Interesting weekend reading.
Firstly, Twitter feed from ASCD sent me to an article at the Smithsonian.com website titled “Why are Finland’s schools so successful?” by LynNell Hancock.This was interesting because it wasn’t the usual rant which, in our media, invariably is used as a platform on which that particular media outlet could stand and lambast whichever government it had ‘issues’ with. And our media seem to end up simplistically blaming teachers for Australia’s students’ comparatively poor performance on a number of dubious measures of achievement in one-off specialised and standardised tests. From the article, however: “There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.”
This article looked at Finland’s educational history and what their vision was for education and how they determinedly and authentically went about trying to achieve that vision, not distracted by other bright shiny educational ‘imperatives’. This was the part that particularly resonated with me:
Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”
Higher salaries across the board will lead to teachers perhaps respecting themselves a bit better and a cultural shift that better values the work teachers do. With this greater respect, I think teachers will see the need for a greater level of professional learning, both pre-service and as a continual part of practice quality & engagement. Too much is being imposed at the moment.