What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?


I have just read this book by Pasi Sahlberg. Finnish lessons 2.0 2014

Here are some highlights;

How to measure a successful school. 

A successful school is one that is able to take every individual—both students and teachers— further in their development than they could have gone by themselves.  Schools should teach knowledge and skills as they’ve always done, but they must prepare young people to be wrong, too. If people are not prepared to be wrong, as Sir Ken Robinson (2009) says, they will not come up with any valuable new ideas. Being willing to take risks and to tolerate being wrong are the only ways we can make the best use of our scarce human resources. The main theme of Finnish Lesson is that transforming education is about creating the best conditions for young people to become engaged learners, fulfilled individuals, and compassionate, productive citizens.  One of the most important lessons is that this story is still evolving and is far from over Sir Ken Robinson. 2014

One of the ways that teachers improve is by learning from other teachers. Schools improve when they learn from other schools. Isolation is the enemy of all improvement. We have spent decades breaking down the isolation of teachers within and between our schools. It is now time to break down the ideology of exceptionalism in the United States and other Anglo-American nations if we are to develop reforms that will truly inspire our teachers to improve learning for all our students—especially those who struggle the most. In that essential quest, Pasi Sahlberg is undoubtedly one of the very best teachers of all. — From the Foreword by Andy Hargreaves

It is hard not to agree in the description of schools and the demand for better quality teaching and learning found here:

The demand for better quality teaching and learning and more equitable and efficient education is universal. Indeed, educational systems are facing a twin challenge: how to change schools so that students may learn new types of knowledge and skills required in an unpredictably changing knowledge world, and how to make that new learning possible for all young people regardless of their socioeconomic conditions. To be successful with these challenges is both a moral and economic imperative for our societies and their leaders.

The story of Finland’s educational journey in this book brings hope to all those who are worried about whether improving their educational systems is even possible. It also provides food for thought to those who are looking for ways to adjust education policies to fit the realities of economic recovery. The lessons from Finland should be refreshing because they depart from the ideas commonly presented in books or journals on educational development. Moreover, these lessons show that systemic improvement is indeed possible if only policies and strategies are designed in smart and sustainable ways and teachers and school leaders are involved in planning, implementing, and reviewing all aspects of intended changes. Although these lessons hold great promise, they also call for patience. In this age of immediate results, education requires a different mindset. Reforming schools is a complex and slow process. To rush this process is to ruin it. The story told in this book makes this clear. Steps must be grounded in research and implemented in collaboration by academics, policymakers, principals, and teachers.

What did surprise me though was the comparison between countries (see box below.) I agree that you can compare Sweden and Norway, but The United States, England, and France have very different systems compared to ours. Even if the book is dated back to 2015.  Data shows that the Nordic countries with the exemption of Finland have a high drop out rate, and that is indeed a great concern. We are still struggling in that area.

Public education systems are in crisis in many parts of the world. The United States, England, Sweden, Norway, and France, to mention just a few advanced nations, are among those countries where public education is increasingly challenged because of an endemic failure to provide adequate learning opportunities for all children. Tough solutions are not uncommon in these countries: Tougher competition between schools, stronger accountability for student achievement, performance-based pay for teachers, and closing down troubled schools are all part of the recipe to fix failing education systems.

Pasi Sahlberg shares 4 key points that need to be in place in order to change education to the better;
  1. Less classroom-based teaching. it is not the length of the school year or school day that matters most. Less teaching can actually lead to more student learning if the circumstances are right and the solutions are smart.
  2.  More personalized learning. We need to rethink schools so that learning relies more on customized individual learning plans and less on teaching drawn from a standardized curriculum. The art of education in the future will be to find a balance between these two.
  3. Focus on social skills, empathy, and leadership. What most people in the future will need that they are not likely to learn anywhere other than school is real problem-solving in cooperation with other people. This will become one of the basic functions of future schools: to learn empathy, cooperation, and creative problem-solving in small groups of diverse individuals.
  4. The purpose of schooling is to find your talent. First, curiosity in school will be more important than ever, serving as an engine of learning and thereby engaging all students in intellectual, social, cultural, and physical activitiesSecond, students’ ability to create something valuable and new in school will be more important than ever—not just for some students, but for all of them. 

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