As a former teacher I’m wondering what conscientious teachers and well-intentioned parents do in the face of what looks like misguided policy. Or, is this Julia’s way of kick-starting a community discussion on education?
Our education system, respect, responsibility and trust – as part of a collaborative approach to education up to age 16 – form the basis of a most informative conversation between Melbourne Uni’s Prof John Hattie (Graduate School of Education) and Dr Parsi Sahlberg, Finnnish educator and author.
Most will agree with the Finnish approach that students’ health and well-being are vitally important, yet our system is requiring 5 year olds – as I observe through my grandchildren – to do homework. Are they being prepared for Naplan testing down the track(?)
Points Of Difference Parsi Sahlberg makes the following points about Finnish education:
(i) High-quality teachers are at the heart of Finland’s education success story.
(ii) Children take responsibility for their own learning.
(iii) Education is community-based, parents are part of community They trust teachers to evaluate their progress.
(iv) There is a strong collaborative sense of collectively doing things. There are ‘poor’ teachers everywhere but with a collaborative approach those not ‘stacking up’ will get the drift.
(v) Implementation is very important; teachers and schools have autonomy to implement what suits their school community.
(vi) Up till age 16 all students have the same schooling. There is no streaming/free market choice till age 16 then they choose technical or vocational streams.
(vii) Special needs students are treated inclusively. This is expensive but saves expenses later on.
(i) Class sizes are similar to those in Finland.
(ii) Research shows that between 1964 and 2003 class-size reduction – a costly policy – has not been commensurate with improvement in overall student learning outcomes.
(iii) A US Professor of Education comments on Naplan-style testing we have adopted:
“Our schools are no longer designed to produce educated citizens but rather places to produce test results.”
(iv) Radio National’s Off Track segment on engaging disengaged students and the ensuing improvement in educational outcomes through NSW’s Field of Mars Environmental Education Centres is very much along the Finnish approach.
A New York Times article reports that:
“Finland, a nation of about 5.5 million that does not start formal education until age 7 and scorns homework and testing until well into the teenage years, scored at the top of a well-respected international test in 2001 in math, science and reading..
Thirty years ago, Finland’s education system was a mess. It was quite mediocre, very inequitable. It had a lot of features our system has: very top-down testing, extensive tracking, highly variable teachers, and they managed to reboot the whole system..
A turning point was a government decision in the 1970s to require all teachers to have master’s degrees — and to pay for their acquisition.
The first six years of education are not about academic success..We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”
Finland is going against the tide of the “global education reform movement,” which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control.
Barack Obama has warned against the debilitating impact of standardised testing and his administration has significantly revamped the No Child Left Behind federally funded program to allow greater autonomy at the local level.
Michael Gove, the British Secretary of Education, is also ensuring that schools are freed from bureaucratic interference and over-regulation by championing what are described as ‘free schools’.
Imagine classes of engaged students taking responsibility for their own learning.