Why projects crashes into speed bumps of teacher education

By on 15.06.2016 in PhD thesis

“Considering how little we in fact know about teacher training’s impact on education, there seems to be a surprisingly strong tendency to think that teacher education is some sort of master key that can be easily used to change schools and society. Teacher education surely matters, but how and to what extent ­– that we don’t know by sure,” says JustEd member Petteri Hansen at the University of Helsinki.


PhD Petteri Hansen, University of Helsinki.

In Petteri’s recently published dissertation “The Opportunities and limits of project-based steering in teacher education”, he focuses on opportunities and challenges of project-based steering in the light of two teacher education development projects based on a Finnish governmental programmes.

The spark and the starting point for the research was Hansen`s own experiences on the project called ‘Promoting Active Citizenship in Teacher Education’ project, based on the ‘Civic Activity Policy Programme’ implemented by the Finnish Government (2004–2007). Afterwards, Petteri worked a while in the administration of teacher education at the University of Helsinki.

“Constantly changing projects that aimed at developing teacher education made me think about the role of teacher education and developing projects in the big picture,” Petteri says.

Teacher education is hard to control

Over the past 30 years, the political steering of the Finnish education system has gradually shifted from being under the direct supervision of the state to adopting a development and evaluation policy based on networks and projects.

Development projects, often funded by ministries, and based on governmental programmes, have also become a more common form of steering in the Finnish teacher education system.

Petteri chose to describe projects in system theoretical framework, as a form of communication and structural couplings. He describes the position of the teacher education as an overlapping domain of science and pedagogical practice which makes teacher education hard to control.

According to Hansen, alongside with their explicit goals, development projects seem to have many implicit steering functions.

On the one hand projects have been a way for the State to respond to the recommendations and programs set by the supranational and national policies.

On the other hand, they have made it possible for the local organizations to gain additional resources to develop their own activities. By doing so, projects have played a key role in scanning and stabilizing various educational expectations between relatively autonomous organizations.

A question of will and rapid change

“Instead of often drastic top-down reforms, projects have enabled small and temporary policy updates. Stability and self-steering might also play an important part when we are trying to understand dynamics of Finnish education policy in transnational context,” Petteri concludes.

As a form of political steering, Petteri identifies several problems related to development projects within teacher education. As a form of organizations, projects seem to operationalize the problem of changing teacher education as a question of will and rapid change. Past experiences and socio-historical structures of teacher education are seldom reflected in proper way.

“Projects are often driving at full-speed into speed bumps of the teacher education. Despite the problems reported, the means of developing teacher education seems to remain the same. Many of the problems of project-based steering are related to attempts to compress long-term pedagogical and scientific processes into the short-term outcomes and forms of political accountabilities,” Petteri says.

According to the research, some of the problems of project-based steering are also related to the university context and the changing policy of teacher education. The ‘publish or perish’ -policy in universities has led increased pressure of single teacher educators, who have to think more carefully about how they spend their working time.

“Instead of teaching teachers, teacher educators are nowadays expected to gain external funding and write scientific articles in high-ranked international journals,” Petteri says.


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About the Author

About the Author: Journalist currently working as Communications Specialist at the Nordic Centre of Excellence "Justice through Education in the Nordic countries" and in NordForsk's programme "Education for Tomorrow". .


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