Top educator reveals how Australia can boost its education system

Pasi Sahlberg delivering the Anne D Clark lecture
Pasi Sahlberg delivering the Ann D Clark lecture

Primary school teaching in Finland is a hugely popular profession with more than 8000 applicants fighting every year for only 800 university positions. 

The competition is harder than even law or medicine yet about a third of the successful applicants score below 60 percent in their final high school exam. 

With media reports this week claiming thousands of NSW students are at risk of failing the HSC because of failed NAPLAN tests, why does the Finnish education system allow“failed” students to jump ahead of “successful” students to win those prized teaching positions?  

Educator, academic and author Pasi Sahlberg said the success of the Scandinavian nations in international education rankings - and quality of life surveys too - is based on more than academic achievement.

“It’s not about human capital, or what teachers know, or how well they can teach. It’s about social capital and how teachers engage with one another and the students,” he said.
“The culture of the school is most important. I would spend more money on developing social, collaborative, and networking skills among teachers themselves.

“Universities are accepting school leavers with lesser results because they are great athletes, musicians, actors, community leaders, those who have great personalities and many other things and have the ability to engage students.” 

Dr Sahlberg was sharing his views at the annual Ann D Clark Lecture on Tuesday night in front of more than 700 teachers and principals who work for the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta. The lecture is named after the former CEDP executive director who served for 10 years, and always attracts high quality speakers in education.

Unlike Australia’s NAPLAN testing for Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students, Dr Sahlberg said the Finnish education system has only one final year exam for students aged 18 or 19 and there were no progressive measuring tests during a student’s time at school.

The Finnish system has attracted strong interest from educators around the world because of its unique and successful approach that has made them one of the highest achievers in the international tests in math, science and reading. For example, children in Finland do not start formal education until age 7 and homework and testing are not a priority. 

It is different for teachers, too. A teacher spends only four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. A four-year teaching master’s degree is the only option and is fully subsidised by the government.

However Dr Sahlberg wanted to dismiss a few Finnish education system myths that claim subjects were being replaced by topics and homework had been scrapped. 

“It is simply not true that we are ditching traditional subjects, such and as literacy, maths and science,” he said. “We have curriculum framework across the nation’s 3000 schools, and each one writes its own curriculum. Teachers write it and we trust our teachers to do this.
“What’s interesting is that every school has to include one period of time every year to incorporate all subjects.  There is no set time for this - three days, two weeks, a whole semester.”
Dr Sahlberg said homework was still essential in order to master the basic fundamentals. 

“Of course we have homework. There is no way that children can learn maths by just coming to school. You have to practice a lot before doing the skills required,” he said.
“The same with literacy and science. But we have a different approach, the kids have to want to do it. And there are specific instructions to the students about doing it at home.”

“You might think Finland is a strange place if the students don’t do homework yet their PISA scores are so high. I can assure you, the students do their homework.
“Many countries want to do adopt the no homework rule – but this is dangerous.”

Dr Sahlberg said there were also Australian education system myths, such as the government spends more than enough on education. 

“Your spending is very less than the OECD average – about 4 percent of GDP or a little more than if you add this to private spending,” he said..

“Norway, Denmark, Finland and Belgium spend more than 6 percent.”
“And the Australian government needs to invest in the early education years – from 0 to 3 years.”
Another myth was that Australian children need to work longer and harder and school, when it fact Aussie students spend more time in the classroom than most of their counterparts in other countries. 

Dr Sahlberg said the education equity problem was another misconception in Australia.
“Australia is actually ranked in the middle when it comes to education equity but the bad news is that Australia’s quality of learning and equity has been declining for the past 15 years,” he said.
“You are not much better than the US or the UK, which are just ahead.

“People think equity means that we give everyone the same thing but different children have different needs.”

In closing his address, he urged Australian educators to be original thinkers and not rely too heavy on the internet.

“Don’t imitate, but create. I’ve seen people from Singapore, or Canada come to Finland and try to copy our system but a lot of our ideas won’t work in their countries.
“It’s better to create your own models for your own different circumstances. 

“And don’t just download facts, discover them. We are at a watershed culturally in the world of fake news. There is no investigation, no reading and we have to encourage a culture of understanding.”
Posted By CathEd Parra at 2/08/2017 4:04:00 PM

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