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What does a biology teacher need to know?

This is the theme for a series of seminars on the training of biology teachers, which BIG started in the spring of 2021. Birgitta Åkerman and Björn Birgersson took the initiative for the seminars, in which both active biology teachers and a number of representatives from the National Agency for Education and Stockholm University participated. The project is supported by the university's president's funding for quality.

The fourth seminar was held on January 27 and dealt with the certification of teacher's. The certification is a requirement to gain permanent employment at a school and to be allowed to teach and grade. It is the National Agency for Education that issues the teacher's certification and checks that the applicant meets the requirements. In total, there are now around 284,000 certified teachers in the country, most of them with a teacher degree in primary education, and every year about 15,000 new applications are received. At the National Agency for Education, 45 employees work with the teacher certfication. Two of them, Malin Andersson and Olivia Määttä, participated in BIG's seminar in January and told about their work, which can sometimes be quite complicated.


No national consensus on specific entry requirements for KPU

More and more of those who want to become biology teachers choose not to attend the teacher programme in secondary education (in Stockholm it is not even offered anymore). Instead, they start with several years of subject studies and then study one and a half years of Supplementary Pedagogical Education (KPU). In terms of subject knowledge, the eligibility requirements for KPU are the same as for becoming a qualified teacher, that is, 90 credits of biology for teaching in primary school years 7-9 and 120 credits for teaching in upper secondary school, provided that you have biology as first subject. (If you have biology as second subject 60 credits are required for teaching in primary school and 90 credits for teaching in upper secondary school. In primary school, you can also have biology as third subject, in which case 45 credits is enough.)

But KPU is currently offered at as many as 18 higher education institutions in the country and what the 90/120 points in biology should include varies greatly between the higher education institutions. For example, do you need to have floristics and faunistics and if so, how much? What about evolution? Plant physiology? Microbiology?

The National Agency for Education's administrator cannot make a decision on what should be included in the subject studies. When an application for a teacher's certificate has qualifications that are difficult to assess, help is therefore needed from the higher education institution where the applicant has studied and the National Agency for Education follows the assessment made by that higher education institution. That other higher education institutions might make a different assessment is of course a problem, but not something the National Agency for Education can do anything about.


The experiences of KPU teachers

The seminar in January was also attended by two teachers from Stockholm University with experience of teaching at KPU, Karim Hamza and Jesus Piqueras Blasco. They considered students to generally be well prepared when they begin KPU after their biology studies. But in any case, Jesus pointed out three areas that are central to the school but which may not receive enough attention during biology courses. The three areas are "man" (health and cohabitation, etc.), "social issues with scientific content" (e.g., sustainable development and genetic engineering) and "the history of ideas in biology". The last area is particularly in regards to evolution - how does the new teacher cope with the challenge of meeting students with a creationist view?


Next seminar

On April 28, there will be a final meeting on the issue of eligibility for KPU and hopefully it can be held on campus. The goal is to come up with a proposal for the formulation of special eligibility requirements in biology, to then gain support for these at concerned universities. At this meeting, the future collaboration between BIG and active biology teachers will also be discussed.

Student studying in the study collection infront of the primate skeletons
Student studying in the study collection. Photo: Margareta Ohné.