Day 7 of the Quebec - Finland Expedition: Finnish inclusive education

Day 7 of the Quebec-Finland expedition: What the students call the “comprehensive school” translates into an “inclusive school”. It is the heart of the success of the Finnish school system. And the winning elements of this inclusion may not be what you expected!

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Our collaborator Marc-André Girard is on an educational expedition to Finland and documents it here!

“If this reform had not taken place, it is clear that my sisters and I would not have had the benefit of a good education. My father had clearly warned us that he could not afford it ”.

It is in these terms that the director of the Sodankylä school, Heidi Lakkala, described the educational reform which, in a way, is similar to that which followed the Parent Report in Quebec in 1964. That was in the early 1970s and ironically, Heidi would have been a school principal for her entire career. With two doctorates, she alone embodies the success of such a reform for which Finland is internationally renowned. Born into a poor family, she was part of the first cohort of reform students in 1972. With success, she continued her studies until the third cycle and she will have devoted her career to education not only to live. a life better off than the one she lived, when she was young, but she will have been able to help ensure that thousands of students can also take advantage of this inclusion in turn to seize the opportunity offered to them, that of benefit from an excellent education system offered to everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of their ethnic origin, gender or learner profile.

On a family level, when we met her, Heidi was celebrating the success of one of her son's doctorate in medicine, which she believes is attributable to the quality of the inclusive education that her son received throughout. his life, with parental support, of course!

What the Finns call in English the "comprehensive school", which we can translate as "the inclusive school", recognizes that each student is unique and that despite his profile, his difficulties and his origins, he has the right to an education. of quality, no matter where it is in Finland. This applies for Finns, Samis and immigrants.

Referring back to 1972, it was ambitious: to increase the quality of education, reduce inequities, especially those relating to students living outside urban areas, and train a highly qualified workforce. All this, by making this inclusive school compulsory from grades 1 to 9, after which students must choose a journey. The reform was imposed on an experimental basis, from north to south, from Lapland to the capital. The North really needed it: the population is mainly of Sami origin, lives far from urban centers and is dispersed in the vastness of the territory.

What does an inclusive school look like on the ground?

At the time, Finnish education was centralized and controlled by the government, despite the implantation of a deeply humanist vision in 1945, in the aftermath of World War II. Therefore, the Finns have consciously chosen to center the system on the pupil and not on the teacher or on the school structure per se. This priority remained for almost 30 years and served as the basis for the 1972 reform.

Inclusive schooling can therefore be considered at all levels of the Finnish school hierarchy. On the one hand, the government of the day transferred all its authority over education to the municipalities. In the same vein, city decision-makers recognize the importance of giving as much latitude as possible to teachers and school administrators; decisions should be made as close to the student as possible. Consequently, the municipal authority must give access to a maximum of resources to the teachers and the administration so that they can put in place the necessary measures to support the pupils in a suitable way. For its part, the administration must deploy an organizational model that allows teachers to collaborate in order to help students. School issues are more and more complex and collaboration, by pooling each other's strengths and ideas, makes it possible to better alleviate the students' difficulties. Finally, the teachers must exercise their autonomy on a daily basis and thus do everything in their power to provide the necessary assistance to the pupils, in the action and, also, to see to avoid the emergence of other problems of educational order.

Here is a convincing example. As we know, in the classes, there are students of different learning levels: summarily, there are those who experience difficulties, but there are also those who are performing, not to mention those who are in "the environment ". Consequently, after studying the profiles of the arriving pupils, the mathematics teachers of one level of the secondary school of Sodankylä choose to distribute the equivalent of three groups of pupils in four classes, with four teachers.

These classes are distributed as follows: a class of students in difficulty with few students, a class of successful students filled to the maximum with students who want and can go faster and further and two classes of students " means ". Teachers choose to overcrowd classes to offer a more favorable learning environment to those who need it, thanks to a teaching supervision which is intended to be proximal. This is the proposal that is formulated.

So far, nothing really revolutionary. However, this project involves the hiring of one more teacher, a project which will be carried by the school administration up to the Education Department of the City of Sodankylä. And it is not easy to carry such a file, because the teaching team of mathematics is not the only one with such an idea. Heidi Lakkala must therefore present her staffing needs in this regard, which this year includes 63 teachers and 21 teacher assistants for a school which aims for a maximum ratio of one teacher for sixteen students. It should be remembered that pupil-to-class ratios do not exist in Finland, which gives schools and municipalities the latitude to make their own decisions.

In short, inclusion in Finnish education is ...

The key to inclusion in Finnish schools is neither the professional autonomy of teachers nor of management; it is rather the recognition of this autonomy by the authorities.

The school is inclusive because those who are hard at work in it have power over its orientations.

The school is also inclusive because decisions are made close to the students and those who are in the decision-making cuckolds must put in place all the resources possible to allow the actors of the schools to make decisions according to the needs of the young people.

Nevertheless, the needs of the latter continue to become more complex and Heidi is worried about them: "since the pandemic, more young people are in distress and I feel that I am not able to help them all", says -she lowering her eyes. In short, an inclusive school is not a defined model: it is rather its capacity to constantly follow the needs of the students and to adapt to them, and therein lies the great challenge!

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(Editor's note: The École branchée is happy to be a media partner of this expedition! Note that we are not, however, associated with the fundraising campaign.)

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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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