History of FERA

From a small to a rather large science society

The Finnish Educational Research Association was founded just over 40 years ago. The origins of the association, however, can be traced back to 1954, when a council of researchers was founded in association with the Pedagogical Society. The initial council was composed of six researchers in the field of education. Hence, a separate science unit had been formed within the society with the objective of promoting pedagogical research in Finland, co-operation between researchers, and internationalising the field of study. A few more researchers joined the council before its members decided to break from the Pedagogical Society in 1967 and found their own scientific association.

The constitutive meeting was held on the premises of the Department of Education of the University of Helsinki on February 18, 1967. The meeting was attended by some thirty educationalists, and around twenty new members of the future association had sent in their applications to join in. This meant that after the constitutive meeting, the new association had already 55 members. The following year the membership nearly doubled, and in 1972 there were nearly two hundred members. The number of members paying membership fees, however, was much lower. The number of members kept increasing – despite occasional decreases – and in 1988 membership had nearly reached three hundred. As the activities of the association have increased and expanded, the number of members has increased significantly since the end of the 1990s. By the end of the year 2006, the membership register of the association held almost seven hundred names, and the small science society from the 1960s had developed in forty years into a significant association.

The cornerstones of the association activities include the annual conference, publishing activities, and the special interest groups. For the first ten years the activities centred around the meetings arranged monthly during the academic year, nine times a year. The meetings were initially always held in Helsinki, but later on occasionally in other university cities as well. Although Helsinki continued to serve as the main venue for the monthly meetings, the gatherings organised outside the metropolitan area introduced the association and its activities to other university towns. This, for its part, led to an increase in the membership of the association. In 1972, the monthly meetings started to become less regular, and finally they gave way to the annual conference in 1979. The last monthly meeting was held in 1980.

The very first Annual Conference of the Finnish Educational Research Association was held in Hattula, nearby the city of Tampere, in 1979. The Department of Education at the University of Tampere held the position in the executive committee of the association at the time, and was thus responsible for organising the conference. The first conference was attended by as many as eighty participants, and it turned out to be such a success that it became an annual tradition. Today, the turnout varies from three hundred to six hundred and fifty. In addition to the growth in the numbers of attendees, the conference has become more international in nature. Since the end of the 1980s, almost all conferences have hosted one or more foreign academics lecturing on subject matters related to the specific theme of the conference. Moreover, the Finnish Educational Research Association gives away at the conference an annual reward for an outstanding Master’s Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation. In addition to the annual conference, the Educational Research Association has arranged or attended various small-scale and more significant seminars and conferences. The most notable of these conferences are the two conferences organised in co-operation with the European Educational Research Association in Lahti 1999 and in Helsinki 2010.

In addition to the Annual Conference of the Finnish Educational Research Association, another cornerstone of the association’s activities is publishing. Promoting publishing of research in the field was one of the main objectives from the very beginning. This concept was put into action at the end of the 1960s as plans were made to commence negotiations on the amalgamation of the pedagogical journals Kasvatusopillinen aikakauskirja and Kasvatus ja Koulu. The Educational Research Association attended these negotiations from the start. The amalgamation of these two journals gave birth to a new pedagogical journal, Kasvatus – The Finnish Journal of Education. The first issue of Kasvatus was published in the spring of 1970. The Institute for Educational Research of the University of Jyväskylä answered for the publication of the journal. The chairperson of the Finnish Educational Research Association was, however, automatically granted a seat in the editorial committee of the journal until the 1990s when the composition and selecting procedures of the editorial committee were amended. Moreover, the chief editors and journalists have usually been members of the association. From the start, the association has also had a significant role in finding funding for the journal. At the end of the 1990s, the Kasvatus journal became more clearly a journal of the Educational Research Association as the selection of the majority of the editorial staff of the journal was granted to the board of the association, and as in 1998 the journal was transferred completely to the possession of the association. Throughout its existence, Kasvatus has provided an extremely important forum for publication for researchers in the field of education. Certainly the publication policies of the journal have from time to time raised questions and triggered vigorous debates. But that is the way it is supposed to be!

From the very beginning, members of the association had entertained the idea of starting up a more extensive national publication series. This dream of many years was finally realised in 1999, when the Research in Educational Sciences publication series was launched. The first publications, however, were not issued until spring 2001. The series bases on peer assessment, and it includes research reports in the field of education and research-oriented compilations. By February 2008, the series had published a total of thirty five works, of which approximately half were written in English. The series has clearly taken its place as a central publication forum within the educational research field, as demonstrated by the general appreciation and sales figures. A total of 5 200 books have been sold during the seven years. This is not a small number considering the fact that these works are research reports and research-oriented compilations. Moreover, the actual sales figures do not embody the free distribution of works or the free copies of doctoral dissertations. The majority of an edition of 1 500 copies of Reseach-based Teacher Education in Finland. Reflections by Finnish Teacher Educators was distributed at various seminars to the attendees by the departments who had participated in the authoring process. The same book was subject to a publishing contract with a Japanese publisher concerning a Japanese translation of the text in 2007. In all, the book series has been received very well and it has been praised for being of high quality. One indicator of the quality of the series is the fact that two of the doctoral dissertations published within the series have been awarded the annual prize of the Finnish Educational Research Association.

In addition to the publication series Research in Educational Sciences, the association’s publications include the historically and socially orientated online journal Kasvatus & Aika, founded in 2007 (www.kasvatus-ja-aika.fi). The journal is produced by the History of Education Network which itself includes other scientific societies along with the Educational Research Association. This journal, too, is based on peer assessment. It has added a new flavour to the Finnish publication culture.

The third cornerstone of the activities of the association in the 21st century is comprised of the Special Interest Groups (the SIG) or the activities of the research co-operation networks. The impetus for founding the third cornerstone was provided by the examples of international science societies and pressure from the field. Similar researcher groups operated within the association for a few years in the 1980s. Just like the present-day networks, they aimed at strengthening and promoting research and co-operation in their field of speciality. At the end of 2007, there were already eight groups, each acting independently. Many of these groups are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary networks. The extent and level of activity of their operations vary greatly as some have become significant national actors (see details of group operations at their respective web sites). All things considered, these networks have added significantly to the activities of the association while they successfully depict the diversity of education in the 21st century. There is so much more to the history of the Finnish Educational Research Association, such as the co-operation with the Kukkaisrahasto fund (selection of the Educator of the Year; scholarships to support studies and research in the field of education; awarding prizes for doctoral dissertations) in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The above is based on the following book:
Tähtinen, Juhani & Havu-Nuutinen Sari. 2007. Neljäkymmentä vuotta tiedeseuraa. Suomen kasvatustieteellisen seuran 40-vuotisjuhlakirja. Suomen kasvatustieteellisen seuran julkaisusarja Kasvatusalan tutkimuksia 33. ]