Lessons on Finland by Finnish Scholar Given at Teachers College
Competition And Choice Should Not Be Drivers Of Reform
Pasi Sahlberg started his talk on his recently published “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” by saying that his book is a story about change: how Finland has been building a system of education that has repeatedly ranked the best in the world. He then said he’s not implying that every country should try to replicate exactly what Finland has done, but rather warned against it.
Sahlberg based his talk at Teachers College around answering the question of what Finland did to transform education in that nation, and what practices are relevant for American educators and reformers.
“This is a book about hope,” he said.
The story of educational reform in Finland is also about transformation, he said. The climate of the educational system in Finland was inequitable and of low quality in the 1960s, before many reforms were put in place. The goal the country set out was to make education equitable and affordable. When that goal was reached, the fact that the education was excellent as well came as a surprise.
Sahlberg’s next lesson for the American audience was to take advantage of all the great research and knowledge accumulated in this country. He said the United States is the leading country for educational research, mentioning that in Finland they really have done a lot of work with implementing cooperative education practices that originated in the U.S. and at Teachers College in particular.
“You are the only country on this planet that doesn’t need to go to the other side of the planet” to obtain this research and knowledge, he said. He recalled a visit to the U.S. in the 1990s, when he packed an entire suitcase with books on education to bring back to Finland. The Internet has made distributing this research a lot easier — and lighter.
He said another difference between the way that the U.S. and Finland operate is the way that they deal with reforms. Sahlberg said the U.S. is too concerned with competition and choice, which he feels should not be the main driver of reform. In Finland, they concentrate on cooperation and equality of opportunity. He says education is a human right and will always be free in Finland.
The last point he made had to do with accountability, a word Sahlberg said does not even exist in Finnish. He spoke about how we are over-relying on testing, and conduct more standardized tests than the United Kingdom and China. He gave the analogy of a blood test: a doctor only needs a sample of blood to test for pathogens, as schools should only need to test a small cross-section of the student population in order to assess the system — a notion that seems foreign to educators in the U.S.
Sahlberg ended his lecture by praising the education scholars and professionals in this country, saying the U.S. has produced “the most vibrant and innovative work.”
Sahlberg is the Director General of CIMO (Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) in Helsinki, Finland. He has global expertise in educational reforms, training teachers, coaching schools, and advising policy-makers. He has worked as an educational specialist for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and for the European Commission in Torino, Italy. #