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Satu Niittylahti: Student engagement in vocational education and training in Finland

Tampere University
LocationRemote connection
27.8.2021 12.00–16.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Satu Niittylahti
The dissertation of Satu Niittylahti is focused on student engagement of young students studying in vocational education and training. The purpose of the study was to gain knowledge about factors related to student engagement in Finnish vocational education and training. In addition, this study was carried out to examine how student engagement evolves during vocational studies.

The study highlights the student’s perspective on the daily life of vocational education and training. The issue is timely, as vocational education and training is seeking new forms since the last education reform. In addition, the minimum school-leaving age is being raised to 18 years in 2021. The dissertation provides perspectives for the development of vocational education at this stage of change.

Two Finnish vocational institutions from separate cities participated in the study. This study involved students of business and administration, metalwork and machinery and social studies and welfare. The study was a longitudinal mixed-methods study combining survey (n = 364) and interview (n = 17 and n = 12) data of vocational students under the age of 18.

In the study, student engagement appeared to be malleable throughout the education. Student engagement at the beginning of vocational studies seemed challenging due to the students’ feelings of insecurity concerning career choice, transition to new school, being part of a group and maturity.

The results highlight that there is still room for improvement in educational transitions in Finland. Good relationships with classmates and belonging to the study community were emphasised as factors supporting engagement. Especially in the first year of study, many students were hoping for their field to become more interesting. During this time, it is essential that the students find friends in the educational institution and find suitable learning styles for themselves. This way, the feeling of belonging and finding one's place in the community can develop.

According to the results, school-based learning had developed learning skills and given the students and their choices an active role. In school-based vocational education, clear boundaries are set for the student and, on the other hand, the student is supported to take responsibility for his or her own studies in a controlled manner. Different learning activities emerged as key means to support student engagement.

Thus, the competence of the teacher and the possibility to make pedagogical solutions according to the situation and the students are emphasised. It is good to pay attention to the pace of teaching and give time for the opportunities of the chosen field to open up to the student. In addition, year- and class-based studying can clarify the schedule of the progress of learning for some students.

The results highlight that youth as a stage of life should be recognized and respected during vocational education and training.

The doctoral dissertation of Master of Health Sciencies Satu Niittylahti in the field of education titled ”Mä olen saanut mahdollisuudet oppia” Opintoihin kiinnittyminen ammatillisessa koulutuksessa will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Education and Culture of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 27 August, 2021. The venue is Pinni A bulding Paavo Koli auditorium, A2100, address: Kanslerinrinne 1. Docent Marianne Teräs from University of Stckholm will be the opponent while Professor Marita Mäkinen will act as the custos.

The event can be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at

Photo: Petra Vii Photography