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Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn…
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Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in…

by Pasi Sahlberg

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Most of the major takeaways from this book can be gleaned from this NYRB article from March 2012. ("No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers; nor does research support either strategy.")

Finland has used research on teaching and learning produced by many other countries (including the U.S., England, Korea, and Japan) and has applied it to their own educational system. Teaching is a respected profession in Finland; teacher education is competitive, and all teachers earn master's degrees. The professionalism of teachers allows for a great degree of responsibility in the classroom and a good deal of autonomy in the schools, rather than a centralized national curriculum.

There is no "tracking" in the 9-year Finnish compulsory school (peroskoulu), but there is early support for any student who shows signs of struggle; every school has a special education teacher and a counselor. This early intervention without stigma is very effective.

There are no standardized tests until the matriculation exam; teachers are responsible for assessment.

Quotes

...over the past quarter century, the standards and performance of American teachers and schools have steadily declined in relation to international benchmarks. In spite of this...the U.S....has epitomized Einstein's definition of madness: keep doing the same thing while expecting to get a different result....the very reform strategies that have failed dismally over two decades...are being reinvented and re-imposed... (xv)

The main message of this book is that there is another way to improve education systems. This includes improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals. (5)

It is better to have a dream of your own than to rent one from others. (6)

The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation - not choice and competition - can lead to an education system where all children learn well. (9)

The key question [is]: Is it possible, in principle, that all children can be educated and attain similar learning goals? (19)

Researchers...argued that an individual's abilities and intelligence always rose to the level required by society, and that education systems merely reflected these limits or needs. (21)

Ability grouping [tracking] was eventually abolished in all school subjects in 1985. Since then, all students have studied according to the same curricula and syllabi. (22)

This philosophy included the beliefs that all pupils can learn if they are given proper opportunities and support, that understanding of and learning through human diversity is an important educational goal, ad that schools should function as small-scale democracies, just as John Dewey had insisted decades before.(23)

[The National Matriculation Examination] consists of at least four subject areas...all exams are paper-and-pencil, mostly essay based and open ended... (31)

The new school system was launched with philosophical and educational assumptions that insisted the role of public education must to be educate critical and independent-thinking citizens. (33)

The power of Finnish education is in its high quality and equitable student learning...What PISA surveys, in general, have revealed is that education policies that are based on the idea of equal educational opportunities and that have brought teachers to the core of educational change have positively impacted the quality of learning outcomes. (37)

It was assumed very early in Finland's reform process that instruction is the key element that makes a difference in what students learn in school, not standards, assessment, or alternative instructional programs. (39)

...schools are encouraged to to maintain strong support systems for teaching and learning - nutritious, free school meals for all pupils, health services, psychological counseling, and student guidance are normal practices in every school. (40)

2.5% of Finnish expenditure on educational institutions (all levels of education) is from private sources [compared to 33.9% in the U.S.] (44)

Equality in education is an important feature in Nordic welfare states...Equity in education is a principle that aims at guaranteeing high quality education for all in different places and circumstances....having a socially fair and inclusive education system...(45)

An essential element of the Finnish comprehensive school is systematic attention to those students who have special educational needs....The basic idea is that with early recognition of learning difficulties and social and behavioral problems, appropriate professional support can be provided to individuals as early as possible. (46)

High-equity education in Finland is not a result of educational factors alone. Basic structures of the Finnish welfare state play a crucial role in providing all children and their families with equitable conditions for starting a successful educational path at the age of 7. Early childhood care, voluntary free preschool...comprehensive health services...are accessible to all in Finland....Child poverty is at a very low level, less than 4% of the child population compared with over 20% in the United States. (48)

Minimizing grade repetition has been possible primarily because special education has become an integral part of each and every school in Finland....a student only repeats those courses that were not passed satisfactorily. (60)

The Finnish state budget allocates normally about 30 million U.S. dollars each year to professional development of teachers and school principals...compared with 5 million U.S. dollars for student assessment and testing! (87)

Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) vs The Finnish Way (chart)
Standardized teaching & learning vs. Customizing teaching & learning
Focus on literacy & numeracy vs. Focus on creative learning
Teaching prescribed curriculum vs. Encouraging risk-taking
Borrowing market-oriented reform ideas vs. Learning from the past and owning innovations
Test-based accountability & control vs. Shared responsibility and trust (103)

...education system performance has to be seen in the context of other systems in the society, for example, health, environment, rule of law [not corruption], governance, economy, and technology. It is not only that the education system functions well in Finland, but that it is part of a well-functioning democratic welfare state. Attempts to explain the success of the education system in Finland should be put in the wider context and seen as a part of the overall function of democratic civil society. (115)

Building on the ideas of upgrading teacher education to the master's degree level in universities, abolishing streaming and ability grouping, and investing early on in special education and student counseling positively affected the quality of education in peroskoulu....This shift from an elitist and socially divided system of education into the most equitable public education system in the world happened in...a short time. (118)

Although the educational change is characterized as the Finnish Way...the source of many pedagogical innovations and research evidence for change are imported from elsewhere [the U.S., England, Canada, Sweden, Germany, etc.] (121)

The Finnish welfare system guarantees all children the safety, health, nutrition, and moral support that they need to learn well in school....successful change and good educational performance often require improvements in social, employment, and economic sectors. (133)

We should reconsider those education policies that advocate choice, competition, and privatization as the key drivers of sustained educational improvement...the Finnish experience shows that a consistent focus on equity and shared responsibility - not choice and competition - can lead to an education system in which all children learn better than they did before. (134)

What most people in the future will need that they are not likely to learn anywhere else is real problem-solving in cooperation with other people. This will become one of the basic functions of future schools: to teach cooperation and problem solving in small groups of diverse people. (142) ( )
  JennyArch | Jan 16, 2015 |
Pasi Salhberg--in "Finish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?"--doesn't pretend to have a universally applicable solution to the problems we face in providing effective learning opportunities. But the wonderfully produced snapshot he provides of the Finnish school system and its support of vocational training is something none of us can afford to ignore. If we're at all interested in seeing how the top-ranked education system worldwide produced its successes, we're in the right place with "Finnish Lessons". This is not a book that is useful only to those in academia. The descriptions of a learning system that eschews a single-minded emphasis on testing and explores, instead, ways to engage all learners and provide them with communities of learning that produce results, touches any trainer-teacher-learner. It's a fabulous approach to the wicked problem of reinventing learning, and Sahlberg engagingly and concisely helps us understand what he and his colleagues have achieved. The writer turns to a broad roadmap, in the final pages of his book, to help us explore what he and his colleagues have created. Suggesting that we create "a community of learners that provides the conditions that allow all young people to discover their talent" (p. 140)--and there'ss no reason why we have to limit ourselves to "young people" here--he suggests four broad steps: development of a personal road map for learning; less classroom-based teaching; development of interpersonal skills and problem solving; and engagement and creativity as pointers of success. If we can adapt any part of these Finnish lessons by applying them in our own settings, perhaps the wicked problem of reforming education and lifelong learning here in the United States will become a little less wicked. ( )
  paulsignorelli | Jan 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807752576, Paperback)

''It is now time to break down the ideology of exceptionalism in the United States and other Anglo-American nations, if we are to develop reforms that will truly inspire our teachers to improve learning for all our students -- especially those who struggle the most. In that essential quest, Pasi Sahlberg is undoubtedly one of the very best teachers of all.'' --From the Foreword by Andy Hargreaves, Lynch School of Education, Boston College


''The story of Finland's extraordinary educational reforms is one that should inform policymakers and educators around the world. No one tells this story more clearly and engagingly than Pasi Sahlberg. This book is a must read.'' --Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University


''A terrific synthesis by a native Finn, a teacher, a researcher, and a policy analyst all rolled up into one excellent writer. Pasi Sahlberg teaches us a great deal about what we need to know before engaging in national educational reforms.'' --David Berliner, Arizona State University


''This book is a wake-up call for the United States. Finland went from mediocre academic results to one of the top performers in the world. And they did it with unions, minimal testing, national collaboration, and elevating teaching to a high-status calling. This is the antidote to the NCLB paralysis.'' --Henry M. Levin, Teachers College, Columbia University


''Pasi Sahlberg is the best education policy expert to share the Finnish experiences with the international community. This book confirms that he is not only a practitioner but also a visionary that we Finns need when searching for the solutions to our educational challenges.'' --Erkki Aho, Director General (1973-1991), Finnish National Board of Education


''Pasi Sahlberg as an insider knows what has happened and as a researcher has an objective perspective on cause and effect relationships. This story makes sense to me.'' --Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director, Finnish Broadcasting Company and former Minister of Education (1994-99)


''Finland's remarkable educational story, so well told in this book by Pasi Sahlberg, is both informative and inspiring because it shows that with appropriate effort sustained over time, a country can make huge improvements for its young people, something that all countries aspire to do.'' --Ben Levin, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto


Finnish Lessons is a first-hand, comprehensive account of how Finland built a world-class education system during the past three decades. The author traces the evolution of education policies in Finland and highlights how they differ from the United States and other industrialized countries. He shows how rather than relying on competition, choice, and external testing of students, education reforms in Finland focus on professionalizing teachers' work, developing instructional leadership in schools, and enhancing trust in teachers and schools. This book details the complexity of educational change and encourages educators and policymakers to develop effective solutions for their own districts and schools.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:01 -0400)

The author traces the evolution of education policies in Finland and highlights how they differ from the United States and other industrialized countries. He shows how rather than relying on competition, choice, and external testing of students, education reforms in Finland focus on professionalizing teachers' work, developing instructional leadership in schools, and enhancing trust in teachers and schools. --from publisher description… (more)

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