Heard both another politician and Rupert Murdoch calling for “educational reform” the other day and shuddered. It will always turn out to be not reform in the sense of making things better for children and teachers, the sort of thing us ordinary mortals mean when we talk about reform. Instead it will turn out to be based on the reform caller’s own school experience (little Latin and less Greek) which will have equipped them to be an education expert; or on some right-wing ideology hell-bent on turning schools into factories (profit-generating-factories) for producing good consumers and workers. Out will come gimmicks like NAPLAN, My School website, performance pay, vouchers, none of which will do anything except make our education system, once pretty damn good, worse and worse.
We might instead, if we were serious about actual, you know, reform, turn to other countries to assess their experiences in order to see which things have failed (all the list above) and what really works. Which brings me to Finland. That surprised you didn’t it? Top of the international education league tables for most of a decade. Students clamouring to get into university teacher courses. Massive numbers of applications for every teaching job. How do they do it?
All teachers have to have a Master’s degree, so teaching is equivalent in prestige to law and medicine. The highest-flying youngsters then started flocking to the profession because of its new-found prestige. Schooling is free (including free university education) and compulsory for all. No selection of pupils for individual schools. No school uniforms, and informal relations between students and teachers. No inspections of teachers (“They are academics and well-trained, so we trust them”), no national testing of pupils. Class sizes small (maximum 20 in first 2 years of high school for example). Pupils transfer to either an academic or a vocational school at the age of 16 after nine years of compulsory schooling.
The only part I disagree with is that because it is illegal to charge fees in the Finnish education system, even those schools that are run privately take their funding from the state. Hmmm!
But generally speaking the key seems to be to raise the prestige and training of teachers and then trust them to get on with the job.
Actually a prescription for success in most work places I suppose.
Time for the ideologues to back away from education. Julia and Kevin could visit Finland (as many education ministers from around the world are doing, most recently England’s Education minister) to see for themselves how the Finns have done it. Mind you they would want to be quiet and listen. I have a feeling in my chalk that the Finns would be stunned and disgusted by the “reforms” to education undertaken here in recent years by both sides of politics.