Postcard from Finland

At futurEducation I did take the opportunity to make some notes from a couple of the keynotes, which were both interesting.

Dr Tom Wikman, from Finland, opened the conference and was disarmingly honest in his admission that he both was a bit sick of Pisa test discussion but also liked it (‘after all, it’s brought me here’). He opened with a gorgeous Finnish landscape shot, a bit like the one above.

Wikman talked about Finnish education, the ‘Finnish Pisa machine’ he called it, and explained why Finnish results might be so high, even in comparison with ‘like’ countries such as their Nordic neighbours.

One reason he pointed to, ironically, was the lack of reform in Finnish education, where education has been consistent and stable compared to other countries that have had multiple reforms over the last twenty years. The message: test less and reform less, and let teachers get on with it.

But that’s if teachers are trusted as high quality, well esteemed, all with Masters Degrees and seen as teacher-researchers. His metaphor was the teacher as ‘conductor’ (as in conducting an orchestra)and described a surprisingly conservative and old-fashioned sounding education system: blackboards, kids in rows, textbooks, with an emphasis on ‘essentialism’ (the subject) rather than ‘progressivism’ (the child), and traditional in emphasis rather than future-orientated.

Okay, it gets good test results in PISAS; can’t argue with that. But, unquestioned in all this, it seemed to me, was the idea that tests like PISA do accurately measure what matters, just not what can be measured. I’m not sure that I’d go far as to endorse the (somewhat US-centric) view that PISA test results are inverse predictors of creativity or ingenuity or entrepreneurship, but I get the point. Everyone, from the PM down to the boys in the Gonkski-mobile seem to believe.

And, after all Wikman’s talk about the status of teachers, the need for stability and the worth of trusting teachers, what’s the take-home message for Australian politicians?: test, test, test, and make teachers accountable.

Finland landscape photo from Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfgangfoto/

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