Money talk is increasing in the world of education

Submitted on Fri, 09/01/2017 - 11:15
Eero Ropo/ Kuva: Jonne Renvall
“Teachers and students must be able to navigate in a way that will make living and learning lead to a better future,” says Professor Eero Ropo, Conference President of EARLI2017. Photograph: Jonne Renvall

The largest scientific event to be organised in Finland in 2017 brought 2,400 researchers to Tampere

During the past week, the EARLI2017 conference has filled the Tampere Hall and all of the auditoriums of the five buildings on the main campus of the University of Tampere. The conference organised on 29 August - 2 September is the largest scientific event to be organised in Finland this year. Around 2,400 participants have arrived from about 50 countries.

“The conference has run really smoothly. Let’s hope things will continue as they have begun,” says Eero Ropo, professor of education and conference president from the University of Tampere.

The theme of the conference is Education in the Crossroads of Economy and Politics - Role of research in the advancement of public good. The conference is organised by the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) and the University of Tampere.

Ropo says that the world of education is fraught with increasing pressures.

“There is various information in the world: political, financial, scientific and social. Schools inhabit the same reality. Teachers and pupils must thus learn to navigate in a way that will make living and learning lead to a better future,” Ropo says.

Financial pressures are increasing

In addition to the field of education in Finland, the significance of the economy for education is increasing also elsewhere in the world. School is no longer an isolated island within the broader society. Money talk is making gradual inroads into the debate on education.

Educational cuts have occurred around the Western world.

“This is a global phenomenon. However, there are also different examples. Countries in Asia are investing heavily in education. Indonesia, for example, invests about 20 per cent of the national budget in education. The corresponding figure for Finland is about 10 per cent,” Ropo points out.

Ropo warns about the short-sightedness of educational cutbacks. The consequences of cutbacks are insidious.

“Finnish teachers are known to be very conscientious. When the resources for education diminish, they work harder and cover the shortages with their own input. It may be possible to do that for a couple of years, but after that the falling standards will become obvious,” Ropo says.

Education has been Finland’s trump card and an integral element in the cultural and economic ascent of the country. Ropo says that Finland used to have a long concensus about the significance of education. Education had good resources and it was widely believed that education had a very positive impact.

“I think the political climate is right now in favour of investing in education, which makes me hopeful that we are already past the rock-bottom. However, the debate has much concentrated on money,” Ropo says.

Finnish education has a very good international reputation. During the conference, Ropo has noticed that the participants are very interested in the Finnish school system. At the same time, he reminds us that maintaining the high quality will require investments.

Technology is a tool for learning

The conference participants have had the opportunity to learn about the latest developments in educational science. Such themes as digitalisation, phenomenon-based learning and the skills needed in the present world have been among the issues talked about.

“We currently see education and teaching as diverse phenomena within which we move smoothly in different fields. Instead of just memorising, we understand learning as a relationship to the world around us. Human knowledge is largely based on narratives,” Ropo says.

One theme that has come up during the conference is digitalisation. Computers, smart devices and other technological aids are becoming increasingly important. Ropo says that information technology (IT) must be understood as an aid to learning and not as an end in itself.

“IT is a tool that is used to support learning and make it easier for pupils to work with each other. The aim is to base learning on a dialogue where the pupils interact with each other more than before,” Ropo explains.

The world of education must evolve

Ropo calls for a more open dialogue between school and the rest of society. When budget cuts are made and the significance of education lessens, researchers and teachers must highlight the benefits of education even more actively than before.

“We must get better at demonstrating the value of education to society. We might have to improve our skills in doing this because things have been so good in Finnish education for so long,” Ropo says.

Text: Jaakko Kinnunen