“To student teachers: “Don’t think that you are ready, because you are never ready. You have to keep your antennae tuned to new things.” – Petri Ahokas, Finland
Finland is widely recognized as one of the best countries in the world at educating its citizens, with consistently strong PISA results to show for it. In fact, in 2009, the number of Finnish students reaching the top level of performance in science was three times the OECD average. But numbers and statistics don’t tell the whole story. As both a teacher (to first-graders) and a teacher trainer, Petri Ahokas understands the advantages and challenges in a system that has achieved so much. “We are a small country,” says Ahokas. “If a kid has problems, we have the means to deal with those problems.”
Ahokas recognizes the critical role Finland’s government plays in ensuring students achieve to their full potential, but he’s careful to point out that the opportunity for teachers to define their own approach is at the core of the country’s success. “In Finland,” Ahokas say, “a teacher is very independent and can create a way of teaching that is right for them and their students.”
As a teacher at Turun normaalikoulu, University of Turku, Ahokas works in a school with a large number of immigrants. This is unusual for Finland, where less than four percent of its population is foreign born, far below the average of nearly 13 percent across all OECD countries. Working with non-native speakers poses its own challenges, but Ahokas has been able to leverage technology to help, as these videos demonstrate:
As in ICT expert, Ahokas has participated in and contributed to a number of forums, including Microsoft ICT Executive Briefings in London. The agenda there was designed for senior technology directors and managers from ministries of education at federal, state and municipal levels to discuss the roadmap for the future.
In his role as a teacher trainer, Ahokas spends eight weeks overseeing each group of student teachers, five times each year, in his classroom. He’s not only shaping the careers of future teachers – a well respected career in Finland, drawing from the top 10 percent of graduates – but he’s gaining something, too. “They were born with computers, and they have very strong skills,” Ahokas notes, “so I learn from them.” Ahokas advises his student teachers, “Don’t think that you are ready, because you are never ready. You have to keep your antennae tuned to new things.”
Ahokas didn’t start his career as a teacher. “I worked in the business world (in the travel business), and even though I did well, it was never enough,” he says. “I like working with people, so I went into teaching. Now that I’ve taught for 20 years, I’m thinking ‘what’s next?’, but I like my work, and I think I’m going to stay in teaching.” His young students, fellow educators and student teachers should be glad.
Today, we thank Petri Ahokas for sharing his views on the teaching profession and on why Finland has been so successful at reforming education.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I’m a teacher trainer and meet lots of people every year, and working in a university also allows me to write.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Co-operation with partners has improved significantly.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
I document my work well and I share it.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Sharing is important… different colleagues have different skills.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Your studies aren’t over. A teacher is never “ready.” Follow the trends and developments in education, techniques, kids, and the world in general. Educate yourself also, and give yourself time to rest!
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
Books are going to tablets, and e-material in general is a positive trend.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A tablet PC to use to document their work.
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About Petri Ahokas
- Birthplace: Piikkiö, Finland
- Current residence: Kaarina, Finland
- Education: Master of Education, University of Turku, vocational qualification in business, administration and foreign trade, at Turku Vocational Institute
- Websites I check every day: www.yle.fi , www.foreca.fi, www.neoxen.com
- Person who inspires me most: My family
- Favorite childhood memory: Family boat trips to archipelago
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Berlin, for the 20-year anniversary of my marriage
- Favorite book: Tuntematon Sotilas (in English, Unknown Soldier) by Finnish author Väinö Linna
- Favorite music: Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones (depends on the mood…)
- Your favorite quote or motto: From my favorite book: “Hey chief, where is the place? You need a good man, here you have one.”