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Finnish educator, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg addressed Annual Conference via live web broadcast. Dr. Sahlberg is the author of Finnish Lessons, an account of how Finland built a world-class education system.
Dr. Sahlberg has worked as teacher, teacher-educator, policy advisor and director in Finland and served the World Bank (Washington, DC) and the European Commission (Torino, Italy) as education expert.
With Finland’s success in education being used by politicians of all parties to justify their education agendas, it is important to get first hand information about the reason for the nation’s leading position.
Finland was not always a world leader in education. Finland’s success is not a matter of implementing the same reforms better.
Finland has policies that are different from those of the reform movement in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Dr. Sahlberg refers to this movement using the acronym GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). He says GERM is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.
Dr. Sahlberg points out that the popular “reform” concepts of competition, school choice and test-based accountability are not the reasons for Finland’s success. These concepts are not the basis of the Finnish education system. Instead he advocates collaboration, equity and trust-based responsibility.
Enhancing equity has been the number one priority in Finland, equity in resources, access, inclusion, and early childhood development. He noted the Gonski Report in Australia and its goal of funding equity.
Teaching in Finland is a highly respected profession. Education competes successfully with professions like law and medicine in attracting the most capable students entering universities. It is difficult to obtain admission to university education courses, even for outstanding students. Teacher training and professional development are very important in Finland. University applicants in education exceed available positions by ten to one.
There are other differences. Finnish teachers have about one hour per day less face to face teaching than teachers in Australia. Finnish teachers have more time for collaboration. Finnish children have less homework and more time to play.
Dr. Sahlberg concluded by calling for more evidence informed policies and less social experiments on children.