Only Finland’s best become teachers

Only Finland’s best become teachers

Monday, September 30, 2013 – 17:09

Sandra Davie

The Straits Times

Some top scholars in Singapore would find it an unconventional career path but Finnish high-scorers Aurora Ojamaki, 21, and Aleksi Lindberg, 23, chose teaching over law. They graduated among the top 10 per cent of their cohort in high school, and could have easily gone on to law school. Instead, both applied several times before landing a place in a teacher-education degree course at Helsinki University, one of eight universities in Finland offering such a course of study. Ms Ojamaki said: “The first year I applied for a place in law, I got it but I turned it down as in my heart I wanted to become a teacher.”Mr Lindberg, whose mother runs a day-care centre at home, on the other hand, has wanted to be a teacher since high school.

Education Professor Lasse Lipponen from Helsinki University is not surprised to hear of the difficulties teacher trainees face in getting into the degree course he teaches.

“It’s common for my students to try several times before they are accepted,” he says matter of factly, adding that the university received over 2,000 applicants this year for the 100 spots in its primary school teacher-education programme.

Besides having top grades in the matriculation examination, hopefuls must sit an entrance test and pass a personal interview.

Teachers are highly regarded in Finland and go through rigorous training. It takes five years of study, up to master’s level, to become a school teacher.

During the five years, teacher trainees learn how to design a curriculum, assess pupils’ progress and to conduct research to continually improve their teaching skills.

They also do teaching attachments in a school associated with the university, where they plan, teach and observe lessons.

Because of this rigorous training, parents and policymakers have full confidence in them and they have autonomy in the classroom. There is no yearly appraisal or grading of a teacher’s performance, or external inspection of schools.

Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups.

When asked about accountability, Professor Lipponen replies: “Our teachers are well-educated and trained, so we leave them to do their jobs.”

What happens if a teacher is not doing his job?

“The head teacher will have to deal with him or her.”

According to data compiled last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, starting salaries for Finnish primary school teachers average US$30,500 (S$38,300) a year. After 15 years in the service, they rise to US$40,000 a year.

Ms Merja Auvinen, who teaches English at the Viikki Teacher Training School in Helsinki and is vice-principal for the upper secondary level, describes her typical day.

She spends about four hours in the classroom. The rest of the time, she meets colleagues to share ideas, conduct research, plan multidisciplinary lessons or discuss students’ progress.

The English major, who has been teaching for over two decades, says: “It is very satisfying being a teacher. There’s nothing like nurturing young people.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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