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Finnish expert gives Thai academics ideas for lifting teaching quality

Aug 24. 2014
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By Premyuda Boonroj
The Nation

Prof Hannele Niemi gives insights into small things that can boost education
A Finnish expert has urged Thai teacher educators to aim higher than fulfilling pre-determined criteria in evaluation and think bigger, to see how their work fits into the big picture of Thai society. 
Prof Hannele Niemi, conducted a training session early this month at Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, Silpakorn and Thaksin universities on leadership in teacher education. In the second week she also trained three former institutes’ teacher educators and executives about enhancement-led evaluation.
“I hoped they [university people] will set new aims on how to improve their own work,” she said later. Niemi is the Professor of Education at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Behavioural Sciences. Her courses here were jointly organised by the attending universities and Pico (Thailand).
The enhancement-led evaluation, used by the Finnish education system, was a learning process that emphasised participation and co-operation. It has three stages; revelation (where we are now), anticipation (heading for the future) and communication and partnership (how we can and should move forward together), so as to arrive at the strategic steps for a concrete action plan, its implementation and follow-up.
“The whole process is to try to identify in which area something can be done better while also thinking of the whole society,” she said. 
For example, how the teaching practice is organised in schools, how teachers are supervised, whether they have enough competency and skills, how teacher educators could support those teachers, how teacher educators should change their work in university, and how much teacher educators contribute in the in-service training in the nation, she said. 
To bring about a big change in teacher education, changes in smaller things are needed such as more co-operation among related parties, she said. 
While research-oriented teacher education should be in place to develop knowledge and improvements, in-service and induction education (which is the support and mentoring to new teachers in schools) should also be on hand to ensure good quality. That would bring about public trust in schools and they would see no need for extra tutoring, she believed. 
For teacher student recruitment, public respect towards the profession should be raised and changes made to teachers’ conditions so the career becomes attractive, she said. Finland has three criteria for recruiting; academic thinking skills, high motivation to be a teacher and interaction skills, she said.
Niemi questioned the high focus on content, which could be out of date, and the use of standardised multiple choice testing. “The way you assess student outcome affects what you teach in school. And if everything has been standardised and set in advance and then we are controlled by those tests, it won’t give real opportunities to change schools,” she said. 
“How much space you can give to new teaching-learning methods that allow students to learn the skills they need in life… If you’re only preparing pupils for exams, you never can learn those deeper thinking skills, which is needed now and in the future.” 
Students need the skills to acquire knowledge, to work in collaboration, to produce knowledge or to create knowledge together, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, she said.
“[This testing culture] narrows learning, creates anxiety among students and teachers and puts students in the lower-higher learner category, that kind of stigmatisation,” Niemi said. There should be a new kind of criteria or standard that is not only tested by paper and pen or multiple choices. 
As the 21st century requires learners to have good knowledge in various skills and there is a wider spectrum of what is to be learnt, teachers have to learn and become more knowledgeable and skilful to use new ways of teaching, Niemi said. Class size should also be smaller, possibly 20-25 per class, so teachers can use more active learning methods and provide support for students as well as helping them individually, she said.
As part of the workshop’s requirement for KU to submit an enhancement-led evaluation report by October before Niemi’s visit to coach the next steps, KU Faculty of Education dean Surachai Jewcharoensakul said he gathered initial information for the ‘revelation’ step to explore strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. 
Besides the evaluation ideas, practices such as contract-based employment and the promotion of joint projects/collaborations were interesting, he said. 
Surachai said he would merge the workshop’s useful ideas into what the university has been doing for years. They include the faculty’s “incubation process” pre-service education that taught students for five years and projects such as a rural teacher project, a “backpacking” camp for youths or an in-service training course for schoolteachers.
KU Faculty of Education (with five departments: Education, Vocational Education, Physical Education, Educational Psychology and Guidance, and Educational Technology, as well as KU Laboratory School) each year produces around 200 Bachelor graduates and 400 Master and Doctorate graduates.

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