Interesting video and paper: Real Finnish lessons

Found this video via Tom Bennett:

Following discussion with Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment about its insights into the errors made in past analyses and narratives of the Finnish education system, Gabriel Heller Sahlgren obtained funding to look at the Finnish system in greater detail, and what he found strongly corroborated the view we built up in the Curriculum Review – a view which contrasted strongly with the common assumptions and statements about the Finnish system.

For who the video is a bit too long, or for people who rather like to read, check this paper by Gabriel Heller Sahlgren that inspired the talk in which he examines the Finnish educational system. Salhgren discusses the educational rise of Finland by looking e.g. at the broader history to explain why teachers are in high esteem and he also examines possible explanations for the present decline and finds evidence that an often heard reason (immigration) can’t be the main explanation neither, but the truth is possibly much more complicated.

In short:

Since Finland’s top ranking in the forst international PISA league tables in 2001, policymakers from around the world have tried to learn from the unexpected and extraordinary success of its education system. Why did Finland’s pupils do so well? Popular explanations include the country’s focus on equity, the high standard of teacher training, a comparatively low workload, and the lack of market reforms and school accountability. But research does not support any of these conclusions. In fact, Finland’s rise began well before most of these policies were able to take effect – and its recent decline started soon after they took hold. Instead, Finland’s success appears to be the result of deep-rooted historical, socioeconomic and cultural factors, combined with a resistance to the rising global tide of progressive teaching methods. Its current fall can in turn be linked to cultural changes and recent reforms which may have undermined the causes of its achievements. The findings of this monograph shed new light on Finland’s educational performance and provide important lessons for policymakers.

The work is less anti-Finland than one might think. Do note:

This analysis is not intended to denigrate the achievements of educators and members of society who put enormous, concerted effort into substantial reform of education in Finland. It is, however, designed to correct a whole series of misconceptions and misrepresentations about what was done when in that reform process. The reforms in Finland were impressive but, due to myopia and elementary errors in enquiry, what foreign analysts have taken from Finland frequently has amounted to ‘Finnish fairy stories’

I’ve read the paper and think it’s highly interesting because it sheds another view on an often quoted educational system. But is it a final look? I don’t think so. It actually shows how difficult analyzing educational systems can be.

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