The first thing I hear on the radio this morning is British physicist Brian Cox telling Fran Kelly that we are living in a golden age of discovery —that human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.

For me this only underscores the need to focus less on what knowledge to provide for students, and instead focus on how they can wrangle knowledge – that is, monitor, evaluate and synthesise information.

But while I’m pondering what this means for designing learning experiences the radio conversation has turned from astrophysics to Finland and I am reminded that I have promised a second post on Finland.

I previously noted the educational kudos that Finland has amassed – the way it pops up in conversations as the guru of national education systems. And I promised to take a closer look.

So this morning Cox is discussing with Fran the current debate about measurement and league tables when he refers to Finland.

‘They don’t have league tables. They decided to focus on raising the professional standing of teachers, and focussing the teachers on children and allowing them to be teachers, and teach individuals. And now they are on top of the league tables in Europe.’

Can you see the irony? By choosing not to focus on measurement and league tables, and by focussing instead on fostering curiosity and making learning relevant, Finland is topping the league tables.

So even if we reject the distorting influence of testing and metrics on learning, it is not easy to sidestep the pressure to measure and rank the performance of students, teachers, schools, and countries

Michael Moore’s recent film Where to invade next challenges the flawed US recipe for government and international relations by taking a broad look at what’s happening in other countries. And of course because Moore is a modern, progressive commentator, it is inevitable that he will refer to the education system of Finland.

He says that in the 60s the US and Finland both had fairly lacklustre education systems. Then Finland had an overhaul and became number one (measuring and comparing with league tables once again).

The reasons for Finnish success? Moore lists them as:

  • no homework
  • shortest school days and shortest school years in the world
  • student-centred
  • more time for play

Every three years the OECD reports on educational standards worldwide. (http://gpseducation.oecd.org) I thought I might find that some of the broad, admiring claims about the Finnish education system are overstated. And perhaps some are, but the 2015 OECD reports supports many of the claims I’ve heard – the teaching hours are lower, the pay slightly higher than average and to invoke the league tables yet again, Finland was ranked12th in the world for maths, sixth for reading, fifth for science.

The Telegraph in the UK summarises:     (http://tinyurl.com/k43wy4c)

Compulsory schooling begins at the age of seven, and the national curriculum is only broadly outlined. There are no school inspectors, no league tables, and no exams until the age of 16. There is no private tuition industry, and charging school fees is illegal. Everyone is educated in their local comprehensive. Homework, even for a 15-year-old, is limited to 30 minutes.

There are 10 applicants for every place in a primary teacher training course, and a low attrition rate for graduates. Teachers have to be educated to Master’s level and are thoroughly immersed in educational theory. They teach four lessons daily, with two hours a week devoted to professional development.

In short, it appears that much of the hype is justified.

So how much of Finland’s success can we import to Australia?

Could we improve the professional standing of teachers?-That’s big. University applications for teacher education continue to fall and somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of teachers give up their job within the first five years (http://tinyurl.com/gwbhk6f).

And while resources are being allocated to documenting professional standards and implementing national accreditation of teachers (www.aitsl.edu.au) there is not much talk of increasing teacher autonomy, or increasing the time teachers can spend understanding the needs of individual students.

In Australia there is commitment to a detailed national curriculum and to standardised testing. Learning analytics and big data promise more state intervention, not less.

And as for my favourite Finnish strategy – the outlawing of school fees – yes it would surely unite parents in support of quality public education. But we’re not close yet. Sadly, public education in Australia is increasingly abandoned by wealthy parents, and a large part of the funding is following them. The difference in assets between the wealthiest schools and public schools is staggering.

I don’t expect we’ll have a system as successful as Finland’s any time soon.

 

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