Regular readers of 3D Eye will know of our admiration for the Finnish education system and its achievements. We’ve posted several pieces that try to sum up the main features of the Finnish education system and its approaches to learning and teaching. The reasons for the outstanding success of the Finnish system are:
1) Having made a decision to abandon the 19th century “traditional” model of education the Finns then formulated a clear set of aims for rebuilding their system, which included a determination to ensure equality of provision for all children, and an intention to make education meet the real learning needs of children of every sort of background and ability.
2) The Finns decided to recruit only the most able graduates, and to offer them professional development to Masters level, as well as rewarding them generously and respecting their professionalism. At a time when UK teachers were being subjected to increasing levels of political direction and even micro-management by central government the Finns were increasing professional autonomy and allowing the profession to take full responsibility for the development of the curriculum and pedagogy.
3) The Finns set out to personalise learning and to ensure that students are motivated through being involved in setting their own learning agendas and targets. Their progress in carefully monitored by class teachers through their day to day contact, and there is no formal test that pupils need to sit until the age of 18. The priority is to ensure that all students believe they can be successful across a broad range of learning, and no student regards him or herself as failing. It’s understood that the pace of progress will vary according to the programmes of learning and the efforts and abilities of the individuals concerned.
4) The emphasis is on making learning interesting and relevant, and on an in-depth understanding of subject matter, rather than on shallow cramming for tests and exams.
In spite of the widespread high regard for their achievements, the Finns seem determined not to fall into the trap of complacency. In his book called Finnish Lessons, which we’ve already written about, Pasi Sahlberg says this in the concluding chapter:
Until the [latter part] of the 20th century, Finland was following other countries, learning from them and sometimes adapting their good ideas for its own restructuring and development. But the future requires new ways of thinking. Will the Finnish education system continue to be a model in the future? It can’t [do so] without an inspiring vision of education.
Any movement . . . draws from a core set of values, philosophies, and a commonly shared vision. Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen’s vision, School 2.0, about future education, is truly a transformation of present day schooling. It would be based on a community of learners where learning sparks from individual interests, passion and creativity, and aims to help each learner to find his or her own talent. That talent may be academic, artistic, creative or kinasthetic, or some other skill set.
Completely new forms of school have to be considered. The new global partnership in educational change should kick off from this question.
Finnish schools must continue to become more pupil-friendly so that they allow more personalised learning paths. The following themes of change would emerge:
1. Development of a personal road map for learning. Children will learn more and more of what we used to learn in school out of school – through media, the Internet, and from different social networks to which they belong. This will lead to a situation in which an increasing number of students will find teaching in school irrelevant because they have already learned what is meaningful to them elsewhere.
A good solution to address this is to rethink schools so that learning in them relies . . . less on teaching drawn from a standardised curriculum for all.
Young people are interested in a great variety of issues that may be completely foreign to teachers in their schools. Customised learning plans or personalised learning must not mean that students will study alone with tools and information from the Internet only. It means they will have a well-prepared, rich and educationally justified individual plan for learning that is jointly designed and agreed upon by teachers, parents and the student.
2. Less classroom-based learning. Customised and activity-based learning . . . leads to learning most of what is now taught in schools through digital devices wherever and whenever. Hand-held portable devices will provide online access to knowledge and to other learners. Rather than continue thinking of future schooling in terms of subjects and time allocations to them, the time is right now to make a bold move and rethink the organisation of time in schools. This would mean having more time for integrated themes, projects and activities.
3. Development of Interpersonal skills and problem-solving. Pupils will need to develop better skills for social interaction, both virtual and real, and learn to cooperate with people who are very different to themselves, and learn to cope in complex social networks. What most people in the future will need . . . is real problem-solving in cooperation with other people. This will become one of the basic functions of future schools: to teach cooperation and problem-solving in small groups of diverse people.
4. Engagement and creativity as pointers of success. It is important to assess . . . how students can develop their communication, problem-solving skills and creativity as a result of school education.
Conventional knowledge tests as we know them now will gradually give space to new forms of assessment in schools. People will learn more through digital tools and media, and therefore it will become increasingly difficult to know what role schools have played in students’ learning of intended things.
Two important themes:
1. First, engaging all students in learning in school will be more important than ever. Lack of engagement is the main reason for the challenges that teachers face in schools and classrooms today. A growing number of young people find school learning irrelevant, and they are seeking alternative pathways to fulfil their intentions. Therefore engagement in productive learning in school should become an important criterion of judging the success or failure of schools.
2. Secondly, students’ ability to create something valuable and new in school will be more important than ever. If creativity is defined as coming up with original ideas that have value, then creativity should be as important as literacy and treated with the same status. A successful school is able to take each individual – both students and teachers – further in their development than they could have gone by themselves.
John Dewey dreamed of the teacher as a guide helping children to formulate questions and devise solutions to problems. Dewey saw the pupil’s own experience, not information imparted by the teacher, as the critical path to understanding. The education system in Finland is shaped by these ideas of Dewey and flavoured with the Finnish principles of practicality, creativity and common sense.
What the world can learn from educational change in Finland is that accomplishing the dream of a good and equitable education system for all children is possible. But it takes the right mix of ingenuity, time, patience, and determination.
The Finnish Way of educational change should be encouraging to those who have found the path of competition, choice, test-based accountability, and performance-based pay to be a dead end.
For the Finns, personalisation is not about having students work independently at computer terminals. The Finnish way is to tailor the needs of each child with flexible arrangements and different learning paths. Technology is not a substitute but merely a tool to complement interaction with teachers and fellow students.
As a countervailing force against the global educational-reform movement driving school systems around the world, the Finnish Way reveals that creative curricula, autonomous teachers, courageous leadership and high performance go together. The Finnish Way furthermore makes plain that collaboration, not conflict, with teacher unions leads to better results. The evidence is clear, and so should be the road ahead.