs aren’t enough. With a five-year program, you mature much more through studies.”

Adding another year
Norway’s current educational programs for aspiring teachers run over four years, with students opting to teach grades 1-7 or 5-10. Now most of the parties in Parliament, from the Progress Party on the right to the Socialist Left (SV) and Labour on the left, want to impose five-year programs, with some variations.

Labour, for example, is looking at a five-year program including one year of student-teaching in a school. SV wants to extend programs to the master’s level after five years, while the Progress Party wants the same with students specializing in certain area. The Conservatives want five years with research included and the Liberals and Christian Democrats also want to wrap in a master’s degree. Only the Center Party failed to include teachers’ curriculum reform in its party platform.

Professor Jari Lavonen, who leads the teaching institute at the University of Helsinki, told Aftenposten he thinks it’s wise for the Norwegian politicians to follow in Finland’s footsteps but cautions there are historic differences between the two countries. There are no guarantees that imposing Finnish criteria will automatically generate more applicants for teaching, improve poor math skills among student teachers or keep teaching candidates from dropping out.

“Norway is a richer country (than Finland),” he noted. “That means the youth can make different (career) choices regardless.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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