finland

What can we learn from Finland?

Well, maybe one of the things that emerges from this interesting conversation with gurus John Hattie and Pasi Sahlbert, that a colleague put me on to, is that perhaps we are being overly critical and pessimistic about what were doing in Australia. Maybe because pessimism and cynicism can serve a political agenda better than acknowledgement of successes?

Sahlberg talks about teacher quality, equity, funding and a range of other issues in a really reasonable way. I respect the work that Hattie’s done, but do you sense here that he’s talking down our system, and emphasizing his own agenda rather than listening to what he’s being told? He’s being told that Finland values teachers, respects teachers and pays them well, values teacher autonomy, doesn’t over-emphasise teaching … his action plan for Australia … well, it doesn’t really reflect that.

Advertisements

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/

Hear this blog post read by a computer!

Finland Rules!

It’s great to see that ACER’s fetish with all things FINLAND continues, as illustrated nicely in today’s Education Age article by Caroline Milburn (not online yet)

I agree with the basic premise of the article, that it’s a focus on quality TEACHING, not TESTING that is likely to lead to improved student learning and that ‘nations with the best student performances have focused on developing a highly trained teacher workforce rather than publicising school results’.

The article talks about Professor Brian Caldwell’s co-authoring of a new study Why Not the Best Schools? and the findings that teacher training is the key to improved outcomes for students.

Which is all a bit ironic as the short article mentions Finland four or five times as being the best performing system in international testing at the same time asserting that Finland isn’t into testing. Maybe just international testing? 

Caldwell’s conclusion nicely blends the Finnish with the American rhetoric: ‘We should be insisting that every teacher be very well trained to at least a master’s level and not allow any child to fall behind’.

Finland may well do well in international testing but I retain serious doubts as to how tranferrable the education results of that small northern European country are to Australia. Maybe Caldwell is just into skiiing?

[Finland photo from elanores on Flickr]