A renowned education expert has spoken out where Australia’s education system is going wrong, and what can be done to improve it.
Speaking at the annual Ann D Clark Lecture to more than 700 teachers and principals in Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta on Tuesday night, Finnish education expert, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, said the success of his country’s schools is based on more than academic achievement.
“It’s not about human capital, or what teachers know, or how well they can teach. It’s about social capital and how teachers engage with one another and the students,” he said.
“The culture of the school is most important. I would spend more money on developing social, collaborative, and networking skills among teachers themselves.”
Primary school teaching is among the most popular professions in Finland, with more than 8,000 applicants competing for just 800 university positions each year.
Sahlberg said the competition between teaching graduates is harder than even law or medicine, yet about a third of the successful applicants score below 60% in their final high school exam.
“Universities are accepting school leavers with lesser results because they are great athletes, musicians, actors, community leaders, those who have great personalities and many other things and have the ability to engage students,” he said.
Sahlberg said that unlike Australia’s NAPLAN testing for Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students, the Finnish education system has only one final year exam for students aged 18 or 19, and there were no progressive measuring tests during a student’s time at school.
“It is simply not true that we are ditching traditional subjects, such and as literacy, maths and science,” he said.
“We have curriculum framework across the nation’s 3,000 schools, and each one writes its own curriculum. Teachers write it and we trust our teachers to do this”.
He added that every school in Finland must include one period of time every year to incorporate all subjects, and without a set time.
Sahlberg pointed to the importance of homework, government spending on education and being “original thinkers” by not relying too heavily on the Internet, which he said can deter the urge for people to be investigative.
“Don’t imitate, but create. I’ve seen people from Singapore or Canada come to Finland try to copy our system but a lot of our ideas won’t work in their countries. It’s better to create your own models for your own different circumstances,” he said.
“And don’t just download facts – discover them. We are at a watershed moment culturally in the world of fake news. There is no investigation and no reading. We have to encourage a culture of understanding”.
Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta executive director, Greg Whitby, told The Educator that rather than making schools better, “we need to completely transform them”.
Whitby said education authorities should stop focussing on NAPLAN and PISA results and copying from other jurisdictions.
“We need to take the competition factor out of the race because it is clearly not working,” he said.
Whitby added that quality teaching was vital in the transformation of learning in schools and governments needed to invest more in teaching collaboration.
“The days of a teacher standing in front of classroom and talking most of the time is simply not engaging. Students say it’s boring. We need teacher collaboration because teachers working together, rather than on their own, makes learning engaging,” he said.
“Politicians and communities need to trust teachers and schools as we move forward into the 21st century.”