Learning materials that are prepared with care give all pupils and students the same rights and opportunities to study in an inclusive and thorough way. Docent, learning material creator and teacher instructor Hannele Cantell shines a light on the importance of learning materials in a guest post in the Sanoma Pro’s blog Näkökulmia oppimiseen.

Imagine that you are building a wooden shelf, but you don’t have materials that are suitable for a shelf. In addition, you are missing a toolbox that would contain the tools necessary for the different work stages. The screws are missing, not to mention you getting the shelf painted in a way that would fit the interior decoration.

This is what a teacher’s job is at it’s worst: activities that require focus and precision, without the right kind of tools. And when a teacher doesn’t have suitable materials for different teaching situations, the consequences can be seen in the learning. A situation where the teacher is trying to teach without proper learning materials can, in view of the pupil and student, cause restlessness, confusion and incorrect learning, at the worst. Teachers are educational professionals and it is important that they are allowed to use their expertise on what they know best: pedagogy.

Teachers must be able to focus on teaching

Has Finland forgotten what learning and teaching means? Have we been deceived into believing that the cornerstone that has made the well-being in our nation possible, education, is something to take for granted? Did we huddle to happily in the warmth of a bonfire named Pisa, forgetting the long-term efforts needed for high learning results? Studies have identified several factors that have helped Finns achieve high educational results. One of these is high-quality learning materials.

Quality in learning materials can mean a lot of different things and quality can be considered from the viewpoint of a teacher, pupil, student and a guardian. For a teacher, quality of the printed and digital learning materials means, above else, the ease of use, clarity and compatibility with different situations.

It is absolutely essential that the teacher can use high-quality texts, assignments and assessment materials to save working time and focus on what is important: the teaching job itself, finding pedagogical solutions for e.g. work methods and assessment and meeting with pupils and students. It is a slippery slope to leave the teachers without their essential tools – learning materials. Is one of the reasons for the position of a teacher having reduced attractiveness, as the opinion columns in the magazines have been writing, the lack of materials?

High-quality learning materials are topical and age appropriate

High-quality learning materials guarantee pupils and students everywhere in Finland, regardless of whether they are studying in Ivalo, Vaasa, Lieksa or Kirkkonummi, knowledge that is in line with the curriculum and exciting assignments that inspire them to activity. In this regard, learning materials that are prepared with care guarantee that democracy is realised, since they are used to make sure that all pupils and students have the same rights and opportunities to study in an inclusive and thorough way.

Hihg-quality learning materials are also age appropriate. Imagine a situation where a 10 year old needs to learn the basics of the heart’s function and the circulatory system. Using materials downloaded from the internet can cause a situation where the pupil struggles with medical concepts that are too hard – which even an adult doesn’t understand. This doesn’t happen when you study using materials that progress hierarchically as part of the wider whole of a learning material kit. Age appropriate text is supported by assignments that practice what has been learnt and videos that help the understanding. Slower readers are helped by the text being read aloud and by other important parts of the learning material.

It is also possible that materials found on the internet use obsolete terms, which can be incorrect. Language and terms change, and this has happened e.g. in regards to gender or global environment issues. Carefully prepared learning materials are, as a general rule, made in workgroups with various expertises. Scripts are given feedback along the way and feedback is also requested from other professionals – researchers and non-governmental organisations, among others. Users of the materials, i.e. teachers and pupils or students, also give their opinion. Feedback and opinions are most central in ensuring quality.

Equality and diversity can be seen in the illustrations

These days, visuals play an increasingly important role in quality learning materials. Good visual design makes the learning materials clear, inspiring and easy to absorb. Visuality is also connected to quality pictures, where you can see the changes in society and the parity, equality and diversity of the people.

It is important that each pupil and student can feel like they are one of the main characters in the book or other learning material. If the pictures and texts show diversity, i.e. they show people with different looks, sizes and styles, everyone can experience inclusion and dignity. Disabled pupils and students – and teachers – too, should be visible in the pictures.

Guardians can rely on quality learning materials

High-quality learning materials are also meaningful for the guardians. With them, they can trust that the learning is progressing as intended. In addition to that, proper learning materials ensure that high learning results are not dependent on whether the guardian has the time or ability to guide the studying of the child or to buy extra materials, if the school hasn’t been able to provide proper materials for learning. And since quality learning materials provide assessment materials, the guardian can also be confident in an appropriate and multifaceted assessment.

Quality of education guarantees the Finnish society

During the last few years, a lot of reforms in regards to education have happened in Finland, one of the most important of these being the transition to free upper secondary education. While the school and education are reformed, we have to hold on to the pillars of education, which are quality teacher education and competent teachers, a current curriculum content, a working operational culture and leadership in the schools, appreciation for the work of the teachers and reliable, high-quality learning materials. These pillars ensure that education is carried out according to researched information and that educational equality is achieved.

The wooden shelf of learning should remain sturdy, ecological, appropriate and beautiful. It is not possible to build the shelf of learning if the educational pillars supporting it falter. The work of a teacher deserves it’s appreciation and peace of work.

This article was originally published in Sanoma Pro's blog Näkökulmia oppimiseen on 10 October 2022.

Hannele Cantell is a docent and teacher instructor at the University of Helsinki. She has worked in various educational expert positions, including curriculum workgroups. For over 30 years Hannele Cantell has written learning materials for all grade levels and for higher education institutions. Recently she published the book Sekunnit ennen kaatumista, the Seconds before falling, describing her own disability.