“Finland has a different approach to student testing and how test data can or should not be used. Finnish children never take a standardized test”
Since I was a child I have taken pride in my Finnish heritage. In the first decade of last century my grandfather came from Finland on a clipper, jumped ship in Sydney and fell in love with the woman who was to become my maternal grandmother.
So as a child, encouraged by my mother I cheered for Finland in the winter (and often summer) Olympics and any other sporting match where Australia wasn’t a player, I had a doll dressed in national costume and began a lifelong friendship with my second cousin, Kaija, which continues to today. A few years ago my husband and I visited Finland and spent New Year with Kaija and her family, and we stood on a frozen lake with fireworks where it was -26°C. At that time I also discovered my Finnish roots through enjoying the exhilaration of the sauna.
Now, as I represent the educational community, I have a renewed sense of pride as Finland has established an international reputation for educational achievement of her students. This morning I read an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune online about Finland’s achievement in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) study.
The article “Global lessons from Finland’s schoolrooms” is written by Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture and a former World Bank education specialist.
Pasi Sahlberg makes a number of observations:
25 years ago (which isn’t that long) Finnish students were below international average in maths and science and there were significant learning differences between urban/affluent/rural/low income
Finland is one of the few nations that have accomplished both a high quality of learning and equity at the same time. Students do well regardless of socio-economic background.
Finnish students never take standardised tests
Standardised tests are not used to compare teachers and schools to one another
All teachers are required to have higher academic degrees that guarantee both high-level pedagogical skills and subject knowledge
Teachers, students and parents are all involved in assessing and deciding how well schools, students and teachers do what they are supposed to do.
Politicians and administrators are informed about how well the education works by using sample-based learning test.
Finland has created an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work
Parents and authorities hold teachers with the same confidence as doctors
Teachers in Finland work as autonomous professionals and attracts some of the most able and talented young people into the teaching profession.
When I have met Finnish relatives I regularly quiz them about the education their own children received and their anecdotal comments back up the points made here. In addition, children don’t start school in Finland until they are seven years old. They do go to preschool, but this has a strong ‘play’ focus, without formalised pre-reading and pre-numeracy activities.
It’s time to start thinking about schools, the teaching profession, curriculum and assessment differently. We could achieve a lot in 25 years… maybe in less time if we can learn from what Finland has already done.