Please read full version here: 2012/02/29 Silver Leaves Edition 271
Last week, I attended a meeting with a large group of principals from small, private schools like our own. We were briefed on the Gonski report into education funding and in general the report appears to make a very positive contribution to informing government on how to fund schools. As often happens, the discussion soon turned to how the government determines which schools are more in need than others and the inappropriate use of nationwide tests and parents’ postcodes to determine a school’s needs. However instead of banging on about that old but very valid issue, the school leaders turned their attention to Finland which has recently become noteworthy because it continually tops the developed countries in educational outcomes.
It turns out, in the 1960’s, Finland was a basket case in terms of educational outcomes but instead of following the USA and Britain, like Australia has done, it did not adopt a competitive, market based approach to education where schools essentially compete for students and market share by highlighting the results of their best students and their flashy extra-curricular activities (something our own school is under pressure to do). Instead, they adopted a collaborative approach to try and improve all students and all schools’ outcomes. This has resulted in an overall level of achievement that is the envy of the world. Teacher education courses are now more difficult to enter than medicine and the status of schools and teachers is very high. The Director of Education in Finland says the most valuable learning tool for children is the teacher and their ability to bring the students on the journey via the teacher’s passion and competency.
It is very affirming to hear of these “new ways” being explored and given attention by the media and Minister Peter Garret. Interestingly, formal academic education for these high achieving Fins does not start until they are seven years of age which is the antithesis of the way countries in the “Global Education Reform Movement” (GERM)* like the USA, UK and Australia are structuring their education policies . They have been pushing formal academic learning on younger and younger children and strengthening market based competition in the provision of education at the expense of quality outcomes (Australia’s education outcomes are slipping in various rankings.)
Thank you for those who attended the Visioning Workshop (part II) on Sunday. It was a valuable experience and finished with a very healthy discussion about how we ensure the underlying ethos of the school infuses everything we do while at the same time we ensure a financially responsible position. They are absolutely mutually compatible situations. This type of discussion needs to occur again and again and again and will always require thoughtfulness and a gesture of openness to working with both the ethos and the practical realities of the present moment.
*GERM is a term coined by the Director of Education in Finland and he sees the policies of this movement as a virus that harmful and unhealthy