I had the opportunity to work with a Danish student at my workplace for four months, from December 2019 to April 2020. I am working as a bachelor of social services in primary school where pupils attend grades 7-9. My work involves meeting pupils who have mental health and behavioral problems in a daily basis. Pupils can come to talk with me at any time during the school day. I provide acute support to them who are unable to focus on their lessons. Often these pupils have learning and concentration difficulties. It is really important that some adult in the school has time to provide support and guidance to pupils when they need it. In my point of view my job is preventive rehabilitative work. I also work with a flexible basic education groups and meet small groups of pupils or classes if teachers asked for it. Usually, small group work involves promoting lesson peace and social skills.

 The Danish student named Pernille studied schooling and leisure pedagogy. The goal of her internship was to promote the well-being, development and learning of children and young people. We were working together 4-14 hours a week. Mostly we worked our school break space called Kuoppa. There we organized all kinds of games and activities and offered hot drinks to the pupils. We also worked together with the flexible basic education groups every other week throughout the day. The purpose is to support pupils in completing their primary school and to prevent them from dropping out of primary school. I collaborate with the vocational school teacher who is my work partner in the activities of that group. We do practical learning exercises for the group in different professions of the vocational school.

Benefits of Kuoppa

Picture: The school break space Kuoppa

Pernille liked to be in the break space Kuoppa because there she met a lot of pupils from all grades in the afternoons. She also found that Kuoppa was a learning place. When pupils played games or billiard they still trained their brains to focus and concentrate. The pupils could also come after school to spend some time together with their friends.  Our school collaborated with the instructors of the local Youth Center in Kuoppa. Some of the pupils came to talk with instructors of the Youth Center about different things, about school and leisure time. When the pupils came to space, they also had a chance to see what other activities the Youth Center organized on weekdays for the pupils to join. Pernille saw that such a place is important because it encourages the pupils to stay with their friends after school, be social and participate in activities. Sometimes young people need a place to be with other people and someone to talk to that is neither family or friends.

Benefits of The Flexible basic education Group

Pictures: Practical professional work in the flexible basic education group

The pupils of these groups have difficulty motivating to go to school because they may face many challenges in their learning, living environment and social relationships. Pernille experienced that the flexible basic education group is a good initiative that can help the pupils who are having a hard time in school, to get motivated and figure out what they want with their lives, though different activities, like visiting factories and educational institutions. It creates a space for them once in a while, where they don’t have to focus on difficult homework and school in general. Group activities are voluntary for them. Pernille learned that the pupils most of the time didn’t care about school. But they all had something they wanted to do with their lives, education they wanted to pursue. Group activities provide this opportunity by visiting different educational institutions, such as Technology and Transport Sector, to see what is needed for the pupils to succeed in their graduate studies and they should focus on in primary school.

Pictures: Factory and educational institution visits are part of the group’s activities. The vocational school teachers and me visiting the Yara factory with the group.

Differences between Finland and Denmark

We had daily discussions with Pernille about current issues at our school. These issues were related to teaching, problems and methods that we have in Finland. Pernille saw several social differences on primary education between Finland and Denmark. The amount of group work in school is the biggest difference. In Denmark they use a lot of group work in all classes so that the pupils can learn to work together in different constellations. The goal is for them to be prepared for their working life after school. Finnish pupils study and focus more on a social skills and life management at school. There is only a little group of pupils in Finland are struggling and doesn’t know what to do with their lives, whereas in Denmark, many pupils have parents that have never taken an education and that, unfortunately, often means that these pupils don’t complete any degree and start working without an education. You can still find a lot of uneducated workers in Denmark. There should be more focus on education and how to motivate the pupils to take an education. But basically the pupils in Finland and Denmark are mostly the same, all a little introvert and teenagers with a lot of hormones. They come from different environments and layers in the society with different backgrounds, religions and languages. In addition, Pernille noticed how the pupils were together with each other in the breaks. 9th graders both talked to 7th and 8th graders and the other way around also. In Denmark the pupils are often more divided, because “it’s not cool to talk to those who are younger”.

Pernille told me that they have ’helping teachers’ method what they use in Denmark. The helping teachers can help in any way the teacher needs. Whether it is the whole class, a group in the class or an individual pupil who needs extra help and attention. The helping teacher also creates more air around the teacher so that the teacher can focus on teaching the current subject. The helping teachers are only assigned to one pupil, the pupil that needs help. And it is only in extreme cases, where the pupil is acting out, being violent or difficult to handle for the teacher. Pernille saw that my job is meaningful at our school and the pupils seem to be in need of the job that I am doing. In Denmark they call this kind of job an inclusion pedagogue. But in Denmark compared to my job they only focus on the most challenged and troubled kids. My job as a ”bachelor of social services” seemed to be for all who needs it, and a help for the pupils, if they are struggling with schooling. This job is very important and a security net for the pupils. Pernille learned that I have to be in front of everything and be motivating for the pupils, and participate myself in activities.

There is not this type of the flexible basic education group activity in Denmark. Pernille found that no matter what age you are working with, you as a responsible adult have to help them achieve their dreams. The flexible basic education group is definitely a good way to help those pupils who struggle the most with school. So Danish pupils who are having a hard time, often get some extra classes with the helping teacher, or easier assignments in their own class, but most of them still end up with bad grades, have to take 10th grade, and many never figure out what they want to become, when they grow up.

Finally

The working with the student was very rewarding and instructive. I have never had to use so much English in my work before. At first, the language and vocabulary was challenging but it became easier all the time. I think this experience gave me the courage to continue working with international partners. International collaboration can create opportunities and insights to help pupils attend school. Children and young people are quite similar and have the same type of problems abroad as in Finland. I guess we need rehabilitative work methods in primary education more and more in the future, as the challenges of pupils become more diverse. Our school and social and health care professionals must continue to work closely together to provide pupils with the rehabilitation they need.

Eppu Jääskeläinen, Student of Master of Health Care and Social Services, Rehabilitation, Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Working with a Danish student in primary school

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