In Finland, special education is mainly integrated into mainstream schools. Finland has a high number of students receiving special educational services, but it also has a well-functioning system for educational support. In Finland there are six state-owned special basic schools (Valteri Centre for Learning and Consulting), primarily intended for students with hearing or visual impairments or multiple disabilities. The schools act as national development centers providing expertise to other schools, and also offer temporary education and rehabilitation to pupils from other schools (European Commission, 2015). The previous state special schools and support centers for inclusive education had earlier cooperated as Valteri network. In August 2015, the Valteri network merged as one main unit, but it still consists of six units placed all around Finland (Valteri, 2016). From the autumn 2016 on, Valteri has divided Finland geographically into three main areas to offer support for pupils with special needs: south, middle and north.
This article investigates a special school and consulting centre in Jyväskylä regarding work structure and pedagogical settings.
Valteri School in Jyväskylä
Valteri center in Jväskylä, also called Onerva, offers a wide range of services in the field of support to schools all over Finland. The support forms are based on three levels: general, intensified and special support.The services can target the needs of individual children and young people, or the needs of an entire working community, municipality or region. Apart from that, the unit in Jyväskylä offers a school placement at their school for children with specific needs. In the following, the main observations and experiences of the school visit in Jyväskylä are described.
Observations and impressions
This is how learning can be: Tuomas, a child with Asperger syndrome, has made himself comfortable in his chair, taken off his shoes, and is reading in his book. The school’s learning spaces offer the appropriate environment that meets the individual needs of all the children. Therefore, the school moved to a new building with an open space concept in January 2016. The school building offers an accessible, modifiable and open working environment both for pupils and adults. That means that every child can learn in his own pace. Every child has a personal curriculum according to their skills, needs and interests. The personal learning plan is made in co-operation with the school staff and the parents.
Learning spaces in the school building
Besides the teachers, the staff at the schools consist of different professional experts like nurses who are responsible for the health care of the students, or school psychologists, educational coaches and social workers who look after the private or social problems of the students. The general aim is to recognize the students as individual personalities and to see and accept the differences between them. Valteri-Onerva’s consulting teachers are visiting a pupil or group of pupils in their local schools, offering intensive training in reading and writing skills, and guidance and practice in study techniques, utilizing study aids and specific materials. The centre also produces diverse materials (information, tools and methods) for planning and implementing support. This also includes web-based services, such as online consulting, online materials, and online courses.
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