Three Things Learnt from a Finnish Lesson

There are so many ideas and arguments that seem to get bandied around online and at conferences that sometimes feel as if they lack any evidence and elaboration to explain them. These are the things that are thrown around during keynotes and chats as support for whatever is being argued. The two most common for me seem to be John Hattie’s effect size and the phenomenal success of the Finnish education system. Some of the things commonly attributed to Finland are that teachers are allocated a lot of timhe to prepare and that they do not do a lot of explicit testing. The problem with these ideas is that they lack perspective and speak of Finland as if it were some sort of ahistorical commodity, rather than an organic system continuing to grow and evolve. Continuing with my recent love of audio books, I therefore decided to listen to Pasi Salsberg’s Finnish Lesson. For I knew that there had to be more to Finnish education than a few titbits. As I have worked my way through the book, three clear themes have stuck out:
 

1. There is Another Way

This may seem silly, for of course there is always another way. However, in the midst of conducting tests and writing  reports, stuck in the humdrum of the present, the wider world can easily be forgotten. The book paints a picture of one such alternative. From the structure of school, to the provision of support, Sahlberg provides hope that things can be done differently and in many ways should be. For there are many avenues to success, not just the mantra of fear and testing.
 

2. Change Takes Time

I remember reading a discussion about Gonski reforms. What stood out was that many of the suggestions made by David Gonski and his team were similar in spirit to what was put forward through the Karmel report in the 70’s. This was no different in Finland. It is easy to celebrate where Finland is today, but as Sahlberg’s account describes, such change take decades to bring about and a strong political conviction. Interestingly, in an interview with the +TER Podcast Sahlberg feared that with the current Global Education Reform Movement that such a wholesale change is made so much more challenging.
 

3. Every Context is Unique

The message that stands out the most in Sahlberg’s book is that every context is different. Although Finland may be similar in size to Victoria and like many countries have had a move towards multiculturalism, this does not simply mean that they offer a recipe for success. There are two clear reasons why. Firstly, to apply the ‘Finnish’ model is to remove it from its time and place. For even now the system is evolving, particularly in regards to the reduction in government funding and other such issues. Secondly, there is the danger of implementing the Finnish model, applying some elements but not others, only to then blame the Fins rafter than a lack of true conviction. For example, there is a growing trend in Australia to make Masters the standard level of entry into teaching. However, unlike Finland, tertiary education comes at a cost, meaning that the two systems are not on par. 
 
 
So, have you read The Finnish Lessons? I would love to hear your thoughts?

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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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