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Early childhood education has a major impact of the future of children and society

Published on 9.5.2022
Tampere University
Professori Heidi Harju-Luukkainen.
Heidi Harju-Luukkainen took up a professorship in early childhood education in the Faculty of Education and Culture in early April. She has accumulated extensive international experience by working in five countries and more than ten universities before joining Tampere University.

Education is a broad field of study that provides researchers with a great deal of leeway to work abroad and pursue particular lines of research throughout their careers. Having worked at different universities around the world, Heidi Harju-Luukkainen, who recently took up a professorship at Tampere University, is an excellent example of academic mobility. She has research groups in multiple countries.

“I have always been fascinated with early childhood education because children develop and learn at such a rapid pace during early years. Early childhood is a time when it is possible to make a positive impact on children’s development and future by providing them with high-quality early childhood education that involves close collaboration with their families. Early education for children has a profound impact on society. As a researcher, I am honoured to have a front row seat to the latest developments in this field and the chance to make an impact on our future through research,” she says.

The topics that researchers investigate are affected by societal factors in all fields of research, including early childhood education.

“For example, sustainable development has become an especially important theme in childhood education studies. Bilingualism and multilingualism are also sure to become subjects of increasing scientific interest in Finland. In addition, we are sure to see some unexpected developments, such as international pandemics, that lead to new avenues of research,” she notes.

Broad research themes and international teams

Heidi Harju-Luukkainen is interested in the study of a variety of phenomena ranging from early childhood education to adult education. Lately, she has focused on early childhood education, such as pedagogy, language awareness, gifted children, collaboration with parents, early childhood special education, and assessment. She also studies compassionate academic communities.

“My research always involves collaboration with national or international partners. At present, I have several national and international projects underway. Our research group in Norway is conducting the world’s largest longitudinal study on early childhood education among Sami speakers as well as with other researchers we explore language awareness pedagogy in a day care centre and school where education is offered through the medium of South Sami. Together with a team of researchers from Australia, we are examining the experiences of early childhood education among families with an immigrant background and also studying academic communities,” Harju-Luukkainen says.

At the national level, Harju-Luukkainen is studying pedagogical leadership in the context of early childhood education, language aware pedagogy, the definition of early childhood education pedagogy, gifted children, the future roles of early childhood educators, and online teaching. 

“My research interests cover a broad spectrum of topics. In these different research groups we will publish a large number of papers as well as edited volumes again this year. More than a hundred researchers from around the world have participated in authoring the volumes.”

Dr Chili promotes learning

Heidi Harju-Luukkainen also has a slightly more unorthodox area of interest: dog-assisted learning.

“Sometimes our miniature poodle Dr Chili pops into my class and helps me test dog-assisted learning in practice. I am actively involved in dog obedience training and dog shows in my free time. I also enjoy knitting socks and being an active member in non-profit organisations. Throughout my career, my family – my husband and three children of whom I am exceedingly proud – has provided me with invaluable support and encouragement,” she says.

“I have amassed a long academic track record and I am grateful for my professional achievements. I have been able to make an impact on the development of the educational field and the future of education in Finland and beyond. I have also had the opportunity to contribute to the development of teacher training in multiple countries. Now I feel I have a reached a point in my career where it is time to give back of all this good, I have received during my career and share what I have learned. I feel happy when I can help the next generation of researchers develop on their careers and to support my academic community.” 

Text: Sanna Kähkönen
Photo: Heidi Harju-Luukkainen’s photo archive