Finnish school system facing lack of qualified teachers of Islam

Education officials believe that there are many reasons for the scarcity of teachers to instruct primary school students in the fundamentals of Islam. Pekka Iivonen, a counsellor with the National Agency for Education, said that immigrants who would like to be teachers are finding it difficult to pass university entrance exams.

"Language skill is a major issue. People speaking languages other than Finnish have difficulty getting into teacher training. This means that the number of teachers is growing more slowly than the number of [migrant] students," Iivonen noted.

According to Finnish law, a teacher is not required to acknowledge the religion that he or she is teaching. On the other hand, some members of the Muslim community don’t take too kindly to the idea of a non-believer teaching Islam.

Finnish convert and Islam teacher at Helsinki’s Vesala upper secondary school Suaad Onniselkä said that competence is more important than conviction when it comes to teaching about the religion. She said it doesn't matter whether the teacher is a pedagogically unqualified immigrant or a Finn who lacks academic training about Islam. In either case, the quality of teaching will suffer, she added.

"For example, you could have a religion teacher who drones on about how atheism is the best option. On the other hand, beliefs about Islam among people coming from outside the Finnish school system might be based on an individual’s childhood rather than the Finnish school curriculum," Onniselkä pointed out.

Teacher: Finland needs to teach Islam -- and other religions too

She said that Finland should emphasise the teaching of Islam and other religions, given that their role in society is not diminishing. The teaching professional added that society needs academic knowledge about Islam as well as other faiths.

"It eases the functioning of society when we interact with people for whom faith or lack of faith forms an important part of their daily lives," she noted.

According to ninth grade student Najmo Mohamed, who attends the Vesala upper secondary school, information about Islam is needed, not only for Muslims but also for the media and the wider Finnish society, who are largely ignorant about Islam.

"If you say the word 'terrorist', then the first thing that comes to mind is an Islamic terrorist. It’s as if Islam is the reason for terrorism. And not perhaps the fact that an individual may have mental health problems, is lonely, or is out for revenge, no. But just because that person is a Muslim," Mohamed said.

Teacher Onniselkä pointed out that teaching about Islam is not merely about dealing with media portrayals of Islam or anti-Islam attitudes.

"This is an academic subject. We teach about Islam to increase thinking skills and so that students would have the ability to know their own traditions," she declared.