Learning and teaching in Helsinki

What are studying and teaching like in comprehensive school today? This page provides you information about topics such as phenomenon-based learning, teacher cooperation and language-aware education. What does inclusion mean? Delve into the world of our schools and learning!

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As the world and working life change, the school system, teaching methods and learning must also change. The pupils of our schools study the skills and know-how they will need in the future.

The value base of teaching

Teaching, learning and schoolwork are based on the City of Helsinki common curriculum for basic education. The curriculum also defines the values based on which schools operate. Basic education facilitates lifelong learning, which is an inseparable part of building a good life.

Find the Finnish-language schools' common curricula in PDF (go to the eRequirements page) (Link leads to external service)
Find the Swedish-language schools' common curricula in PDF (go to the eRequirements page) (Link leads to external service)

Every pupil is unique and valuable just the way they are. Everyone has the right to grow into their full potential as a person and a member of society. To this end, pupils need encouragement and individual support, as well as an experience that the school community listens to and appreciates them, and cares about their learning and wellbeing.

Every pupil is entitled to good teaching and success in their schoolwork. While learning, pupils build their own identity, their notion of people, their worldview and their place in the world. At the same time, they also create a relationship with themselves, other people, society, nature and different cultures.

Highlights from the value base of basic education:

  • Basic education supports pupils’ growth as human beings, characterised by striving for truth, kindness and beauty, fairness and peace. Ethicality and perspectives thereof guide them towards thinking about what is valuable in life.
  • Basic education is built upon respecting life and human rights. Basic education promotes wellbeing, democracy and active agency in civil society.
  • Basic education is built upon Finnish cultural heritage and shaped in interaction with different cultures. Teaching supports pupils in the creation of their own cultural identity.
  • Basic education acknowledges the necessity of sustainable development and eco-social education, and it involves acting in accordance with this acknowledgment and guiding pupils towards adopting a sustainable lifestyle. 

Learning is seen as a process in which learners build new knowledge and understanding actively and in interaction with their environment. Pupils are active operators. They learn to set goals and solve problems, both independently and together with others.

Learning is an inseparable part of an individual’s growth as a person and building good life in their community. Alongside learning new information and skills, pupils learn to reflect on their learning, experiences and emotions. Positive emotional experiences, the joy of learning and activities that create something new promote learning and inspire pupils to develop their own know-how.

Learning takes place in interaction with other pupils, teachers and other adults, as well as different communities and learning environments. It involves doing things alone and together, thinking, planning, studying and assessing these processes in various ways.

Pupils are also guided towards considering the consequences of their actions and their impact on other people and the environment. Learning together contributes to pupils’ creative and critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to understand different perspectives.

The learning of information and skills is a cumulative process that often requires long-term and persistent practice. The development of learning-to-learn skills forms the basis for goal-oriented and lifelong learning.

Learning environments and materials

Learning environments are facilities, places, communities and operating practices for studying and learning. 

A learning environment comprises:

  • a physical environment, such as the school premises and learning environments outside the school, e.g. a nature environment, a physical activity site, a library or a museum
  • a social and cultural environment, such as the school community, a learner group and relations and interaction between pupils and their teachers
  • the equipment and supplies, learning materials, learning technologies and teaching methods used in learning and studying.

The purpose of the learning environment is to provide learners with a safe, inspiring and encouraging environment that supports their learning and helps them achieve their goals. Learning environments must provide opportunities to come up with creative solutions and examine and study matters from different perspectives.

Good and functional learning environments promote interaction, participation and the communal construction of knowledge. They also facilitate active cooperation with communities or experts outside the school.

The learning environment plays a significant role in the quality of learning and study motivation, which is why we are constantly developing them in accordance with learners’ needs. Functional learning environments form a pedagogically diverse and flexible whole.

You can examine an example of school premises and learning environments with a virtual 3D model of a comprehensive school(Link leads to external service).

Pupils have access to various learning materials, such as books, digital materials, video lessons and diverse exercises that can be done in groups or independently. As such, textbooks and workbooks are an important part of the materials used to support studying, but only one part. Computers, tablets, smart boards, teaching software and other digital learning materials are also an important part of studying today.

The teacher chooses what kinds of materials best serve learning. Diverse materials make it possible to differentiate teaching in a manner that helps all pupils make optimal progress in their studies.

Multidisciplinary and phenomenon-based learning

At the schools of Helsinki, all pupils study a minimum of two multidisciplinary, phenomenon-based learning modules per school year. These modules involve examining current phenomena from the perspective of several different subjects. The goal is for pupils to obtain an extensive understanding of the phenomenon being examined. The goal is also for pupils to understand that phenomena and their own thinking are not limited to a single subject.

A multidisciplinary and phenomenon-based way of examining things helps pupils perceive the significance of the matters being studied from the perspective of their own life, as well as that of their community, society and humanity as a whole.

In phenomenon-based studying, pupils take part in the planning of the module, the setting of goals, the selection of work methods and the assessment of learning. Teachers guide pupils’ learning and facilitate it.

Read an example of Suomenlinna Primary School’s phenomenon week 'Phenomenal banana' focusing on the subject of the banana (page in Finnish)(Link leads to external service) Article is available in Finnish only.

Learn more about phenomenon-based learning in Finnish on our video on YouTube: Helsinki curriculum, phenomenon-based learning (video available in Finnish only)(Link leads to external service).

Children’s and young people’s participation

One duty of comprehensive schools is to support their pupils’ participation. Participation refers to being seen and heard and belonging to the community. Pupils who have a strong sense of participation believe in their own ability to take action and make a difference. 

At schools, pupils’ experience of participation is strengthened through daily encounters, positive feedback and the reinforcement of communality. Supporting pupils’ experiences of participation prevents marginalisation and experiences of exclusion.

Lapset heittelevät ulkona kesällä koripalloja
Photo: Frida Lönnroos

In addition to strengthening pupils’ sense of participation, it is important that their voice is heard in the school’s operations. Pupils take part in the planning of their studies, shared schoolwork and learning environment in accordance with their age and development level. The school also fosters pupils’ interest towards societal matters.

Schools have various groups in which pupils can practice ways of participating and influencing. All comprehensive schools have a students’ union with a board elected each year. The students’ union develops the operations of the school together with teachers, practising decision-making and taking responsibility. Schools also have peer mediation groups, tutors, eco agents, food panels and break-time activity student guides, for example.

Inclusion and inclusive schools

The schools of Helsinki follow an inclusive local school principle, which means that as a rule, every pupil receives teaching and the support they need for it at their local school. The teaching is planned to be suitable for all and in accordance with pupils’ individual requirements. Any necessary support measures are arranged in accordance with pupils’ needs.  Read more about support for learning on our pages.

Inclusion supports all pupils’ learning and taking part together. Every pupil feels accepted and appreciated in the school community.

Inclusive schools arrange their teaching in a flexible manner that makes it possible for pupils to receive the support that they need. Pupils can be grouped based on needs and the prevalent situation, teachers plan and teach together, and the learning environments are diverse. 

The following examples provide more information about what inclusion means. The articles are available in Finnish or Swedish only:

Language-aware education

In language-aware education, the teacher acknowledges the key significance of language in learning. Language is not only an important tool in learning and thinking; it is also part of every person’s identity.

At language-aware schools, every teacher is a language teacher. Language-aware education strengthens the development of pupils’ language skills from colloquial language towards more conceptual language skills needed in studying different subjects. Pupils gradually become familiar with new concepts and texts typical of the subject.

Language-aware education also utilises the languages that the pupils know. We encourage pupils to use the languages they know as needed in everyday school life and learning situations. At our schools, we value the diversity of languages and promote their equality. 

Find out how language-aware education is provided at Tahvonlahti Primary School (article available in Finnish only):

“Kaikki oppiminen perustuu kielelliseen kyvykkyyteen” – tällaista on kielitietoinen opetus Helsingissä ('All learning is based on linguistic competence; what language-aware instruction is in Helsinki')

Watch a video on YouTube about multilingualism at Merilahti Comprehensive School (video in Finnish)(Link leads to external service) The link will take you to YouTube.

Teacher cooperation

In teacher cooperation, two or more teachers take care of planning, implementing and assessing their teaching together. This cooperation enables the teachers to take their pupils’ different needs and ways of learning into account in a flexible manner. 

Teacher cooperation can be carried out in a variety of ways, e.g. by dividing pupils into smaller groups in different ways or by having all pupils take part in the activities simultaneously. The implementation methods vary by school. 

Practising emotional and interaction skills

We teach and learn emotional and interaction skills at all of our schools. Through these skills, children and young people learn to identify, verbalise and regulate their emotions. The skills help pupils work in a group and listen and pay attention to others. 

Systematic practice of emotional and interaction skills supports pupils’ wellbeing and teamwork ability. The implementation methods vary by school. The skills can be learned systematically as a part of a subject, or they can be a subject of their own. In addition to lessons, practising these skills in everyday situations is part of the school’s operations.

Read about how emotional and interaction skills are learned at Vesala Comprehensive School (article available in Finnish and Swedish only):

Helsinki opettaa tunne- ja vuorovaikutustaitoja nyt kaikissa kouluissa ('Helsinki teaches emotional and interaction skills at all schools').

Developing emotional and interaction skills is also part of Helsinki’s Anti-Bullying Programme (ABP13).

Working life-oriented teaching

In working life-oriented teaching, pupils get to familiarise themselves with work and employment more comprehensively than they normally would in basic education.

Our working life-oriented teaching includes flexible basic education JOPO, which we provide at five of our comprehensive schools, and working life-oriented teaching TEPPO, which is available at some of our Finnish-language schools as an elective subject.

Read more about JOPO and TEPPO teaching on our ‘Working life-oriented teaching’ page.