I didn’t know what to expect once I arrived in Finland. I did know that over the last couple of years they had become the ‘rock stars’ of education. And, there is still a lot we can learn, but the big lesson? There is nothing magical going on in education in Finland.
Just like a child’s game on the telephone, over the last few years, a narrative has been told and retold — pulling out parts of the Finnish experience in creating a utopian view of learning for all to aspire to. We have heard about how teachers in Finland are valued and respected like in no other profession; how all teachers have Master’s degrees, and how all students attend their local schools with a relentless commitment to high levels of trust and equity.
There IS a lot to like and some qualities are:
- Their teacher-education programs are consistent and research-based
- They take a longterm view of education, educational policy and election cycles seem unrelated
- Teachers are well-trained prior to and during their careers
- A high level of trust throughout the sector and within all groups involved
- The ability of students to move between academic and technical streams
- Deep connections between different levels of schooling including K-12 and post-secondary
- Lack of hierarchy (students address teachers by their first name) and there are strong student parliaments – an emphasis on democracy
- Strong cultural paradigms that permeate society and influence education
They also have many of our same challenges:
- Roles of parents – how to become involved, but how to properly define what that looks like
- Concerns over teacher compensation and workload
- An ageing society with growing expenditures/stresses on health care
- A growing migration and multicultural school setting
- Student safety and bullying
- Appropriate class sizes
- Usage of digital learning resources in schools
- The role of non-formal and informal learning
- Differences in learning results between girls and boys, and between schools
- Implementing the national development plan at the local level
- Evidence-based leadership
I leave Finland even more convinced we shouldn’t try to model our system after theirs. Jorma Kauppinen, Director of General Education at the National Board of Finnish Education agrees, arguing “you can’t copy or follow [Finnish education] it is part of our history and values.” It is not every country that proudly declares its commitment to a welfare state, and so deeply holds values like the best school is the closest school because every school is a good school. Admirable – but so deep in their culture that it is not easily transferable.
I was also struck by one particular line, on one of the slides from the Director of Education – that the Finnish curriculum (and system) was aligned to PISA. So, that clearly begs the question, if measures change on what we value over the next decade, and we further embrace a different set of competencies, will Finland still be the perfect education model? Finland also realizes this possibility, as their efforts to transform their system are at least as strong as those in British Columbia.
We should learn from Finland’s experiences and continue to chart a journey to where Finland is going next. What was particularly exhilarating about the work in Finland, was their generosity towards learning together and commitment to learning side-by-side British Columbia, and other jurisdictions around the world. I think we definitely can take lessons in their civility and alignment in the education sector.
In looking ahead, I am inclined to paraphrase Bruce Beairsto (from BCSSA Conference — spring 2012) we should not try to be Finland, we should work to be a better version of ourselves.