Cultural instructors help students succeed

13.12.2022 11.47

At the beginning of the school year 2022–2023, four cultural instructors – Donya Hajali, Elena Junnila, Shan Zhu and Hamse Mohamed – started working at Espoo’s general upper secondary schools as part of the ‘Ohjauksella onnistumisiin’ project. In addition to the Finnish language, the cultural instructors can provide assistance in their own mother tongues, i.e. Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Somali.

“The multilingual team of cultural instructors forms the core of the ‘Ohjauksella onnistumisiin’ project. The project year is well underway, and currently we are piloting the operating model and practices of cultural instruction in Espoo’s general upper secondary schools,” says Kerttuli Punkari, who coordinates the project at the City of Espoo.

The ‘Ohjauksella onnistumisiin’ project is led by the City of Espoo’s Finnish Upper Secondary Education and Youth Services unit. The project is funded by the Finnish National Board of Education (OPH) as part of the national programme to improve the quality and accessibility of general upper secondary education.

Pilot aims to find best practices in Espoo’s general upper secondary schools

Piloting the operating model and practices of cultural instruction means that cultural instructors cooperate with the staff of general upper secondary schools and experiment with the best methods of cultural instruction as part of the schools’ daily activities. In addition to personal guidance, cultural instructors offer group guidance in cooperation with teachers and guidance counsellors.

“Espoo’s general upper secondary schools are unique learning communities, so the cultural instruction methods that work in one school may not be optimal for another school. In addition to young people and teachers, cultural instructors can also advise guardians in their own mother tongue,” says Kerttuli Punkari.

In Espoo, cultural instructors have already been employed in basic education. At present, four cultural instructors work in comprehensive schools. In Helsinki, similar professionals, called multilingual instructors, also work in general upper secondary schools. In Helsinki, multilingual instructors work in pairs in Vuosaaren lukio, Helsingin medialukio and Helsingin kielilukio.

Cultural instructors help students, teachers and guardians

What does a cultural instructor do at Espoo’s general upper secondary schools? Cultural instructors’ work focuses on multidisciplinary cooperation and interaction with students and the entire school staff based on a culturally sensitive approach. Students and their guardians can get advice in Finnish or their mother tongue if they have questions about general upper secondary education.

“Many guardians with an immigrant background need information about general upper secondary schools and the Finnish education system, which they are not familiar with. They are particularly interested in the matriculation examination and their child’s further education,” explains Donya Hajali, who works as a cultural instructor in general upper secondary education. She serves clients in fluent Finnish as well as Arabic. Donya Hajali knows multilingual and -cultural families well, as she is also an immigrant, born in Syria. As a mother of four, she knows how important it is for guardians to receive information about their child’s studies in their new home country. She has previously worked as a cultural instructor in basic education at the City of Espoo.

Young people can visit a cultural instructor for example during a break and talk about matters related to their studies, working life and leisure time. They can get advice on how to apply to university, find a summer job or draw up a good CV, for example. They can also talk about relationships with all their ups and downs. Once students feel comfortable in the situation, they may bring up more serious issues, such as anxiety, loneliness and bullying.

The best emotional support for a young person is an adult who has time to listen to them. All discussions with the cultural instructor are confidential. This means that the instructor will not disclose anything that has been discussed without the young person’s permission.

The entire learning community benefits from cultural instruction

In the fast-paced daily life of general upper secondary schools, cultural instructors act as experts in culturally sensitive support and guidance. Teachers can ask cultural instructors to help them in class when discussing things like culture clashes or how children are raised in different cultures. The topics can be discussed at a general level or through personal experiences. Cultural instructors can also act as interpreters at parents’ evenings or other meetings at school. Guardians are provided with training on how to use Wilma and the Opintopolku online service.

Team building, emotional and interpersonal skills, reducing absenteeism and the prevention of discrimination are some of the key objectives. In addition to personal guidance and support, cultural instructors focus on strengthening the community spirit between young people and adults with different cultural backgrounds.

“As a cultural instructor working at general upper secondary schools, my job is to help students progress in their studies and enjoy school. When students are happy, teachers are happy too,” says Cultural Instructor Donya Hajali.

Cultural breaks, multicultural celebrations, international visitors from universities, student stories – community spirit at school can be raised through various jointly planned and organised events as well as dialogue across grades, disciplines and subjects. Everyone benefits from the availability of cultural instructors and culturally sensitive support, as the students’ wellbeing leads to good study results – something that all schools welcome.

Read more about cultural instructors and general upper secondary education in Espoo

More information

Project Coordinator
Kerttuli Punkari
+358 40 6364876

Education Planning Chief
Jaakko Turpeinen 
tel. +358 46 8773903


The City of Espoo has 11 general upper secondary schools. With us, learning is varied and motivating. Our studies provide inspiration, support and future prospects to match everyone’s needs and dreams. You can also choose to specialise according to your interests – from sciences and arts to sports and international activities. Come and apply to study with us!

  • General Upper Secondary Education
  • Growth and Learning