Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Some 'cool' thinking!

A leading country! Posted by Picasa

Finland is a leading example of successful competitive society that also provides social services to all its citizens at an affordable price. Other rich countries like the USA obviously are not as clever where the gap between the rich and the poor is widening and all indicators of an equitable country are spiraling down. Possibly more people in jail per head of population than any other county.

And things are not much better in New Zealand; a country that was once a world leader in equity and fairness.

In Finland all citizens have an equal shot at life, liberty and happiness and it seems the Finns are proud of their egalitarian tradition – one we have replaced by a winner takes all philosophy. Finland has no private schools, no closed communities where the rich can cut themselves off from reality.

Key to their success is a word, ‘talkoot’ that means roughly ‘doing work together’ in contrast to our self centred individualistic approach. They recognize that they are ‘all in the same boat’ while we seem dedicated to divisive politics.

The Finnish education system is the best in the world but our tame policy advisers can see no further than the failed polices of the UK and the US.

The Finns have no demeaning league tables and their national curriculum is more a guide. The only national exams are at 18 - their students are not tested at 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18 as in the UK. All the Finns do is have annual sample tests to gauge standards as we do in NZ. At least one of our political parties wants to introduce national testing and teacher performance pay! In the US testing and political interference has all but killed school initiative.

Schools in Finland are autonomous and teachers are trusted and, as a result, teaching quality is high across all schools - and they have no ‘achievement tail’ as we do. This is course is helped by less cultural variation than in New Zealand but their results are, non the less, impressive.

One reason for their schools success is that there is strong support for education and politicians do not feel the need to ‘slag off’ teachers for poor standards. That our primary teachers are still recognized worldwide for their creativity is more inspite of the system than because of it – indeed imposed compliance requirements have all but killed off the joy of teaching for many teachers!

Less ‘top down’ compliance and more school and community involvement would be a lesson for us. This at least is beginning after years of enforced competition. And we need to really value our teachers by training them well and trusting their professionalism and judgment. Our teachers are paying the price for being in a high accountable and low trust environment. Too many strategy plans, prescribed outcomes, performance indicators and targets to be sent to the Ministry, let alone the deadening effect of the Education Review Office.

Lets decide what we want as a country, define some basic perimeters, and trust schools, working alongside their communities, to get on with the job. We need school willing to try out things and continually improve by keeping and sharing what works.

This is too simple for our desk bound technocrats planning away in their Ivory Towers.

We could learn a lot from Finland – and in the process possibly rediscover what we already new.


richnz said...
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richnz said...

Hi Bruce... Really have enjoyed a slow wander through your blog. Great. Keep it up. I like the line of us thanking the ministry for starting to get things right, seeing they imposed the wrong to start with and the the boys arriving to whip us along...
I have lately seen the compliance nature that most/many of us techers are ingrained with. The numeracy contract is just one such example of great teaching ideas, swamped with an avalanche of resources, poorly organsied, and everyone is chorusing how good it is on cue! Where is the critical reflection?

Anonymous said...

New Zealand could be leading the way. Unfortunately many in the school heirarchy lack the imagination,courage and determination and have always been suspicious of the creative and defensive of their own little kingdoms. As you point out it is sometimes simply a matter of trust and mutual respect. Principals have an important role to play by creating a positive and supportive environment for their teachers and students alike. Individual skills and perspectives should be prized.

Bruce Hammonds said...

'Rich' is so right. All this avalanche of contractual help has the adverse effect of teachers having to fall into line - who are they to be critical of the experts? This is not to say it is not good stuff - it is - but it is also nothing new. It just replaces the previous experts advice!

The important thing is, as 'Rich' says, where is the time for critical reflection? What is it that our students need to thrive the future - or more importantly, as people now.

The compliance mentality is, as 'Rich' says, now ingrained and teachers involved do 'chorus on cue how good it all is.'

We are in danger of losing our imagination and creativity.

Bruce Hammonds said...

After listening to the National Party's Education Policy I can see they look towards the formal and un-creative systems of Asia for inspiration - or back to the Victorian Era. They should instead look towards Finland.