What can we learn from Finland?

Having just finished reading ‘Finnish Lessons’ by Pasi Sahlberg I thought you might like know his suggestions for the future of education in the 21st century.  These suggestions have definitely got struck a chord with me.

I realise that in the UK we are culturally & socially different to Finland but there must at least a few ideas we can steal to transform our educational experience for students, staff & communities.

The summary & table below have been taken from Pasi Sahlberg’s excellent book ‘Finnish Lessons: What the world can learn from educational change in Finland?’

What do you think people? Remember, sharing is caring!

1. Development of a personal road map for learning

These should take the form of customised learning plans jointly designed by student, parent and teacher and rely less on teaching drawn from a standardized curriculum for all.  This will be a continuous process and not a final product in a feedback rich environment where teachers and parents act as facilitators and coaches.  This will inspire and encourage deep and active learning by giving students autonomy over their learning.

Learning will be more structured at earlier ages as reading, writing & mathematic skills need to be acquired with increased freedom of learning options as students master these basic literacies.  Students, in most cases, will not be grouped by ability (or age?), therefore making classrooms diverse with various talents, not just based on standard academic abilities.  Did you know it is illegal to set classes in Sweden?

2.  Less classroom based teaching

Do we need to rethink the organisation of time in school?  This sits neatly with the previous point.

Less time allocated to conventional subjects (Maths, Science & English) with more time dedicated to integrated themes, subjects and projects linked to a real world context.  Again, more organised lessons for younger students and then a gradual decrease as students become more adept at managing their own learning and behaviour.

3.  Development of interpersonal skills and problem solving

Rethink what our core task is in educating our young people.  It is not solely to provide the minimum basic knowledge and skills that young people need in the future but to develop the attitudes and skills necessary for using available information and opportunities.  Furthermore, they need skills for social interaction, both virtual and real, and for cooperation with a diverse group of people solving complex problems in order to be a contributing, global 21st century citizen.

4.  Engagement and creativity as pointers to and of success

Simply, engagement in productive learning in school should be the vital criterion in the success or failure of a school.  Currently, individual & collective success is judged, for better or worse, on standardized knowledge examinations.  At best these require critical and analytical thinking with problem solving skills.  However, they rarely cover non- academic domains that require creativity, complex handling of information or communicating new ideas to each other.  In Finland, the top performing educational country over the past 10 years, students only have to sit one standardized test at 16 – the ‘Matriculation Examination’.  Furthermore, levelling is not required by law until the age of 14.  Therefore, students’ ability to create something new and valuable in school is imperative and consequently, creativity should have the same status as literacy.

20th Century education experience

21st Century Learning Experience

Standardized teaching & learning

  Setting clear, high & centrally prescribed   performance expectations for schools

Customizing teaching & learning

 Finding local and individual solutions to national goals in order maximise learning & teaching opportunities for all

Focus on literacy & numeracy

 Focus on basic knowledge of standard core subjects.

Instruction time of these subjects increased

Focus on creative learning

 Focus on deep & broad learning, giving   equal value to all aspects of an individual’s growth.

No hierarchy of subjects & cross   curricular collisions

Teaching prescribed curriculum

 Outcomes of teaching are prescribed, predictable   & boring

 Results judged by standardized, external   tests.

Encourage risk taking

School based & teacher owned curricula

Discover novel approaches to T & L to   promote engagement from students & staff

Test based accountability & control

 School performance & achievement closely   tied to inspection & external motivation (rewards) for teachers


Shared responsibility & trust

  Gradually building a culture of responsibility & trust that values teacher professionalism in judging what is best for their students

 Sample based assessments


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