Archive for Finland

Terve! Terve! Terve! What’s going on here?

 

There has been a great gathering of the good in Wellington last week – the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.

Like most international gatherings, the whole affair was choreographed in the interests of giving everyone a fair go at the air-time that was available. This doesn’t always allow for the real issues to emerge as there is an element of chance in the chosen country reports actually having something to say on the designated issue.

And this was the case with the plenary session on equity. Excellence and equity are the themes of the summit and why not.[1]  It is an OECD supported organization and their PISA activity is an instrument that makes explicit the relative performance of education systems in this regard. New Zealand does very poorly on the second of those measures – while high on excellence, it performs poorly on equity.

This is not to say that we don’t care about equity – we do but the path towards lifting performance on that measure is seemingly not becoming clear very quickly and the indicators are stubbornly slow to encourage us. So I looked forward to the afternoon that was to be devoted to a discussion of equity.

What did I learn? Well, that everyone seems to be struggling a little (and in some cases a lot) and the three or four high performers were annoyingly quiet on the issue. The warts are never going to be exposed in a setting of an international summit.

I learned a little more the next morning when walking from the hotel to the venue. I spotted a fellow with the right sort of conference satchel walking along Lambton Quay so I fell into step with him.

“Where are you from?” I enquired. “Finland” he replied. Ah, I thought, the holy mecca for those who seek the way, the truth and the light of equity.

We chatted and I shifted the topic away from the fact that the streets of Wellington appeared to be deserted (it was 8.00am on a Saturday!) and mentioned that I had read Pasi Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons, and felt that there were in that book some lessons for New Zealand.

“He was one of my teachers at High School,” my fellow Finnish walker replied exhibiting no relish at all for following up on that opening.

Change of tack. “Of course Finland took a bit of a slide down in the last PISA results,” I offered. We had stopped at a traffic light and he turned to face me. “That is because the students have got so slack.” “Is this perhaps the result of becoming famous for doing so well?” “I don’t know, I think that the parents care more about taking their kids to hockey practice and basketball games instead of seeing that they are doing their homework.”

The lights turned green and I wondered aloud why each of the Scandanavian countries had slid back a little. His instant analysis told me that Norway, it seems, is going to the dogs because it has so much money – he suggested that in a couple of years they would have so much money that they would be able to abolish income tax. There was a tinge of envy in his voice I thought.

By then there was a couple of people walking along the footpath towards us so I was able to comment on how busy Wellington was becoming. Perhaps first thing in the morning is not the right moment to get a conversation going about equity.

And so Day 2 started. First country up was Singapore addressing the question “How are learning environments created that address the needs of all children and young people?” A crisp, clear exposition of Core Values (Respect, Responsibility, Resilience, Integrity, Care, Harmony)  and a clear set of 21st Century Competencies free of the clutter that often surrounds such discussions.

I had the feeling that Singapore understood quite a lot about equity. No wonder they have a picture of a classroom on their $2 note.

 


[1] Actually, “inclusion and fairness” are also among the themes but I imagine that a non-inclusive and unfair education system is neither excellent nor equitable so I think that is covered!

Talk-ED: Continuing to believe in Santa Claus in your late teens

 

It’s bad enough driving to work on a wet morning on a wet Monday on a wet motorway without having to flick on the radio and listen to an educational leader complaining about  how wrong it is of Ministry of Education CEO, Lesley Longstone, to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand education system has flaws which challenge its claim to be a world class system.

In the Foreword to the MOE Annual Report, Lesley Longstone paints a picture that is thoughtful and based on analysis of the facts. Unpalatable that might be to some, but until the problem is articulated the solution is unlikely to follow. The willingness of the MOE CEO to put it clearly is to be applauded.

Essentially, her argument is this. New Zealand achieves high results with a significant proportion of its student population and these students are predominantly Pakeha and Asian. In this respect the system is world class. This generalisation masks the fact that there are in our system Pakeha and Asian students who are not getting good results. That’s how generalisations work.

Now the other generalisation is that with Maori and Pasifika students, our system is not getting good outcomes and in this respect our education system is not world class. It is clear in the Foreword that her time in the New Zealand system has led her to believe that the issues that this raises are of such a proportion that we can simply lay no claim to being a world class system overall.

I have pointed out that our system is bipolar for a long time and was once rapped across the knuckles for doing so. But the facts have been there for a long time and PISA among other surveys continues on further analysis to show just that.

In a different analysis delivered to a West Auckland gathering convened recently she is reported By COMET Auckland to have described it in these terms:

“Lesley Longstone’s boldest remarks were about the overall quality of our education system. Before she arrived in New Zealand, she understood our education system to be excellent, with a tail of underachievers. After looking at the data, has revised her view and believes our system is fair with pockets of excellence.  When we disaggregate the data, international results for Pakeha are among the very best in the world. But for Maori and Pasifika we are on par with the worst in the OECD.  Our education system is at bottom in the OECD in its ability to mitigate against poverty and poor education outcomes.  It matters for all of us because it has both social and economic implications.  Data from the USA says the impact of the tail of underachievement in our education system is equivalent to a permanent recession.”

There is a consistency in this and I am quite clear in my mind that she is right. How can a world class education system continue to produce the following outcomes:

  •          21% of students leave the system prior to their 16th birthday;
  •          Truancy runs at high levels (10%, 30,000 a day – there are a lot of figures tossed around for this);
  •          50% of people who start a tertiary qualification fail to complete it;
  •          Educational outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students (groups that are rapidly increasing proportionately in our school system) are clearly and dramatically behind those for Pakeha (a diminishing group) and Asian (a growing group).

The fellow complaining about Longstone’s analysis of course adopted the Finnish Default argument saying that a recent visitor from Finland had noted a number of features in our system that he was impressed with and wanted to consider their place in the Finnish way of working. This is absolutely how it should be. But one, two or even a dozen swallows do not a summer make. I have studied the Finnish system closely and it is unlike ours in a large number of very fundamental ways. We could do well to take note.

Finland has the smallest gap between schools of any system – perhaps it is us that should be asking them how to it is so. None of the other higher ranking systems other than the Anglophone ones have the rather negative outcomes listed above. A world class education system delivers sound educational outcomes for all its citizens.

Intellectual honesty and a willingness to face the reality of the situation is the only sane way in which we might get improvement in our education. To continue to do the same thing and expect different results is simply a clinical diagnosis of madness.