Finns are in a class of their own

A reader's marking of my homework:

"When I read your column about charter schools I thought - like I frequently do about your columns - that you have it absolutely right.

"Like everything in this country, right wing politicians and lobbyists capture the conversation and seed a lot of nonsense jargon in the public discourse, especially around education.

"The work of Pasi Sahlberg gives even more reason to hold grave concerns about the way education in this country is going.

"Unfortunately, few governments ever give the education portfolio to anyone truly innovative or even effective, particularly at present.

"The way we are going the education system will have a much longer tail than now, a disaster for our entire country and many future generations.

"Thanks for tackling these topics."

Let's follow through on the reference to Pasi Sahlberg - director-general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in Finland and now a visiting professor at Harvard.

He ranks the global education reform movement as a "wicked germ" spreading around the world.

"It [the education system] is run like a marketplace rather than a professional place," the author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, says.

He points to ProgrammeME for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings since 2000. Most countries' performance has declined after education reform but Finland continues to improve.

Sahlberg reckons "successful" education systems deliver high scores and show where "socio-economic status has a weaker-than-average impact on learning outcomes".

By that measure, he says, Korea, Japan, Canada, Finland and Estonia are the best systems.

(He doesn't say so, but New Zealand's appears one of the worst, falling in all three core subjects since the last assessment in 2009 - down from 7th to 13th in reading, 13th to 22nd equal in maths and 7th to 18th in science.)

PISA ranked Finland number one in 2010 and educators, policymakers and politicians have since admired the country's successful education system and pondered how to emulate such transformations at home.

Have our education strategists assessed it?

Sahlberg doesn't seek to convince everyone that his country has the "best education in the world".

"We should not think like this," he says, pointing to the media as ultimately responsible for such "best" ratings.

Main Finnish policy changes emphasise early childhood development and child health, focus on early interventions for special education and strict teacher professionalism.

Teaching is a highly selective and highly regarded profession there - only 120 of 2300 applicants are chosen each year for the teacher education programme.

The country has subsequently risen fromone of the lowest performing school systems in the world to one of the highest. The system was built without trying to be number one.

Instead the focus aimed at creating good schools for all children.

Finland's culture values education. Seventy-five percent of residents questioned acknowledge the free public education system, and rank it as one of the country's top five accomplishments.

They list public education as the second most-trusted institution, next to police, earning 89 percent.

Do you trust ours?

Sahlberg outlines differences between what he calls the "Finnish Way" and the Global Education Reform Movement - with the "GERM" focusing on competition instead of Finland's emphasis on collaboration.

Competition results in standardisation creating immense expectations, including that "everyone learns the same and in the same way".

Instead, Finland has stressed personalisation of education - where schools sets their own standards based on a national framework.

It's a system where a student's only competitor is themselves.

Manukau Courier