Andy Hargreaves introduced me to the Finnish education system, its successes, and what it offers to those educators who believe we need to transform education in our schools and classrooms. It is easy to believe what is done in one setting is a model we can overlay in our schools. There is merit in examining their educational system and applying ideas that might work and make an impact. Pasi Sahlberg, a leading Finnish educator, suggested we, and I include Canada, need to see what equal opportunity in education looks like in What the US can’t learn from Finland.
“Finland can show [us] what equal opportunity looks like, [we] cannot achieve equity without first implementing fundamental changes in [our] school system.” He included equal funding of schools, holistic and equal attention for each child and education as a fundamental human right. Teaching is a valued profession in Finland, local schools write their curriculum, and teachers are given autonomy and trusted to carry out classroom responsibilities. Although he never openly states it, the implication is that without reimagining education, teacher roles, holistic care of children as the central purpose of education, and the role the entire community plays educating children, real, sustainable change is unattainable. I think it is as important to realize that shifting towards a model of equal opportunity still will not mean our system, whether in Alberta or elsewhere, can or should look identical to Finland’s. What are the needs of our children? This is a central question to the needed conversations.
I think articles, such as What Americans [Canadians] Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School System and From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model, provide more grist for the necessary conversations about transformation in education. With caution, we can use strategies which proved successful in Finland. Linda Darling-Hammond said in the second noted article. “Thirty years ago, Finland’s education system was a mess. It was quite mediocre, very inequitable. It had a lot of features our system has: very top-down testing, extensive tracking, highly variable teachers, and they managed to reboot the whole system.”
Whether as a preemptive strike or to resuscitate a failing system, there is a call to engage communities, reduce competition in schools, recruit and support the best, and trust the people we place with children in classrooms. We can learn a lot from the Finnish education system.