The work of a teacher is a profession with special skills and competences. In this article, I view how being a vocational teacher became a profession in Finland.
Teachers or trainers?
The basic education for young children in Finland was established in the year 1865. A couple of years earlier teacher education seminars were developed to educate teachers for basic education. Also in upper secondary general education, teachers had to have special pedagogical education.
The first modern vocational schools in Finland were established in the end of the19th century. In some vocational education sectors, like business sector and agriculture, teachers had to do some pedagogical studies. There was no systematic education for technical and handcraft teachers in the basic vocational education. People working in teaching positions were specialists in their own field, they had work experience, but they did not necessarily have any teaching skills. Teachers taking care of theoretical subject education had normally vocational or higher technical education, but not any pedagogical education. The teacher position was not very clearly regarded as a profession. People taking care of teaching were not necessarily called as a teacher, but rather as a trainer, a guider or a craftsman.
During decades, there were increasing discussions about arranging teacher training for vocational teachers. Political decision makers however were in the opinion, that vocational education was not so important area of education that they were willing to spend public financial resources on vocational teacher education.
In the 1940´s and 1950´s, the importance of developing the vocational education became more obvious. Finland was changing from an agrarian country into an industrial and service country. It was necessary to develop technical and other vocational education. The Ministry of Trade and Commerce, which was administrating vocational education, suggested compulsory pedagogical education for vocational education teachers.
There were four aims and objectives for teacher education. First, pedagogically skilled teachers could increase the quality of vocational education and training. Teaching methods were not always motivating and learning outcomes were not always good. Good education could increase the attractiveness of vocational education among young people. Thirdly, teacher education could increase the appreciation and attractiveness of teacher position in vocational education. Traditionally formal education, in general, has been appreciated in Finland. Special pedagogical education could have effects on appreciation of a teacher position also in the vocational education sector. In basic education and in high school education, teacher position was more like a profession, and a teacher had to have a special education and have skills and competences needed in the work. In the vocational education sector, the teacher position without a special education was not so clearly a profession. The fourth aim and objective for vocational teacher education was to develop pedagogy, which was typical for vocational education. In vocational education, students were learning both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. In addition, the learning environments were more versatile compared to general education.
Vocational teacher as a profession
In 1950, The Ministry of Trade and Commerce gave Helsinki Business College a permission to educate teachers for the business sector. In the end of the 1950`s teacher education became compulsory also for technical education.
At the moment, there are national qualification requirements for teachers in vocational education. Teachers must have a university bachelor or master degree, the minimum of three years’ work experience in their own field and a pedagogical education organized by a university. The teacher position in vocational education has become a profession. The concept profession here means that it is knowledge and skills based including specialized knowledge and it has regulated standards for appointment. The profession also has a collective identity among the workers and it has certain perceived prestige and societal value.
Those four aims and objectives for a vocational teacher´s pedagogical education stated in the 1950`s are still valid. A systematic teacher education has made the teacher position more like a profession with special skills and competences. The teacher profession is also appreciated in Finland. For example, in Haaga-Helia teacher education, there are four times more applicants than it is possible to take in annually. In addition, the appreciation of vocational education has increased. This is partly because there have been more student places during the recent years. Vocational education teachers are educated at the universities of applied sciences. The universities of applied sciences are also researching vocational education and developing special pedagogical methods for vocational education and higher tertiary education.
The profession of a teacher is changing all the time. We can meet the challenges of the world of work, society and education and the teacher profession with a systematic teacher education, with research and development work and with continuing education, which is offering the teachers endless possibilities to renew their skills and competences.
Laukia, Jari (2017); Teachers in vocational education and training in Laukia, Isacsson and Juutilainen eds. Vocational education with a Finnish touch. Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Unigrafia, Helsinki
Talis report 2018, OECD.