JOPO - Flexible Basic Education

Finland has been developing innovative teaching methods and procedures to cater for individual needs through the use of activity based learning, small group teaching, on-the-job learning and different learning environments to reduce dropout.

Flexible Basic Education (JOPO®) is a project launched by the Finish Ministry of Education in 2006. Its purpose is to develop new teaching methods and procedures which help reduce dropout. These new methods cater for individual needs which use activity based learning, small group teaching, on-the-job learning and different learning environments. JOPO activities support pupils in finishing school and applying for further training by means of multi-professional cooperation, early intervention and intensified school-home cooperation. JOPO is intended for pupils in grades 7-9, age ranging between 13 and 15. In 2013 there were approximately 1 800 pupils involved in JOPO.

The JOPO activities are organised into small groups led by a teacher and another professional. The teachers usually have special education training, and their work partners are generally youth workers, youth instructors, community pedagogues or special needs assistants. The foremost forms of activity are small group teaching and individual guidance; on-the-job learning and possibly studies in other subjects in ordinary teaching groups. Other activities include school camps and various excursions in order to develop team and community spirit. Pupils also participate in forms of learning and special courses especially tailored for them.

In particular, the JOPO groups have developed action based learning methods which highlight inquiry based and co-operative learning and project learning instead of teacher-led learning. In place of subject centered learning, the JOPO project has developed thematic learning and more needs based and situational time use. Different groups emphasise slightly different things. In some groups, the focus is more on special-needs type guided and individual learning, while others favour on-the-job learning. The activities of some groups focus on learning derived from the pupils’ strengths and interests, which bolsters their self-assurance, self-confidence and future orientation. In all groups, the basic educational task, that is, learning basic life-management skills (time management, working in a group) and social behaviour consume a great deal of time, to the detriment of actual instruction.

The most common reasons for enrolment in a JOPO group are problems with motivation, a need to study in a small group, and low school achievement. The JOPO pupils’ family and life situations are more difficult than average, which is manifested as psychosocial problems and insecurity, and the groups include an above-average proportion of children from one-parent families.

JOPO activities are effective. The situation of nearly 90% of the pupils had improved from the initial state of affairs. As regards pupils that had not benefitted, the main reason for the failure to get their studies underway even within JOPO was their extremely difficult family and life situations. JOPO had its largest effect in ensuring that pupils got their school-leaving certificates, in reducing absenteeism and in improving study motivation.

The pupils’ situations were affected most by small-group work and personal support and guidance. Other effective forms of activity were on-the-job learning, immediate intervention in non-attendance and intensified school-home cooperation. In practice, the differences between the various JOPO procedures were small, and the results show that the effects are individual; in other words, success is explained more by the pupil’s background and life situation than the use of certain action models within JOPO. A given method thus works with some pupils and not with others. The differentiating factor in benefits gained is to what extent a pupil has participated in non-traditional activities, notably in on-the-job learning and in school camps. The pupils who had most benefited from JOPO had participated several days longer in these than those who had benefited the least.

JOPO activities have been adopted on a permanent basis, and have been written into the Basic Education Act and the Government Decree.

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