FINLAND – Champion of Workers’ Education: Työväen Sivistysliitto –TSL’s Katri Söder.

FINLAND – Champion of Workers’ Education: Työväen Sivistysliitto –TSL’s Katri Söder.

CHAMPION OF WORKERS’ EDUCATION: FINLAND –Työväen Sivistysliitto –TSL’s Katri Söder

Katri Söder is the Manager of Education and Principal at the Workers´ Educational Association of Finland and leads the team for adult basic skills. Katri currently serves as Executive Committee Member of IFWEA, and has worked as Finnish coordinator on IFWEA’s annual Youth Globalisation Awareness Programme (YGAP). In this interview, we learn more about the challenges of workers in Finland, the importance of digitalisation, and the value of international cooperation and solidarity.

Can you tell us about your background and educational journey? I come from a small village in the countryside. The village was home to the only technology-based high school in Finland, so I chose that school just to be able to go to school from home. However, I soon realized that I was not interested in technology. I finished my studies anyway, and after high school I went to Tampere University to study Political Sciences, Journalism and Mass Communication. These studies were closer to my interests.


How did this experience impact on you? I began to think that all education is actually worth studying. Although I do not work with technology, I may have learned to think in more complex way, and that is helpful also in my current job. I also learned to know different kinds of people, and maybe I learned to be more permissive.


Did you continue learning? As an adult I decided to study more, so I studied educational sciences at University of Helsinki, and then I also did the principal’s administrative studies to be able to work as Principal. Right now I am studying pedagogcal studies, to become a better educator.


What is the journey that led you to the labour movement and to become a worker educator? When I was young, I worked as a waitress in a restaurant that didn’t always pay proper compensation for evenings and nights. We also had working contracts with a minimum of 0 hours, which means that there might be some months with no salaries at all. That made me to join the labour movement. I ended up being a trainer by accident. I got a job from TSL as chief of communications, but I started to educate quite soon, and stayed on that path.


What is the power of education in your experience? Education enables people to be the best version of themselves. It also gives us the power to influence society and to change the world. Education increases solidarity and tolerance and makes the world a better place for all.


What are the education methodologies that you have practised?

  • encounter, dialogue, reflection
    • resource, phenomenon, solution – and goal oriented tasks
    • visualisation and training
    • inspiring and empowering learning environments; multichannel consideration
    • support for learning capacities
    • collaborative learning and other collaborative methods


Can you give us an example of the methodology in action, what are the values in this?

Collaborative learning is learning in small groups to achieve a common goal. Collaborative learning is a way of interaction that aims to engage participants in the learning process through peer learning, to improve students’ self-esteem and learning outcomes, and to teach students the skills and responsibilities of learning about themselves and others. Collaborative learning focuses on common output and the fact that all students learn the same things and participate in achieving a common goal.


What do you think are the main challenges facing workers – particularly women workers and young workers in Finland?

Women all over the world face inequalities in the form of lower pay, sexual harassment and the fact that women do not have the same access to leadership as men. Unfortunately, this is also often the case in the trade union movement. With the majority of leaders being men, the issues that are important to women are not on the agenda. Young people often suffer from unemployment, which brings hopelessness and lack of vision. When young people are out of work, they have no courage and cannot afford to have children. This affects to whole society.

As young people are often in short employment relationships, they may be afraid to join a trade union. The ideas of young workers would be needed to keep the unions up to date and to develop them into the future.


The biggest challenge to workers (including youth and women) is the changing nature and digitalisation of work. In TSL we are currently talking about the change of work, which is a very big issue in our strategy. Work is changing in so many ways. For example the coming of robotics, automation, that artificial intelligence and all that – also the sharing and platform economy. This will change the content of the work, and it will also change the relationship between being an employer, or being an employee. In future workers will have to carry a bigger risk because they will need to employ themselves through all kinds of digital platforms. Of course this causes alot of uncertainty in many ways, and this reflects what is going on everywhere in the world  – in terms of the challenges of migrant workers, youth workers and women workers.

What is the importance of digitalisation of the workplace?

Nowadays there is no workplace anymore where you don’t need digital skills. If people don’t have digital skills, they don’t have good opportunities to stay in the labour market, and people who are now unemployed, dont have the possibility to re-enter the labour market. Digital skills lead to better job opportunities, also better pay and even better well-being at work. You need internet technology (IT) skills for integration and to participate in society – to go to education, to go to work, even in your social life.

In Finland there are many kinds of social services that are only available through the Internet, or at least it is easier to use through the Internet – for example the tax services are nowadays working through the Internet, and banking services, the unemployment offices and everything – so this is really a big question.  There was a survey showing that in Finland over one million people do not have enough basic IT skills. You need to be digitalised as a citizen, also for work and at work. If people don’t have digital skills and competencies, they also don’t have ways to be active citizens.

What kinds of education programmes would address these challenges?

Equality must be taught to society as a whole, including men. It has to be understood that if women are not able to influence things, it will have a negative effect on the economy of the whole country.  Women need to be trained in leadership skills and self-confidence. With women being still more responsible for housework and children, online education could sometimes be easier to access. Young people need free or very cheap education so they can afford to educate themselves in to the labor market. Training could take place at least partially online.


TSL Finland is one of the organisations in ABF Borden – can you tell us about ABF Norden and its aim? ABF Norden is a collaboration organisation that works to support its member organisations (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Åland – an autonomous area in Finland who are independently active and have their own seat in ABF Norden). The association also participates in both Nordic and international workers’ movements. We are running two school programmes together –   firstly, the Geneva School:  from 1931, the main purpose of the school is to work towards a better understanding of international co-operation, focusing on the work of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) with particular interest in following up on the International Labour Conference – ILC in Geneva, Switzerland. Secondly, Nordenskolan (Nordic School): Nordenskolan is a course about the possibilities and challenges of the Nordic model, which is the way we want to organise societies. It is a joint project for ABF Norden and the Nordic labour movements collaborational organisation SAMAK.

Through its operations, ABF Norden is to contribute to: firstly, reinforcing and developing values of societal, popular educational (non-formal adult education) and cultural nature on the basis of solidarity and shared responsibility And secondly, strengthening ties between the member organisations:

  • Assisting with the exchange of experience and information between member organisations and with other sister- and partner organisations.
  • Contributing actively to highlighting issues and activities that underpin popular movements at Nordic level.
  • Working to achieve shared objectives in the international arena

We are sharing and learning from each other – right now we have been discussing a lot about democracy and basic skills, and we have working groups for these subjects. We had a study tour to Denmark to see how they teach the basic skills. ABF Norden wants to contribute internationally and being part of IFWEA gives us an opportunity to do that.

Why is it important, in your opinion, to be part of global organisations like IFWEA? We have a lot of global problems that cannot be solved in just one country, such as climate change. The labor market is also global, and therefore the protection of workers’ interests must be international and global. When it comes to international advocacy, there is also a need for employee training organizations to work together. IFWEA is an important and good field for collaboration and mutual learning.

What do you think is the value of worker and popular education for solidarity locally, and globally? Education always increases solidarity, because a broader view of the world increases solidarity. Education also helps workers to learn to influence social issues together. United we are strong.  We also need global know-how. When exploitation is global, the battle against exploitation must also be global. Therefore, worker and popular education also in global level is needed.


What message do you have for educators in the IFWEA community?

Let’s continue the good work together, to save the world!