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Posts Tagged ‘Finland’

Interest in the education system in British Columbia and Canada generally seems to be at an all time high. Likely, in part driven by high PISA (International testing) results, edu-tourism is flourishing and the world is very curious about what is going on in Canada.  This week I am giving a talk to an audience of largely American Superintendents, which has forced me to try to crystallize exactly what it is in our part of the world that is so interesting.

When we look at structures, our Canadian system has a lot in common with our US counterparts.  We have locally elected Boards of Education throughout most of the country, we have local accountability, a mix of involvement of different levels of government, generally high community engagement in education and strong teacher associations.  We lack the Federal involvement in education present in the United States and seemingly most places in the world, and generally don’t have the ability to raise any funding locally for the school system.   Throughout North America you can find quite a bit in common with how we organize education.

Our system seems to strive for this highly sought after combination of strong equity and high quality.  We seem to have dismissed the idea that one needs to either have one or the other and instead we have committed ourselves to both.  And we also seem to have this unwavering belief that no matter how “good” our system is, we need to continue to change, grow and get better.  There is a sense that we can always improve.   Trying to tightly describe the BC or Canadian uniqueness is a challenge, but I see these as some of the areas that stand out:

We Are Doing What We Always Say We Should Do

The entire BC curriculum has been redesigned.  The prescriptive nature of the curriculum has been reduced with a greater focus on big ideas and the allowance of flexibility and choice in learning for teachers and students.  Interdisciplinary learning has been embraced allowing the teacher a greater opportunity to be creative and innovative in the design of their learning experiences.  Core competencies are the foundation of the curriculum with a focus on communication, thinking and personal and social competency.  Now these areas that we have always said are important, but often in the background have been pushed to the foreground.  And finally, the curriculum has been Indiginized and a focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning has been emphasized throughout the province.

A former Superintendent colleague of mine, Mike McKay, would often say, “Will What We Know Change What We Do?” – with our system we are trying to make the answer now.

Curriculum

The shift in curriculum is as much about the how as the what.  The move to big ideas, has seen a move to more inquiry based learning.  The curriculum is seen as relevent and ever-changing.  Rather than being static as it has been in the past, it is seen now as nimble, being able to shift as the world shifts.

Assessment

BC does not have high stakes assessment.  Students in British Columbia write Foundation Skills Assessments in grades 4 and 7 in reading, writing and numeracy and then a literacy and numeracy assessment in grades 10-12.  These results are shared with students and families and inform practice but they do not appear on report cards, nor are they part of any school marks.  Teacher judgement is highly valued and they along with schools and districts design a range of assessments (more than just traditional tests) to support students. Increasingly passion projects, portfolios and capstone assignments are a large part of a student’s program

We Have Learned From Others

When I look at our system in BC now, I would describe it as a “mash-up” of what we are seeing around the world.   One can see elements of Finland, Singapore and New Zealand in our system.  International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement have also clearly been influential.  Teachers have looked locally – to schools in their district and our province, to Alberta and Ontario, to High Tech High in San Diego, and many other places and they have all influenced what we do.  BC has always prided itself on being a highly networked province and this extends around the globe, and our system reflects this.  We have taken good ideas and made them ours for our context

No Franchises

BC has this delicate balance of having a lot common with others but not sameness.  Schools and districts share some tenants but are not trying “scale” work to all be the same.  It is this idea of networks.  We are trying to connect and build networks, focusing on diffusion, not replication.

It is hard to pull the BC or Canadian story together.  I don’t think anyone can listen to someone speak about our system or visit our schools and say, we should be like them.  Just as we haven’t done that as we looked to evolve our system.  We are immensely proud of our school system, and it is wonderful to be somewhere that recognizes the world is rapidly changing, so as proud as we are of our past and present, our future needs to change to ensure we continue to have this pride.

Below are the slides I am using for this presentation this week.  It is a work in progress, so any thoughts to help make these ideas more clear are always appreciated (if you are viewing this via email you may need to go to the website to see the slides).

 

 

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Speaking recently in Edmonton, to Superintendents from across Alberta, I shared a slide from Pasi Sahlberg that he used this past December at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver:

This slide tells an incredibly powerful and important story – it speaks to our values in education in British Columbia and Canada, and to our aspirations for students.

I have written a number of times in the past about PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, most recently this past December – It is OK to Be Happy About PISA.   And I always do so with the “it is only one test” caveat, but that said, it is still a widely regarded international benchmark on some key education outcomes.

So, just why is this one slide so important?  It takes the 2015 results and plots jurisdiction based on their achievement in math, reading and science along the Y-axis and based on equity (the weakness of the relationship between family background and achievement) along the X-axis.  So those jurisdictions in the top right of the graph are those with the highest levels of excellence and equity.

The jurisdictions in this sweet-spot that Sahlberg referred to as the “Highway to Heaven”  include a cluster of Canadian provinces – BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec as well as Canada as a whole, along with just a couple other nations.  (Note:  Since education is under provincial not federal jurisdiction in Canada, individual provinces show up separately for PISA).

Strong equity and high quality – this is the story of our schools.  And this speaks directly to our values in our education system. Of course this does not negate the work we need to do – there are a lot of areas to focus, including the success of our Aboriginal learners.  In West Vancouver, we often look at how large the differences are between schools on any given measure – and see the lack of differences as just as much a mark of success as the high achievement.  We want these ideals to run in tandem.

So, if I could just share one slide about “how we are doing” and “who do we want to continue to be” going forward, it would be this one.

And finally, coming back to a notion I have shared before, and shared with our colleagues from Alberta, instead of always looking around the world, we should be looking across the country – the Canadian education story is a good story and one we should tell, and work together to strengthen.

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top3

My “Top 3” blog list is becoming a bit of a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). This “top” list is an opportunity to review ideas that have become a big part or our learning over the past 12 months, which may have been missed in the “drinking from the firehose” approach (what has become social media and the Internet). I continue to shuffle the categories, trying to take a different approach to these year-end lists.  They are a great way to raise topics, discussion, debate, and perhaps shed some light onto areas deserving more attention (or topics missed) as the year went on.  I look forward to others adding their thoughts on my “Top 3” of 2012.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  The Multi-Sport High School Athlete

2. If School Was More Like Swimming 

3.  How My Teaching Has Changed

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1.  Game Changer

2.  Perfect Storm

3.  Flipping It

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1.  Self-Regulation (but more broadly social-emotional learning)

2.  Outdoor learning (outdoor classrooms and full outdoor programs)

3.  Low / No Cost Conference Events (e.g. Edcamps)

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Why School? by Will Richardson

2.  11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era by Nilofer Merchant

3.  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  Visit to Finland (Here and here are my two posts on the visit)

2.  Two Library-related events:  the BCTLA PSA Conference in October and the Changing Times; Inspiring Libraries Summit in December

3.  West Vancouver Opening Day with cultural-anthropologist  Jennifer James

Top 3 BC Edu-bloggers that I didn’t know about 12 Months ago, and now Follow:

1.  Anthony Ciolfitto – Principal, Riverside Secondary School, Port Coquitlam

2.  Stephen Petrucci – Director of Instruction, Fort St. John

3. 180 Days of Learning – Delta School District (cool project!)

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Rick Reilly – ESPN

2.  Nate Silver – New York Times (FiveThirtyEight blog)

3.  Andy Borowitz – New Yorker Magazine

Top 3 School-related Videos from British Columbia (that I bet you haven’t seen):

1.   What a Teacher Makes – West Vancouver

2.  VSB Transition from Elementary to Secondary School (VSB has lots of great videos)

3.   Gino Bondi – Innovation and School Libraries  (BC Libraries also has a number of other great videos)

 Top 3 School-related TED Videos Posted this Year:

1.   Will Richardson (TedxMelbourne)

2.  Thomas Suarez: A 12 year-old app developer

3.  Stop Stealing Dreams:  Seth Godin

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning.  Our digital community is continuing to grow and I am thrilled to be connected to so many thoughtful teachers, parents, students and community members.  Blogging is not easy, but it is exceptionally rewarding.  I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2013.

Chris Kennedy

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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.

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It was a great honour for me, as part of my commitments to the GELP (Global Education Leadership Program), to come face-to-face with the most talked and written about education jurisdiction in the world — Finland.  As our host, Auli Toom, at the University of Helsinki acknowledged, thousands of visitors come from all parts of the world to try to understand just what it is that Finland is doing so right, and what can be taken from it and applied to their own jurisdiction. Pasi Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons:  What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? is a wonderful introduction to understanding what Finland is doing and why it is working so well. However, nothing quite beats seeing the “educational change”  face-to-face.

In Sweden,  just a 55-minute flight away, they are talking the same educational language (high-performing) and have the same goals (personalized learning), but in other ways, the Finnish experience couldn’t be more different.  Whereas Sweden has a universal voucher system and a system that embraces choice and competition, Finland has focused on equity and equal opportunities.

This will be the first of two posts exploring the Finnish system.  The visit to the university focussed on the pre-service of teachers, as will this particular post. The following presentation gives a solid overview of both the Finnish education system and their teacher training programs:

The teacher education program at the University of Helsinki receives about 1000 applicants annually, and admits about 100 to their program.  They, along with the other universities with teacher training, only create space in their education programs balanced on the needs of the system; in British Columbia, the number of teachers being trained is dramatically greater than the number of teaching vacancies.

It has also been widely discussed that Finland obtains the “best of the best” teachers.  Many will apply for teaching and then, if unsuccessful, look to other areas like medicine and engineering — this is somewhat the reverse of what happens in North America.  It is clearly not the pay that is different.  Toom describes teacher compensation as similar, if not less, to what it is in BC.  She argued that the workload, shorter hours and longer vacations are part of the attraction, but these are similar to most jurisdictions around the world.  Much of the discussion comes back to the place of teaching in society — as a profession held in extremely high regard.

The funding model is very different for university – it is free in Finland.  While it is very competitive, with less than half of the applicants gaining admission, successful applicants do receive a fully funded education.  The continuum of the system is also important to understand; students do not start school until seven years of age, and prior to that a highly subscribed user-pay (though nobody is denied access) pre-school or  Kindergarten system exists.  At 16 years of age, students move into an upper secondary program, or a vocational program, or (and this worries the Finns) some leave school all together.  At age 19 (about one year later than in Canada), students enter university.

It is also true that all teachers have a Master’s degree.  They complete a three-year Bachelor’s program and a two-year Master’s program.  This is different in structure to BC, but not in total number of years — with the typical BC education graduate completing a four-year Bachelor’s degree and a 12-month Education degree. In Finland, admittance to an education program includes a 100-question, multiple-choice test to gauge appropriateness, and for those who advance beyond this round, an interview system that assesses appropriateness for the profession.

Finland has also harmonized the main parts of their teacher education programs, with a common approach to teacher education, across the country. British Columbia sees huge variances based on particular university programs and with greater autonomy at the hands of its universities.

In looking at their teacher-education model, there are a number of pieces related to cohesiveness and alignment that are ones we could learn from in British Columbia — from the focus on deep research as part of preparation, the strict focus on pedagogy, the link between spaces in programs and system requirements, and the common approach from all teacher education programs –these are all areas that could use additional work in BC.

As a fellow high-performing system (it is always worth reminding ourselves BC is in the top grouping of jurisdictions along with Finland) the challenges that they have identified for their system, sound very familiar to us:

  • Special Education
  • Multiculturalism
  • Student Engagement

Having spent more time understanding the Finnish education system, it is interesting to see where they have been, but more interesting to see where they are trying to go — many of the same places we want to go in British Columbia.

I have previously written about Finland, and what I have learned about their system through GELP (here), in looking at their efforts for change in a highly successful system.

More to come . . . .

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Why make the case for change in a system with an outstanding track record of education outcomes? Because there are potential pitfalls and challenges ahead:

  • A skills shortage
  • Difficulty integrating 21st century skills into curriculum
  • Too strong a content orientation
  • Inadequate and ineffective use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Education
  • A growth of differing and conflicting learning outcomes
  • Low satisfaction levels in schools

And there are more on the list.  Now, before you begin typing your response that I have unfairly vilified our outstanding education system in British Columbia, I am not describing British Columbia, but rather Finland. And these are not my thoughts, but those of Timo Lankinen, Director General at the Finnish National Board of Education, as recently expressed in his presentation, Making a case for change in a successful system (Finnish basic education).  The list is from a more complete slide in his presentation:

Finland has been setting the world benchmark, so many of us are chasing.  However, while they are widely seen as the strongest in the world, they have embarked on a change agenda.

These are the questions being asked (from Lankinen’s presentation):

  • Are we picking up on the warning signals about the growing differences between schools and learning outcomes, and provision of education?
  • Do we highlight higher-order skills, citizen skills needed for future lives in a systematic way?
  • Do we enable teachers and students to flourish? Do we notice and care about non-conforming students?
  • And what about . . .
  • Individual aspirations?
  • Engaging students (book learning versus experiential learning)?
  • Technology use?
  • Integration of the Arts and PE?
What does their agenda look like for change?
  • More individual freedom to choose between subjects
  • Multidisciplinary subject groups
  • Increase of minimum instruction time
  • A more diversified language program
  • Increase of the Arts and PE
  • Highlight 21st century skills – citizen skills
  • Educational use of ICT
There is more depth to their work than what can be summarized in a post, but the Finns are asking, “Can we effectively lead a systemic change for better learning in the future?”
 .  
It was quite a remarkable presentation, because the content was familiar; it is very similar to the conversations we are having in British Columbia, another one of the very highest performing education systems in the world.  It is also a narrative I hadn’t previously heard, as so many have told the Finnish story.  There are differences in direction and our systems, but the overarching themes envisioned for both of these systems are quite similar.
        .    
So, it is not only the under-performing systems that are looking to innovate, but the very best in the world as well.  I have said several times in West Vancouver, and borrowing a line from a former colleague in Coquitlam, “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”

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If I had one wish, with the release of  A Vision for 21st Century Education produced by the Premier’s Council on Technology, it is that these ideas find their way into conversations in every home in the province and, in turn, ripple into larger conversations in communities, schools and school districts.

A core challenge for British Columbia — being one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world — is that it is difficult to make the case, or build the urgency, for change.  That said, the people I talk to — students, teachers, or parents — largely agree with the big ideas out of this latest government report, which mirror recent educational reform blueprints in progressive jurisdictions around the world.

Who doesn’t want their kids to leave with these skills and attributes?

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communications and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-Regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness Skills

These nine attributes begin to make concrete — what is often very difficult to describe — the 21st century learner.

The paper is a potential roadmap, signalling the necessary transformations:

  • From Learning Information to Learning to Learn
  • From Data to Discovery
  • From One Size Fits All to Tailored Learning
  • From Testing to Assess to Assessing to Learn
  • From Classroom Learning to Lifelong Learning Transformation

This list is quite reassuring. All teachers, schools and districts, can look at this list and say, “We ARE doing this”.  And, we are doing more of it than we were five years ago.  And, given where much of our current professional development is invested right now, we are going to be gaining the skills to do more of it over the next five years.

Finally, the new roles described, seem to fall nicely out of the previous two lists.  If we focus on the skills and attributes described, and de-emphasize content, then continue to invest in what is described as “key transformations,” new roles will evolve:

  • From Passive Student to Active Learner
  • From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant
  • From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide Shifting

And what about the technology?  Technology, done right, can help make this happen in ways not possible without it, in what the report describes as, “the components of the system”:

  • A flexible educational path with project-based or integrated learning
  • A blended system that employs classrooms and technology
  • Technology to access learning objects and teaching tools
  • Open access to information systems for content and decision-making
  • Constant feedback and assessment to allow students, parents and teachers, to adjust, and to meet challenges or accommodate progress

Much of the immediate analysis of the report, from the Premier’s Technology Council, focussed on why we can’t do it.  When we move through to implementation, we quickly drive up the “Yeah, buts”.  But, without a doubt, there are changes which could be made by others, who could help this report become a reality.  There is also much we can do.  We should use this document, and many of the supporting resources it references, to start, and continue conversations.

Some of the questions I would like us to consider, include:

Is this what we want and need for our students?

What are the examples we currently see in our classrooms, schools and districts, of what is described?

What needs to change with curriculum and assessment to bring these ideas to life?

What can we learn from other high-performing jurisdictions — whether they are Finland and Singapore, Ontario and Alberta, or our neighbouring school districts — to guide what we do?

How can a district support students and teachers on this journey?

What can we do now?

And, I know there will be many more.

I am looking forward to these and many similar conversations in West Vancouver, in the New Year.

Please take the time to read this report.

Full Disclosure:  I was a “Roundtable Participant” in the development of the PTC document.

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