Finns are in a class of their own

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

A reader’s mark­ing of my home­work:

‘‘When I read your col­umn about char­ter schools I thought – like I fre­quently do about your col­umns – that you have it ab­so­lutely right.

‘‘Like ev­ery­thing in this coun­try, right wing politi­cians and lob­by­ists cap­ture the con­ver­sa­tion and seed a lot of non­sense jar­gon in the public dis­course, es­pe­cially around ed­u­ca­tion.

‘‘The work of Pasi Sahlberg gives even more rea­son to hold grave con­cerns about the way ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try is go­ing.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, few gov­ern­ments ever give the ed­u­ca­tion port­fo­lio to any­one truly in­no­va­tive or even ef­fec­tive, par­tic­u­larly at present.

‘‘The way we are go­ing the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem will have a much longer tail than now, a dis­as­ter for our en­tire coun­try and many fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

‘‘Thanks top­ics.’’

Let’s fol­low through on the ref­er­ence to Pasi Sahlberg – di­rec­tor­gen­eral of the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Mo­bil­ity and Co­op­er­a­tion (CIMO) in Fin­land and now a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Har­vard.

He ranks the global ed­u­ca­tion re­form move­ment as a ‘‘wicked germ’’ spread­ing around the world.

‘‘It [the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem] is run like a mar­ket­place rather than a pro­fes­sional place,’’ the au­thor of Fin­nish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Ed­u­ca­tional Change in Fin­land, says.

He points to Pro­gram­meME for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent Assess­ment



th­ese (PISA) rank­ings since 2000. Most coun­tries’ per­for­mance has de­clined af­ter ed­u­ca­tion re­form but Fin­land con­tin­ues to im­prove.

Sahlberg reck­ons ‘‘suc­cess­ful’’ ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems de­liver high scores and show where ‘‘so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus has a weaker-thanaver­age im­pact on learn­ing out­comes’’.

By that mea­sure, he says, Korea, Ja­pan, Canada, Fin­land and Es­to­nia are the best sys­tems.

(He doesn’t say so, but New Zealand’s ap­pears one of the worst, fall­ing in all three core sub­jects since the last assess­ment in 2009 – down from 7th to 13th in read­ing, 13th to 22nd equal in maths and 7th to 18th in sci­ence.)

PISA ranked Fin­land num­ber one in 2010 and ed­u­ca­tors, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and politi­cians have since ad­mired the coun­try’s suc­cess­ful ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and pon­dered how to em­u­late such trans­for­ma­tions at home.

Have our ed­u­ca­tion as­sessed it?

Sahlberg doesn’t seek to con­vince ev­ery­one that his coun­try has the ‘‘best ed­u­ca­tion in the world’’.

‘‘We should not think like this,’’ he says, point­ing to the me­dia as ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for such ‘‘best’’ rat­ings.

Main Fin­nish pol­icy changes em­pha­sise early child­hood de­vel­op­ment and child health, fo­cus on

strate­gists early in­ter­ven­tions for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and strict teacher pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Teach­ing is a highly se­lec­tive and highly re­garded pro­fes­sion there – only 120 of 2300 ap­pli­cants are cho­sen each year for the teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme.

The coun­try has sub­se­quently risen from low­est per­form­ing school sys­tems in the world to one of the high­est. The sys­tem was built with­out try­ing to be num­ber one.

In­stead the fo­cus aimed at cre­at­ing good schools for all chil­dren.

Fin­land’s cation.

Seventy-five per­cent of res­i­dents ques­tioned ac­knowl­edge the free public ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, and rank it as one of the coun­try’s top five ac­com­plish­ments.

They list public ed­u­ca­tion as the sec­ond most-trusted in­sti­tu­tion, next to po­lice, earn­ing 89 per­cent. Do you trust ours? Sahlberg out­lines dif­fer­ences be­tween what he calls the ‘‘Fin­nish Way’’ and the Global Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Move­ment – with the



edu- ‘‘GERM’’ fo­cus­ing on com­pe­ti­tion in­stead of Fin­land’s em­pha­sis on col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Com­pe­ti­tion re­sults in stan­dard­i­s­a­tion cre­at­ing im­mense ex­pec­ta­tions, in­clud­ing that ‘‘ev­ery­one learns the same and in the same way’’.

In­stead, Fin­land has stressed per­son­al­i­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion – where schools sets their own stan­dards based on a national frame­work.

It’s a sys­tem where a stu­dent’s only com­peti­tor is them­selves.

Ed­u­ca­tion re­form: Pasi Sahlberg says Fin­land knows how to get the best re­sults out of a class­room. Can New Zealand say the same?

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