Kristiina Kumpulainen: The Voices Of Students And Teachers Need To Be Heard


Kristiina Kumpulainen

Kristiina Kumpulainen is a professor of pedagogy at the University of Helsinki specializing in the field of pre-primary and primary education for teacher training. She is the head of a research group that focuses on studying the learning, development and well-being of children in formal and informal environments.

The key topics in this research involve the child's cultural, emotional and relative processes, the self-motivated learning of the child, involvement, determination, play and creativity, childhood and digitalization and is part of the Playful Learning Centre at the University of Helsinki.


Do you feel that the current way we are educating children fully prepares them for the needs of the 21st Century?

We are surely doing the best we can, and overall in Finland we have great examples of how twenty-first century learning, learning environments and facilitating for learning should look.

That being said, I would say the innovation and development isn’t equally distributed. This is something we have noticed through our research and is of concern. We should be able to make better use of the work of innovative schools in sharing ideas and experiences to locally  develop the schools left behind.


What are the key challenges facing teachers today?

The challenges facing teachers in their work are connected to the challenges facing the entire school.

The new requirements in society demand that learning environments, methods, professional development and achieving the twenty-first century goals for learning are realities for teachers - new methods and learning environments being the most important things. Networking is essential as well - teachers do not work alone anymore, instead they collaborate with other teachers, with the industry and other parties in society. This is why teachers must have a variety of skills and knowledge in order to create and support the kind of learning for children that meets the needs of the twenty-first century.


How should assessment change?

In my research I have focused a lot on how to assess learning. There is a great deal of discourse on this matter on a global level and talk on how we should be able to assess not only what students know, but also how they manage to find or produce information collaboratively.

Also, we need to understand how to document and assess learning happening outside of schools. Students may have interests that aren’t taken into account in formal learning. This has been a key element in current research. Assessment is valuable to students as a tool to follow, alter and develop their learning. This requires self-regulation and metacognitive skills, which are important in lifelong learning, and so we should be able to define assessment accurately. If the definition is 'traditional individual performances' than maybe we should go even further.


What is an exciting learning environment?

An exciting learning environment is one in which the learner may be able to enjoy learning. It should have a variety of spaces for learners and learning methods of all sorts. It should also be relevant to their interests.

There isn’t just one right way of creating a learning environment, and so it should be versatile enough to engage in regardless of the differences between learners. This is fundamental, because our society is growing more multicultural than ever before and we must be able to facilitate for more inclusive learning in integrating newcomers to society. Everyone should have the opportunity to feel that learning is valuable and fun.

What are the challenges in traditional classrooms?

The challenge is that often learning is still lead by the teacher and students don’t have a voice. The learning proceeds page by page in the textbook, which lacks creativity and isn’t enjoyable. We see this happening not only in Finland, but globally as well. We need to rethink how to support schools in this change and to be able to facilitate for better learning.


What is the purpose of school?

This is an interesting question that sparks a lot of conversation these days.

In discussing basic education, the purpose of school is to provide each child with equal possibilities to develop and grow as a human being, be a part of society and have a voice. It is the school’s responsibility to teach the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values involved.

What are the biggest challenges in Finland's educational system?

We deal with a lot of challenges although we are successful in PISA. Schools are currently in the biggest crisis that they’ve been in for a while. Society and the demands of the workforce are changing at a rapid rate as well as our perception of what to teach children and what they need to know to survive.

Additionally, the world of children and young people outside of schools has changed, and so the school environment, teaching methods and the content aren’t relatable or inspiring to them any longer which creates motivational problems. This is why we need to develop schools to become places of inspiration and interest, so that learning is meaningful. How to make this change is now being researched.

Schools should also be made more open to society and taught to use the learning environments outside of school. Currently we are uncertain, or haven’t found the right ways to produce active, influential citizens that may be able to use their skills in creating new things - not just students that acquire information.

Personal memory

Do you have a favorite moment from your own formal education?

I have quite a lot of memories: anxiety-ridden ones, ones in which I felt successful and ones that made me feel influential - all of which have been meaningful to me as a person and in my growth.

In my time at school I was able to plan events such as the annual Christmas celebration, and I felt that this was valuable to the growth in my personality. Facing my fears in school was also meaningful to me. I was a musical person, but performing made me nervous.

It’s interesting to realize that my school memories have nothing to do with classes, but instead are a part of the school as a whole. The anxiety I previously mentioned came from traditional learning during class.

The next 100 years

The next 100 years of Finnish education should… make sure school has a larger role in society, more than ever before.

The voices of students and teachers need to be heard and the conditions should encourage creativity. We should have the kind of infrastructures, operative cultures and practices that promote effective learning and wellbeing. Wellbeing and good self-esteem are extremely important. We need to believe in our futures and understand that as a small nation we can make a difference and create a future for itself.

All in all I believe the wellbeing of the individuals and the self-esteem of the community are very valuable as well as the ability to create new things and keep going forward.