Recently I had the privilege of attending the joint primary principals conference in Melbourne, Australia. Among the line up of speakers I heard for the first time Dr Pasi Sahlberg from Finland. Much has been written about the Finnish education system in the last few years, since it appeared that Finland came from nowhere and now essentially tops the international league tables other wise known as PISA.
Dr Sahlberg made the point of not coming to lecture us about how to run a top performing education system, indeed he told us not to copy what they had done. Systems must be local and can't be transported from one nation to another. My words but his thoughts.
Instead he suggested there are certain principles that are in effect in Finland and other nations should look at and see if they are a good fit for our nation. Here are some of those things to think about.
- The foundations of the current Finnish system were implemented 40 years ago. In a world where we want quick results and are not prepared to build something that will be well built and constructed and thereby stand the test of time, the Finnish show us how we should build, build and trust the 'results' will come. We should not be giving up after a few months or years. Interestingly the international results showed no real change until about 20 years into the process. So in the last 20 years Finnish education has been on a steady improvement trajectory.
- The goal of the Finnish system was never to be No1. They wanted EVERY child to have access to a great education. The international results are simply a by product of that goal. The work of Hargreaves and Shirley in the Global Fourth Way give a research foundation to this. If a nation focuses on being No1 it will result in many unintended consequences on the system.
- The Finish system is underpinned by four key elements,
- Equity - The greatest of these is equity.
- Trust based professionalism - In one university, 2000 applicants for 120 places.
- Good schools for all.
Dr Sahlberg wondered aloud during his presentation why other parts of the western education system were intent on "doing the wrong things righter". This rang so true here in New Zealand. I have heard that very idea being stated by current and past Ministers and ministry officials. By way of example, when critics said the whole standards thing has been tried overseas and failed. The response was, yes, but we are doing it differently. When the critics said charter schools have been tried overseas and there is no clear evidence they add to a child's education. The response was, yes but we have learned from those lessons and will do it better.
If you want to find out more about the details of the Finnish system, read Dr Sahlberg's book, "The Finnish Way" or lesson do a great interview of Dr Sahlberg by Kim Hill on Radio NZ.