On March 24th, our tour group had a lecture at the Finnish Department of Teacher Education. It was very informative and we learned a lot of great information from the woman who gave the lecture.
The levels of their education system are a bit different than ours. Level 0 is pre-primary which is for age 6 (this is kindergarten to us). Levels 1&2 consist of all of primary school (grades 1-6) and part of secondary school (I believe it goes to grade 9). For high school they can go to traditional high school or choose to go to a vocational school. They can go on to the bachelor level in college with just vocational school. There is a matriculation exam at the end of high school OR vocational school so that they can get into college level. There are many, many more paths to get into college than the options we offer here in the US.
In Finland, they spend about 6% of their GDP on education (roughly equivalent to the US percentage-wise). Consider how much bigger the US is than Finland and you'll see that they don't spend a ton of money on education, yet they far surpass us in results of national standardized testing (the PISA is usually the one used).
A primary school teacher in Finland works roughly 667 hours per year and a subject area teacher (ie middle/high school in US) has 592 hours per year. I didn't figure it out for the secondary level in the USA but for elementary in the US, we spend roughly 900 hours teaching per year (based upon the time with students that I have). They have small schools and they vary in size. Almost half of their schools are under 100 students total and about a quarter of their schools have more than 300 students.
Primary school teachers teach grades 1-6 (age 7-13) and are qualified to teach 13 subjects. Secondary teachers teach grades 7-12 (age 13-19) and teaches usually one major and one minor subject. With just the basic education teachers get (their training), this allows 96% of principals and high school teachers to be fully qualified and 94% of primary teachers to be fully qualified.
To become a primary teacher in Finland, it is 5 years of education. They spend 3 years on a BA and 2 years on an MA. If you stop at the BA level, you can teach kindergarten (which is preschool to us, ages 1-5). They major in education and minor in school subjects such as math, Finnish, biology, etc. Primary school teachers are eligible to become doctoral candidates because you can not teach at the primary level without an MA.
To become a secondary school teacher in Finland, it is also 5 years of education. They spend 3 years on a BA and 2 on an MA. They major in one subject and minor in one or two other teaching subjects, they also minor in education (which is where they get the pedagogical information).
The education program is based upon research and they are always changing it based upon their own research practices and the research of others. It is difficult to get into the education program because it's very competitive. Dr. Paivi who gave the lecture told us "it is very nice to be a teacher in Finland". They are very well respected and thus people want to be teachers as they are revered.
There are almost 1800 applicants per year into the teacher program but they only accept 120 for primary school. They have an entrance exam that all applicants take along with an interview for about 25% of the applicants (based upon the exam results). Many do not pass the exam because it is extremely difficult (therefore the things you see on FaceBook about how many teachers get in are because of this). Those that do pass are then interviewed and selected from there.
It's a little different at the secondary level as they only get about 800 applicants and have a bit more than 400 who get accepted each year. There are more positions available than are filled at this level. They also have an exam and interview.
Anyone who wants to be a cooperating teacher has to take and pass a special course in order to supervise and support a teacher in training. (What a concept! I could argue that needs to be done here since I often cringe at what people have told me their CTs have made them do or how they have been treated.)
At the primary level a teacher candidate has 120 lesson hours they need to complete (they do them in pairs) which are supervised with both a pre- and post-observation. I love that they have both a pre- and a post-observation.
The school year in Finland is 190 days and runs from mid-August to the first Saturday in June. Although we also learned that despite their school year being a little longer, at the primary level the school day usually runs from 8-1. Those hours also include recess and a lunch break. So they are getting maybe 3 hours of instruction per day....yet they still kick our collective butts on the PISA.
Overall it was a very informative and interesting lecture. It's amazing to see how other countries do things and compare them to how we do things.