In Finland, the teachers are what dreams are made of. That’s not difficult to believe when you see Omaia Zakik, 38, entering the Esplanad café located on one of the capital’s bustling roads. Summer dress, golden hair, almond eyes — the secondary school teacher looks like a princess. But she’s also extremely smart, because here all teachers, at both primary and secondary levels, must have at least a master’s degree (the equivalent of five years of university study). Teaching is a very popular profession, and extraordinarily competitive: Only 10% of candidates earn a place at university.
But that has nothing to do with the salary, which is just barely above average. Teaching is so popular because of the social recognition. “They trust us,” says Omaia Zakik, who teaches French and English to teenage students in Espoo, Finland’s second city. “We have a lot of freedom in the way we teach. I chose the textbooks and the methodology. Nobody controls what I do,” she adds.
The National Office of Education, which decides the educational framework, “is not a handbook and is left open to interpretation,” the office’s Tiina Tähkä says. “Originally, we copied the Swedish school system, but they didn’t take the push for teaching excellence as far.”
Kristiina Kumpulainen, education professor at the University of Helsinki, adds that teacher freedom is only limited by that of the students. “Teachers must carry out their own research to find out what works best,” she says. “Teaching is not just a vocation, it’s a science.”
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