Address: Annikanpolku 9, 20610 Turku

Country: Finland

 School website

Project: Dealing with controversial issues

Working language during the project:

  • Finnish and English

Themes of the Council of Europe campaign “FREE to SPEAK, SAFE to LEARN - Democratic Schools for All” covered:

  • Addressing controversial issues
  • Preventing violence and bullying
  • Tackling discrimination

Competences from the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (CDC) addressed and where / how they were integrated:

  • Openness to cultural otherness and to other beliefs, world views and practices
    Turku University Τeacher Training School is a multicultural school, situated in an area with a large number of immigrants (Varissuo): more than 65% of our pupils have Finnish as their second language. Pupils have approximately 50 different home languages and various cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Equality, human rights, language awareness in education, intercultural skills and cooperation skills are at the core of our education. We also educate teachers to be part of a section of Turku University Faculty of Pedagogics.
    We have developed regular practices to develop a learning environment that would foster and promote these core skills.
    First of all, we have an annual Controversial Issues theme day organised by our teachers and students. Classes work in workshops on topics which include: different cultural practices, beliefs and values. The following are examples from last April’s workshop: Science vs. God / Sexual minorities / linguistic rights / Animal rights / Expression of feelings / Identity / Human rights / etc. Themes are suggested by pupils, and student teachers take up the themes that best match our curriculum. All 130 student teachers became familiar with methods of handling controversial issues in classrooms in several afternoon sessions. Special focus in workshops and in trainings fell on listening, discussion and dialogue skills – and this year our school community’s main theme is dialogue.
    Among 8th-graders we organise workshops against racist attitudes regularly.
    Teachers cooperate on lessons about various religions and other subjects (Islam, Lutheranism, ethics) in order to maintain and foster peaceful discussion of controversial issues.
    Our policy is also language awareness, which includes lessons in pupil’s home languages. By authorising and even encouraging pupils to use their home language for learning we try to promote an atmosphere favourable for learning and various identities. All teachers have been trained to use methods and means of learning that help pupils of different backgrounds and sometimes with only basic language skills to feel included in the learning process and not separated from the school community. We do not have separate groups for language beginners.
  • Valuing democracy, justice, fairness, equality and the rule of law
    Classes suggest workshop topics that are important to them; topics are handled in versatile methods according to the class needs; all voices are heard in workshops; linguistic, sexual, ethnic, religious and other minority issues are a focus of topics.
    We co-operate actively in our neighbourhood community: guardians, authorities and ethnic organisations. We deal with any conflicts together with guardians and with other local authorities, e.g. youth workers and local police. The attitude is to tackle any problem at once before it becomes an issue and to create a supportive network for our pupils – we all work with same children. For example, we organise weekly youth house breaks for different groups (girls, 7th graders, and 8th and 9th graders), and pupils can influence which games or other activities can be undertaken in the youth house, which is located just next to our school.
    We invest in good relations with guardians: we have regular multicultural and multilanguage parents’ evenings in our school, and our teachers from, for example, Somalia, Kosovo and Kurdistan are present in lessons and meetings with guardians. This has enabled us to build mutual trust so that girls, for example, are trusted to participate in school events without questioning.
  • Knowledge and critical understanding of the world: politics, law, human rights, culture, cultures, religions, history, media, economies, environment, sustainability
    In our curriculum there are official plans against bullying, violence and for equality. The equality plan is checked regularly by a survey carried out by pupils. Media criticism and skills are crucial for critical thinking skills and they are used in workshops and in lessons throughout all subjects. It is highly recommended that Friday morning sessions in the classrooms are dedicated to world news and critical discussion of world news. At the current moment, we are in the middle of media criticism week.
    There is an active student council in our school both at the primary level and for grades 7-9. The student council organises, for example, activities in environment protection, on Unicef, interview sessions of principals. The student council takes part in recruitment e.g. new special education teachers. And they asked very good questions!

Target group age range:

  • 11 - 15

Level of education:

  • Lower secondary education

Short description of the project:

We arranged an annual theme day for controversial issues for lower secondary pupils. Topics are suggested by pupils, who also work in their class groups during the day. We made a washing line – an exercise for choosing the workshop topics: Pupils write (anonymously) three notes and hang them on a washing line: one note for a “cold” topic (a controversial topic that is perfectly all right to talk about in the school community), one note for a “lukewarm” topic (a controversial topic that might be a bit difficult to talk about in the school community) and one note for a “hot”” topic (a controversial topic that is very difficult to talk about in the school community). By this exercise we hope to give an opportunity to students to express themselves on those topics which are difficult to discuss in pupils own cultural environments. Thus, we get many topics that are important to pupils. Our student teachers choose one topic for each group and prepare a theme day for each group about this topic. Each group has to handle the topic from at least two different angles or subjects. Examples of last years’ topics are: human rights, sexual minorities, gender equality, animal rights and zoos, expression of feelings among others. Our national curriculum wants the topics to be relevant and important to pupils in multidisciplinary learning modules.

The theme day consists of learning facts and information, discussions, expression of feelings and attitudes and listening to others. Most of the methods are active, involving pupils, e.g. drama. The activities are planned by student teachers, with a supervisory teacher for giving guidance. The teachers and student teachers are familiar with methods for dealing with controversial issues. Teachers are especially trained to guide the learning process for student teachers and pupils. A special focus is placed on teaching listening skills.

The experiences from last April were encouraging. The atmosphere was calm and relaxed; no quarrels or difficult situations emerged. A survey among teachers showed that the theme day is worth organizing annually, so we will continue with it next April, with minor improvements.


  1. Give a channel to express different values, opinions and attitudes;
  2. Learn to listen to others and accept that there are different ways of seeing the world;
  3. Learn about human rights and equality;
  4. Teach our teacher Students to deal with controversial issues in a multicultural community.

Expected results/outcomes

An annual theme day of controversial issues in April


  1. In the school community: less violence, arguments and discrimination based on ethnic, racial, sexual, religious differences;
  2. Among teachers and student teachers: more self-confidence and stronger democracy in classes when dealing with controversial issues.

Challenges you faced

Multicultural school environment with pupils from 50 different language areas.

Time-frame of the project:

Training teachers in January 2020, Training student teachers in spring 2020, annual theme day in April (we already did this last year).

Council of Europe materials on citizenship and human rights education used while preparing or implementing your practice:

  • Managing controversy
  • Teaching controversial issues-training pack