University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 24.3.2017 The Development of the National Upper Secondary School Chemistry Curriculum in Finland from 1918 to 2016 (Vaskuri)

Start date: Mar 24, 2017 12:00 PM

End date: Mar 24, 2017 03:00 PM

Location: Ylistönrinne, KEM 4

Juhani Vaskuri
Juhani Vaskuri. Photo by Paula Westerlund.

Ph.Lic. Juhani Vaskuri defends his doctoral dissertation in Chemistry training ”Oppiennätyksistä opetussuunnitelman perusteisiin - lukion kemian kansallisen opetussuunnitelman kehittyminen Suomessa vuosina 1918-2016”. Opponent Jari Lavonen (University of Helsinki) and custos Professor Jan Lundell (University of Jyväskylä).


Chemistry became an independent subject of study in Finland in 1918, and became part of the upper secondary school curriculum relatively late, only in 1941. Until the mid-1980s, school curricula were issued by the state on a national level. Since 1985, the frame curriculum has been issued by the national education administration (currently Finnish National Agency for Education) to guide the work on school curricula.

The primary objective of this thesis is to investigate how the national curriculum for the teaching of chemistry in upper secondary schools has developed in Finland since the independence (1918) to the present day. The theoretical part of the study is a survey how the teaching methods and the curricula used for teaching chemistry have developed in different countries from the 19th century to the present. It provides an in-depth review of different conceptions of learning and various curricula models. The curricula and the underlying guidelines used in different times are examined against this theoretical background. Research material consists of national curricula issued by education authorities, the underlying frame curricula, and related regulations and amendments, correspondence, reports and other articles.

The methods employed in this study are qualitative research methods and, in the analysis of the research material, theory-based content analysis. The material has been classified, analysed, interpreted and collected into a logical whole. Reliability of results is verified using triangulation, and validity is demonstrated through careful and consistent classification. Final proof of validity is demonstrated using peer classification and a calculated kappa value based on results from two classifiers.

The primary questions of the study are:

1. How are various objectives, contents, methods, and assessment systems reflected in curricula reforms?

2. How is the concept of practical work, often crucial in chemistry, reflected in the curricula reforms?

3. How are the primary perspectives of chemistry curricula reflected in the reforms?

This study is the most comprehensive investigation of natural science curricula conducted in Finland to date. It shows how the curricula and the underlying guidelines generally followed international trends in teaching, initially mid-European but after the Second World War, primarily Anglo-American.

The results of the research show how the objectives of teaching of chemistry changed from the practically oriented goals of 1941 to highly theoretic objectives in line with the 1970s trend. Thereby, the objectives introduced environmental and social perspectives, integration with biology and a special focus on the human being. Since 1981, the objectives emphasised students’ active participation and links to everyday life, while the 2003 frame curriculum shifted focus further to everyday phenomena, highlighting practical work and inquiry-based methods. The 2015 frame curriculum aims to give the students the ability to express their understanding of various phenomena using concepts of chemistry.

In the 1941 curriculum, the content was still relatively unfocused and limited, but was expanded considerably in the next curriculum, and remained extensive with the exception of the 1994 frame curriculum, which were – exceptionally – expressed in very general terms, causing difficulty in the production of the actual curricula in schools. In the 2003 frame curriculum, the key content of the various courses was outlined in more detail and the courses were rearranged. The 2015 updates showed no significant change in the scope of the content, but the order was again revised. For the first time, practical work featured in course content, and inquiry-based study methods were highlighted.

Since 1941, the teaching of chemistry has been based on experience, observation, demonstrations, student projects and inductive or deductive teaching of theory. In terms of methodology, curricula and the underlying guidelines have shifted from demonstrations given by the teacher to solution-oriented and investigative study, based on active student engagement using a rich toolbox of methods.

During the entire history of the teaching of chemistry in upper secondary schools, student assessment has primarily been based on examinations and grades. However, a possibility to adjust final grades based on continuous classroom credit or other achievements has also been available. The 2003 and 2015 frame curricula shift focus to results achieved through experimental work and development of experimental working skills, and highlight the use of student self-assessment.

The results of the research show that in the teaching of chemistry in upper secondary schools, practical work has primarily taken the form of illustrative demonstrations. Student projects have also been used to explore laboratory methods and illustrate the phenomena or the subject at hand. The 1994 frame curriculum introduced the acquisition of data using experimental methods as well as interpretation, processing and critical evaluation of this data. The lessons learned were then to be put to action in problem-solving. The notion of practical work was also explored through reflection of how the concept is perceived. In 2003, the role of practical work was strengthened along with information and communication technology. The 2015 frame curriculum added a foundation of exploratory, phenomenon-based study. Along with problem-solving, the elements were intended to develop critical creative thinking and help ’learning to learn’, in other words to develop the metacognitive skills of the students.

The results of the research indicate that the ideal balance between content, process and context is yet to be reached, and that the overall trend has been the traditional shift from content to context. In the latest frame curriculum, however, harmony between objectives and results, content, methods and assessment is highlighted. The role of the ability to comprehend the principles of natural science also becomes stronger in the 2003 and 2015 frame curricula. In terms of theory, the scientific foundation of the teaching of chemistry has been relatively good since the 1970s. Teachers and researchers focusing on the teaching of chemistry have not, however, been represented in the committees in charge of producing the curricula guidelines comprehensively (on all levels) until the final decades of the 20th century.

The strong development of the chemistry curricula and the underlying guidelines during Finnish independence is especially pronounced in the shift from teacher-based study to student-focused processes, and from mere providing of information to learning based on active processing of information.

Keywords: curriculum, chemistry curriculum, frame curriculum, teaching of chemistry, inquiry-based learning, practical work, phenomenon-based learning

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Juhani Vaskuri
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