Project description

21st century skills, multiple literacies and development of RE teacher education

Martin Ubani
Kaisa Viinikka
Arto Kallioniemi

The purpose of this text is to present a three-year research project “21st century skills, multiple literacies and development of RE teacher education” (2018-2021).

It has been widely acknowledged that due to the increased multiculturalism, increased knowledge and changed demands for professionalism and expertise, the grown importance of ICT and social media in societies, the demands for teachers need new skill sets in their practice today and in future. In addition to these, the socio-demographical changes due to secularization and diversification of religions and beliefs among children and youth, the “return of religion” to the public sphere (Habermas 2006), the changes in the confessional basis of religious education toward more inclusive and dialogical emphases and new learning theories (Ubani 2018) are altering and have altered already the competence requirements of an RE teacher.

Subsequently there has been an increase interest in questions regarding to teacher
professionalization also in religious education (Sikes & Everington, 2003; Sikes & Everington,2004; Buchanan & Stern, 2012; Ubani 2016a; Ubani 2016b). Much of action has been policy driven with the aim of increasing the level or ‘effectiveness’ of education through
standardising and laying norms for expected conduct in teaching. Generally, in education the
term competence refers to a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that actualise in
problem-solving tasks in a pedagogical practice (Baartman, Bastiaens, Kirscher & van der
Vleuten, 2007). A broad conception of competence encompasses intellectual, cognitive and
attitudinal aspects along with individual performance (Whitty & Willmott, 2001; Baartman et
al ., 2007). When the scope is broadened further from classroom actions into professional
tasks, competence could be viewed as a complex totality that comprises of many issues
relevant for the good, efficient and successful management of the tasks and demands specific
to the teachers’ profession (Ubani 2018).

In order to evaluate the requirements for successful practice, the RE teachers’ competence demands is evaluated in this project from the viewpoint of 21st century skills.
21st century skills comprise knowledge, skills and attitudes that have been identified as being required for success in 21st century society. In previous studies the 21st century skills have been listed to include a broad range of competences, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, information literacy, technology literacy, religion literacy, flexibility, leadership,
initiative, productivity, accountability, social and dialogue skills, dialogue education, dialogue self-skills, learning to learn, citizenship, life and career and global responsibility and sustainable development. Global Sharing Pedagogy model (the GSP) also includes 21st century skills.
There are four categories in the model. The first category, digital literacy, includesc reativity,
critical and social media skills. The second category, collaboration, includes social skills and
cultural literacy. The third category is networking and the fourth category is knowledge and
skills creation. The latest category includes for example learning to learn skills and ethics and
values. (Darling-Hammond, 2006; 300; Newton & Newton 2014, 584 – 585; Niemi, Harju, Vivitsou, Viitanen, Multisilta & Kuokkanen 2014, 658–660; Niemi & Multisilta 2016, 454 – 455;Niemi, Niu, Vivitsou & Li 2018, 336 – 338; Wang, Lavonen & Tirri 2018, 2085.)

Furthermore, arguably, the Finnish core curriculum for basic education (2014) has
implemented the ideas of 21st century skills in its conceptions of multiple literacies and
wide-ranging expertise. Wide-ranging expertise means that a school needs to offer teaching, which notices different knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. It’s important that pupils can use for example knowledge and skills, how the situation demands. Multiple literacies mean that there are everywhere different kinds of texts (can be for example text, sound, motion, picture or
numeric information) in the world. Pupils should learn skills to interpret diverse information
and how it’s associated with culture. People should be open-minded and the same time critical. Religious literacy means that the teacher understands that the role of religion in a culture
is relevant and it’s important to know basic things about religions. The respect of different worldviews is a starting point, which in an ideal situation ends to the dialog.
(National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014, 20 – 24, 134, 246 & 404.)

In this project we use the literature on teacher’s pedagogical thinking as the framework
where that combines experiences and perceptions of competence, professional ethos and
teacher education and the subsequent changes in the respective perceptions. Teacher’s pedagogical thinking is here viewed as the main thread in teacher development that connects the different experiences with the teacher’s professional development.
According to Zeichner and Linston (1996) a teacher is a reflective practitioner who ‘ examines, frames, and attempts to solve the dilemmas of classroom practice; is aware of and questions the assumptions and values he or she brings to teaching; is attentive to the institutional and cultural contexts in which he or she teaches; takes part in curriculum development and is involved in school change efforts; and takes responsibility for his or her own professional development.’
(Zeichner & Liston, 1996; Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009; Ubani 2018.)

This project looks at the whole academic breadth in the teacher education of an RE teacher as
it includes along with the pedagogical studies (educational sciences) and teaching practice
(of the pedagogical studies) along with the major subject studies. In concrete, the project will
gather data from practicing RE teachers (N=1000) and principals (N=40) and do a three-year
follow-up study of RE student teachers at the University of Eastern Finland and University of
Helsinki (N=70). The data will include both quantitative questionnaire and qualitative data.
The research questions are: (1.) What do the in-service teachers perceive as the competence
requirements for successful RE practice today and in future (in light of the 21st century skills
framework), (2.) What is the contribution of the pedagogical studies, teaching practice and
major subject studies in the developments of 21st century skills and perceptions about them
among the RE student teachers and (3.) How would the in-service teachers and principals and
pre-service teachers develop teacher education curricula (including major studies) to meet
with the 21st century requirements.

The inclusion of the contribution major subject studies and their development is important in
our views as traditionally the curriculum development in Theology, similarly to most other
subjects, has not paid attention to the requirements of the teachers. For instance in Finland
the conception of expertise in Theology and in teacher education is fundamentally different:
while the former is based on a cognitive conception of expertise, the latter emphasizes
constructivist approach and teachers pedagogical thinking (Niemi & Jakku-Sihvonen 2006;
Toom & Husu 2016). Furthermore, the curricula in Theology have usually focused more on
the skills of a the Theologian and if paid much attention to the professions, the focus has been
of the profession of a minister rather than of the teacher. On the other hand so far much of
the development of teacher education has focused to alter pedagogical studies there.
However, four fifths of the studies of the subject teacher is completed outside of the pedagogical studies: it can be argued that the impact of the Major subjects thought of expertise, for instance,
hinders the professional development of the teacher as it is based on a differing conception of
knowledge and expertise. As an outcome, the project will produce a) insight on the
perceptions of the teachers in the field on the requirements for successful practice, b)
knowledge on the reflection of the student’s in different studies and phases of their program,
and course models and recommendations for developing RE teacher education.

The project has in all stages collaboration with teacher training schools, continuing education,
subject faculties, student organizations, representatives from regional state administrative
agency and private sector and in-service teachers and principals. In concrete the project
includes a working group consisting of representatives of the afore-mentioned groups that
elaborates the outcomes of empirical research, curriculum analysis and their implications to teacher education. In addition, the project includes an international evaluation group
consisting of established scholars in RE teacher education.

They are:
Professor Robert Jackson, U. of Warwick, Great Britain
Assistant professor Jenny Berglund, U. of Södertörn, Sweden
Professor Henrik Simojoki, U. of Bamberg, Germany
Professor Arniika Kuusisto, U. of Stockholm, Sweden

The project is funded by Ministry of Education and Culture (2018-2021) and led by Professor Martin Ubani at the University of Eastern Finland. Professor Arto Kallioniemi, University of Helsinki, partners in the project. The project includes 2 researchers and one project assistant.

The timeline of the project is:
Autumn 2018: Data gathering on the students begins, working group begins
Spring 2019: Data gathering on in-service teachers and principals, first results
Autumn 2019: Reporting results continues
Spring 2020: Seminar for teacher education professionals
Autumn 2020: Results of the project
Spring 2021: Final results, reports and recommendations

21st century skills, subject teacher training, dialogue skills, religion education,
multiple literacies, teacher education, religion literacy, viewing teaching


Baartman, L., Bastiaens, T. J., Kirscher, P. & van der Vleuten, C. (2007). Evaluating assessment quality in competence-based education: A qualitative comparison of two frameworks. Educational Research Review, 2(2), 114 – 129.


Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2009). Understanding teacher identity: An overview of issues in
the literature and implications for teacher education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39 (2), 175–189.


Buchanan, M.T. & Stern, J. (2012). Pre-service teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of peer review.
Journal of Education for Teaching, 38 (1), 37 – 49.


Darling-Hammond, L. 2006. Constructing 21st century teacher education.
Journal of Teacher Education, 57:3, 300 – 314.


Habermas, J. (2006). Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy, 14
(1), 1 – 25.


National core curriculum for basic education 2014. Helsinki: Board of Education.
Newton, Lynn D. & Newton, Douglas P. 2014. Creativity in 21st-century education.
Prospects, 44: 575 – 589.


Niemi, H., & Jakku-Sihvonen, R. (2006). Research-Based Teacher Education. In R. Jakku-Sihvonen & H. Niemi (Eds.),Research-Based Teacher Education in Finland. Reflections by Finnish Teacher Educators. Research in Educational Sciences 25 (pp. 31 – 50). FinnishEducational Research Association: Helsinki.


Niemi, H., Harju, V., Vivitsou, M., Viitanen, K., Multisilta, J. & Kuokkanen, A. (2014).
Digital Storytelling for 21st-Century Skills in Virtual Learning Environments.
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Niemi, H. & Multisilta, J. (2016). Digital storytelling promoting twenty-first century skills and
student engagement. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 25:4, 451 – 468.


Niemi, H., Niu, S., Vivitsou, M. & Li, B. (2018). Digital Storytelling for Twenty-First-Century
Competencies with Math Literacy and Student Engagement in China and Finland. Contemporary Educational Technology, 9:4, 331 – 353.


Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Toom, A., & Husu. J. (2016). Finnish Teachers as ‘Makers of the Many’.In H. Niemi, A. Toom,
& A. Kallioniemi, Miracle of Education (pp. 41 – 55). Rotterdam: SensePublishers.


Ubani, M. (2019). Religion, multiculturalism and Finnish schools. In. M. Ubani, I. Rissanen &
S. Poulter (Eds.), Contextualising dialogue, secularisation and pluralism: Case analyses in
Finnish public education. Waxmann: Münster. Manuscript.


Ubani, M. (2016a). RE student teachers’ professional development in initial teacher education:
results, reflections and implications. British Journal for Religious Education, 38 (2), 189 – 199.


Ubani, M. (2016b). Die professionelle Entwicklung von Lehramtsstudierenden mit Unterrichtsfach Religion: Befunde, Interpretationen und Implikationen. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik und Theologie, 68 (2), 224 – 237.


Wang, Y., Lavonen, J., Tirri, K. 2018. Aims for Learning 21st Century Competencies in National Primary Science Curricula in China and Finland, EURASIA Journal of Mathematics, Science and
Technology Education, 2018, 14:6, 2081 – 2095.


What kind of educational reflections do RE student teachers have during their pedagogical
studies? A dialogical perspective on a case study. In M. Ubani, M. (Ed.), New international studies on religion and dialogue in education (pp. 173 – 188). Waxmann: Münster.


Sikes, P. & Everington, J. (2003). ‘I’m a woman before I’m an RE teacher’: managing religious identity in secondary schools. Gender and Education, 15 (4), 393 – 403.


Sikes, P. & Everington, J. (2004). ’RE Teachers Do Get Drunk You Know’: Becoming an RE Teacher in the twenty-first century. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 10 (1), 21 – 33.