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Tuesday's papers: Response to curriculum critique, burnt out kids, another superberry, and two presidential pardons

Local papers look at feedback to a study criticising phenomenon-based learning, exhausted and cynical high schoolers, bacteria-killing crowberries, and more.

Kuopion Lyseon opiskelijoita luokassa.
Image: Matti Myller / Yle

The country's most widely-read newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, looks at criticism of a new study that finds that Finland's new core curriculum in basic education – with its emphasis on "phenomenon-based learning" and digital tools – is impairing learning outcomes.

Chair of the National Education Agency Olli-Pekka Heinonen found fault with the research's link between falling Pisa scores and the rollout of phenomenon-based learning, as the Pisa results are from 2015 and the new education plan was launched in 2016.

The study examined the 2012 and 2015 Pisa test results in maths, sciences and reading from over 5,000 15-year-old pupils in Finland. And although it has been accepted by a scientific journal, it is still in the peer review process. The fact that the author, psychology researcher Aino Saarinen, went public with her finding before the study's publication has also drawn criticism.

"It's pretty challenging to comment on research that hasn't even been published," Heinonen told HS.

Saarinen responded to the appraisal, saying that if people don't have faith in the reliability of her study, they can feel free to "skip its results entirely", as there are plenty of other studies that have reached similar conclusions about the efficacy of phenomenon-based learning. She says that her study is one of "dozens" that surmises that pupils who aren't as gifted face the risk of being left behind in these kinds of learning environments.

"There's been astonishingly little research on the issue in Finland, considering how widely the new teaching methods have been adopted in the country's schools," Saarinen told HS.

Saarinen said that many teachers have since approached her after she went public with her findings, saying that they have felt pressure not to talk about the problematic parts of the new education plan. Some say that their input about the risks involved was not taken into consideration when the new core curriculum was being drafted.

"It's very worrying if teachers' views are being pushed to the side. Finland's teachers have a great deal of expertise and are very highly educated on an international scale," Saarinen told the paper.

Burnt out high school kids

The southwest daily Turun Sanomat carries a story on the growing numbers of pupils who are burning out due to stress and exhaustion.

The paper covers a Helsinki University poll of 1,300 upper secondary school pupils that found that 18 percent considered themselves burnt-out and 45 percent reported that they were stressed. Only about one in three, or 37 percent, of the survey's respondents described themselves as upbeat and motivated.

Among the sample, the female high schoolers reported more stress and exhaustion than the males.

"Young people who are performance-oriented and conscientious burn out easier than their peers. […] If the parents are burnt-out, their kids are also more likely to feel this way. There's no one reason that can be singled out for it," the university's education professor Katariina Salmela-Aro told the paper.

She said the survey found that exhaustion among young people in Finland is often the result of ambitious goals for school performance and large chunks of time being devoted to either an organised sport or maintaining a constant social media presence.

"Our Gaps research found that 40 percent of sixth-graders are cynical about school. They feel as if school isn't inspiring or interesting, or that it has no clear benefit," Salmela-Aro noted.

Crowberries are bacteria-killers

The Karjalainen newspaper from the eastern Finland city of Joensuu features an article on a new scientific development that could help fight highly-resistant superbacteria.

Researchers in Oulu have found small fragments of an antibacterial protein, also known as peptide, in a microbe living in crowberries (variksenmarja in Finnish).

The paper reports that the northwestern university set out to find medicinally useful compounds from local plant species, and the most promising compounds were found in the crowberry. The team isolated bacteria from the leaves and stems of the plants and discovered that the amino acids were effective at killing microbes.

A protective coating for hospital medical instruments is now being developed as part of the war against the spreading of antibiotic resistance, Karjalainen says.

Presidential pardon for two

And the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat runs a story on two rare presidential pardons by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Of the 64 potential pardons that the Justice Ministry reviewed and submitted to the president's office this year, Niinistö has signed off on just two.

The tabloid discovered that one of the persons pardoned is a woman who was involved in a murder near the central city of Jyväskylä in late 2013. The courts sentenced the woman to a prison sentence of 11 years and 2 months, but Niinistö's pardon means that she will be freed in March 2019, after having served over five years of her sentence.

President Niinistö discussed the principle of presidential pardons with the news agency STT last year, saying that the reasons for the decisions are often associated with the person's health.

"A few cases have been made public in years gone by," the tabloid quotes him as saying. "And they have been cases in which someone is entering hospice care or some other situation, for instance."

He says a presidential pardon is not a re-assessment of the severity of the crime or the sentence, saying that this interpretation is a "total misunderstanding" of the process. Niinistö told the agency that a presidential pardon is always granted for reasons other than the crime in question.

The tabloid reports that Niinistö has said that he would like to do away with the tradition of presidential pardons as it is founded on an "dated tradition from the era of monarchies, where the sovereign grants someone their freedom".

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