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Education Ministry to spend 50 million on digital tutors for primary school teachers

The Ministry of Education has announced plans to spend 50 million euros on a network of digital tutors in primary schools to help teachers adopt digital tools and methods in their work. The ministry estimates that roughly half of primary school teachers feel that they are only moderately or not at all ready to adopt the country’s new primary school curriculum, which stresses digitalisation.

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The Ministry of Education revealed plans to assign teachers’ tutors to all of the country’s primary schools at a press conference on Friday. The ministry said that the tutors will provide support with new pedagogies or teaching methods and help advance digitalisation in learning.

The project will begin with pioneer schools that will provide the model for best practices to be adopted in other institutions.

According to the ministry the majority of teachers who said they felt that their digital skills were weak had received just a few hours of supplementary training  to adopt digitalisation in teaching during the past five years. The finding emerged from a survey conducted by the teachers’ union OAJ.

The study found that while teachers may know how to use digital devices and may be familiar with some basic software, some of them feel uncertain about how to integrate digitalisation into teaching.

The ministry said that it’s now looking to remedy the situation. Over the next three years, municipalities will receive a subvention of 50 million euros to help improve teachers’ skills in this now-critical area. The funding will be used to address broad imbalances in the number of digital devices available to schools, teachers’ access to supplementary training and the quantity of educational material.

"There are deficiencies in several areas in some of the same municipalities," said OAJ specialist Jaakko Salo.

Uneven adoption of digitalisation in schools

The differences in municipalities’ ability to implement the new education syllabus run deep. Last autumn Vantaa invested in 27,000 tablet computers for its students and was the first of the country’s large cities to bankroll such devices.

The city paid three million euros for the handhelds and an additional million for a wireless network. Although Vantaa paid for the infrastructure and equipment itself, it received some funding from the central government to pay for learning material and teacher training.

The financial backing promised by the ministry on Friday means that other municipalities whose pockets aren’t as deep will be able to level the playing field.

"It can easily happen we cut corners on precisely this kind of spending. However the new curriculum won’t be implemented without digital skills. Teachers’ abilities will either bring reform to schools or block it," said Elina Lehto-Häggroth, Vantaa’s deputy city manager in charge of education.

The OAJ is on the same page with the city leader. It is calling for binding quality criteria to help eliminate the differences among municipalities. The criteria would define area such as the minimum level of digitalisation in primary education for which each local government should aim. The union said that without clear standards, local governments will implement the curriculum differently and inequalities in primary education will continue to exist.

"State funding will be necessary. But this will also require municipalities to invest," Salo remarked.

Coaching an effective aid for teachers

Vantaa has also taken the lead in developing its teachers’ digital skills. It has assigned 16 tutors one day a week to coach teachers in online pedagogy in the schools for which they are responsible.

"They can provide training in using software, providing support [to students] and helping with using a computer, but also in pedagogical matters. This is after all a new way of learning, the devices are just facilitators, but the real issue is the new pedagogy," Lehto-Häggroth explained.

Markus Humaloja, a teacher at Vantaa's Veromäki School was helping his colleague Riikkalotta Jauhiainen solve a problem she had encountered.

"I made a website for studying math, and I couldn’t figure it out myself. I’d tried it many times, but I always ran into some problem that prevented it from working. We then solved the problem, and I think that next time I’ll know what to do," Jauhiainen said.

Teachers agree that the best pedagogical training comes from their peers, other teachers.

"For example, we can join a group in a lesson and support teachers while they work," said Humaloja, who is coaching teachers at three schools in Vantaa.

Teachers especially want information about various digital tools that they can use in teaching and the tips and tricks they need to learn to get things to work in practice, he added.

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