When Annukka Hulkkonen graduated from the University of Oulu in 1996, early childhood education had only been accepted as a university subject a year earlier. Hulkkonen was the only student in her class to have completed a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. Throughout her long career, she has seen an increase in the prestige of the sector but also an increase in the complexity of the work.
Born in Rovaniemi, Annukka Hulkkonen knew early on that education was her calling. That goal took her to the University of Oulu, from which she graduated as an early childhood education teacher. About the same time, she started a family and settled down permanently in Oulu.
Annukka worked as an early childhood education teacher for ten years until she was elected head of daycare centre in 2005. She now runs two kindergartens that employ 40 early childhood education professionals. At the same time, she is studying for a master's degree in early childhood education.
– At least I don't have to think about what to do in my free time, Hulkkonen say with a laugh.
Hulkkonen leads by example
Daycare centre management is demanding. It requires the head of the centre to have excellent interpersonal skills, substance knowledge in early childhood education, leadership skills and the ability to see the big picture. The key task is to lead a pedagogical and multidisciplinary team.
– People may not always realise how demanding this job is. The head of a daycare centre needs to be able to harness the skills of the whole work community for the benefit of the children and ensure that the central idea of work is present. Every child needs to have the opportunity to learn the knowledge and skills needed in life.
During her leadership career, Annukka has learned that setting an example is a huge resource. In order to be a good example, she is now studying for a master's degree.
– You don't have to have a master's degree as a head of a daycare centre, but I thought it would be good for me to study more, because almost all of the new early childhood education teachers will have a master’s degree in the future.
The demanding nature of the work has increased
Annukka Hulkkonen considers education and early childhood education to be a necessity, so there is no need to think about the relevance or necessity of work in everyday life. It brings peace of mind.
However, she is concerned about the coping of professionals in the sector as the work has become more demanding. Employees are required to have a more profound knowledge of early childhood education and pedagogy, as well as interaction skills.
– In addition, particularly the directors and heads face all kinds of administrative challenges, and many feel inadequate in the midst of it all. The city of Oulu should be commended for providing employees a wealth of up-to-date and necessary training. One example of this is my recent training on positive leadership.
Committed to a safe childhood
The National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care, more commonly known as “vasu”, drawn up by the Finnish National Agency for Education, serves as a guideline for the work of all daycare centres. It states that the task of early childhood education and care is to protect and promote the right of children to good and safe childhood.
– Even if the world changes and education with it, the right to a good and safe childhood is inviolable.
Annukka says she firmly believes in openness, fairness and honesty.
– They are the most important values that guide my work. As a head of a daycare centre, I am not in direct contact with children, but by influencing the well-being of employees, I also affect the well-being of children. I want the employees to trust me one hundred per cent.