As we shall see in a moment, not all was as it seems. For the moment, I just note that the Finnish school system has attracted world wide attention, in part because its students score so well on the international PISA rankings.
There has been much debate about the reasons for this apparently good performance. Finland spends around the OECD average on education. Its teachers receive around the same pay as teachers in other European countries. Class sizes are similar to those in other Nordic countries, Why, then do Finnish schools perform better?
Various explanations have been advanced. One is the difference between high context and low context countries. In Finland with its homogeneous society and intense shared values, many things can be taken for granted, are understood. They do not need to be taught or explained. By contrast, in lower context countries such as Australia or the UK, more time has to be spent in class establishing a common base, in explaining things.
Another explanation often given lies in teacher training. Since 1970, all Finnish teachers require a masters degree. Of more significance, I suspect, is that a quarter of Finnish graduates see teaching as an attractive options, creating a larger talent pool. Then, too, the structure of the Finnish school system is very different from that holding in Australia. There is no private school system, schools have greater freedom, while the disparities between schools in standards and resources appear relatively low regardless of location. The now very large discrepancies that have appeared in Australia between private and public, between city and country schools, do not exist in Finland.
I said that not all was what it seemed with that story. It came via a current feed. It was only when I checked the story properly to write this piece that I realised that it dated from March 2015, so just over a year old. Whoops! I have been caught that way before. So then I did a search around looking for follow up stories. Thus I found this piece by Valerie Strauss - No, Finland isn’t ditching traditional school subjects. Here’s what’s really happening. It appears from this and other stories that I saw from around the same time that the original Independent story really grabbed world wide attention because of the interest in the Finnish school system but that its presentation was a bit over the top..
The Strauss piece is the simplest description of the Finnish system that I have found. If I had to draw a single lesson from it, its the relative simplicity of the Finnish system, the absence of controls, the grant of autonomy to schools and teachers, the apparent absence of prescriptive measurement, that goes to the heart of performance.
This brings me to the topic of this Monday Forum. What do you think makes for a good education system? How would you restructure the Australian system or your own for those outside Australia to improve performance? As always, feel free to wander.
In a comment, Rod pointed to three Quadrant pieces:
- Kevin Donnelly's Education Spending: More Equals Less
- Ken Gannicott's Why School Children Are Falling Behind
- Another piece by Donnelly, Western Civilization’s Wan Defenders
It will probably also be a cold day in hell when I acknowledge Quadrant itself as a defender of Western civilisation."