The Finland DNA
Date : 26 November 2018
Reported by : Roslan Bin Rusly
Category : News
The Finland DNA
This is why the emphasis on education has always been strong
By CHRISTINA CHIN firstname.lastname@example.org
FINLAND is looking forward to a greater working relationship with the Education Ministry. Teacher education and training, greater sharing of information on a systems level and building connections between Finnish and Malaysian schools, were the areas identified for strategic cooperation, Finnish National Agency for Education general director OlliPekka Heinonen reveals.
"We want to connect and learn from each other," he told StarEducate at a recent interview inKL.
On Oct 17, a seminar on the Finnish education system was held at the International Islamic University Malaysia in Gombak. The seminar was held following a discussion between Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik and Finland Ambassador to Malaysia Petri Puhakka in July.
The central role of teachers at the heart of the Finnish education system, Heinonen offers, is something Malaysia could study. He was asked about how the Finnish experience could benefit the country.
"Empowering teachers, and giving them greater autonomy to develop students, and the assessment system, are things we discussed. There are many assessment models but we know that in Asia, countries rely strongly on testing.
"That's not what we're doing in Finland because for our purposes, testing doesn't function well. For us, a successful student, is one who can grow to his or her full potential and be a responsible member of society. But how do you measure that?"
Finnish assessment, he explains, is based on the continuous and many fold student-teacher dialogues to support learning, and a child's ability to start self-evaluating his or her own learning.
"We want to spark a child's inner motivation to learn. It's a different type of assessment with different targets. We don't have assessments of the teacher because doing that would mean dictating how a teacher should act in class.
Teachers are professionals. They mustn't feel like we don't trust them." Education, he shares, became the core of Finnish culture as it was a means to achieving independence. In the 1860s, the idea that Finland could become a nation among nations was born.
Before that Finland was either part of Sweden or Russia, he explains. "The way to realise that idea was to raise the entire population's awareness of our own language and culture.
So education was a way for us to gain independence. It's part of the 'Finland DNA'. That's why the emphasis on education has always been strong." While resources matter, studies show that after a certain point of spending per student, there's no correlation between outcome and resources.
"Yes, our top three highest spending allocation is on education but there are other things that matter too. So how do we build a successful education system?" Copying a model from anywhere - no matter how successful that model is - won't work because every nation has a story of its own.
Historical rules, cultural background, current needs and challenges must be taken into account, he opines.
"We can learn from each other but it's very important that we integrate those lessons to a functioning system.. "For example, if we compare Singapore and Finland, we see two very different education models, values, and ways of doing things. Yet both models have produced very good outcomes.
"There's no one answer to good outcomes. Having the passion and commitment to develop the system, taking into account each country's own background, is key."
Judging from the enthusiasm of Malaysian educators and government officials he's met, Heinonen notes that there's a hunger to make the system better. "Many good questions were asked.They want to make things better and that's very important."
The son of a teacher, Heinonen shares why educators are held in such high regard in Finland.
Teachers have always played a central role in the community. They would take charge of organising festivals and events because schools were also a meeting place for everyone.
They feel a great sense of responsibility and duty. And they know they're respected for their work, he points out. "The respect that they get plays a central role in the success-of the education system.
" For over three decades, it has been a requirement for Finnish teachers to have at least a masters degree. Well-educated teachers, he explains, are crucial in a vast country dotted with many small schools in remote areas.
"The only way to ensure that children in these snpll schools receive quality education is by making sure that the teachers are highly educated." Almost all teachers have masters level education in the subject they're teaching.
Only 3% are not specialists. "For example, a teacher goes on long leave and is replaced by a colleague. The replacement does not have the qualification to teach that subject. These are teachers who fall in the 3%. Although they have a masters degree, they're not specialists.
"I'm a good example of that. Some 30 years ago, I graduated and was qualified to teach in a music school. But the requirements are different from teaching in a primary school. Yet I did it for a year.
"So, you could have a masters in art, but you'd still be unqualified to teach math because you don't have a masters in that subject." Finland wants all its teachers to be specialists with masters in their respective subjects. And, focus is also on increasing the number of early childhood education teachers with the relevant masters' qualification.
From years one to six, the class teacher - who is a specialist in certain subjects with very strong pedagogy - teaches their own class throughout the year. It's not possible for them to specialise in all subjects but they have the basic skills in all the subjects they're teaching. That's the class teacher model, he explains.
"Then from years seven to nine, there's a specialised subject teacher for each subject. This is the subject teacher model. We're looking at ways to increase their social and emotional abilities to handle different classroom Situations.
" Stressing on parental involvement, he says creating a system where every parent is able to support the learning of their children, is crucial. Studies show a strong correlation between parent interest and learning outcomes. "Parents must be interested and supportive of children doing their homework. It sounds simple, but it's essential."
While Finland has consistently ranked high in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), Heinonen says the country's achievements are incidental.
"We examine the Pisa results carefully as the information is useful but we don't plan our education system for Pisa. If we did that, we'd be doing things differently today." Pisa measures competencies, skills, and knowledge, that are important for the future, but it doesn't look at the needs and values of Finnish society, he says.
"If we only planned for Pisa's assessment, we'd leave elements that are valuable to Finnish society, out. We don't want to do that. We're developing our system to meet our needs and then we'll see how that outcome relates to Pisa.
" The country's aim now is for national policy to reflect classroom reality. Heinonen admits there was a disconnect previously. That's why national strategies don't get properly implemented.
The two most important words in the Finnish system is autonomy and trust. Teachers have a lot of autonomy - they decide what happens in class. Nobody tells them what to do or what textbooks and pedagogical method to use. It's the same with schools and municipalities.
Each has their own silo strategy and it led to a lot of frustration because policy makers were making decisions, yet nothing was happening on the ground. The country, he says, is trying to carry out a coherent, systemic change by making sure that the community, teachers, schools, municipalities and policy makers, are on the same page. All quarters must share a common goal, and decide on the action each has to take to realise that objective.
"Although autonomous, each player in their own capacity must move in the same direction. We must maintain trust in each player so the question is how we can do that in a system where no one person is in control. "We have to be clear of our aim. The idea is that we won't have a separate national strategy annually, but be more consistent with what we're doing."
Bullying is a problem, Heinonen admits. When we have to talk about bullying, it means something has already gone wrong, he says. Bullying should never happen in the first place. Annual well-being of children surveys show that the number of bullying cases have dropped but it's still a problem. "We recently came up with more measures to address this.
Finnish schools adopt a zero-tolerance attitude to bullying. There are some serious situations where teachers can't see what's going on because mental and psychological bullying happens online." School culture must be cultivated together with the community.
Pupils should have a say about the rules and what's acceptable behaviour, he feels. "That's what many Finnish schools are doing now but in the age of the Internet, we're facing new situations where bullying is happening outside the school. Students may be involved but it's hard to say what the school rules should be in those situations," he says, when asked about Kiva's success in tackling bullying. KiVa, is both a play of the Finnish word "kiva" which means "nice" and an acronym for "kiusaamista vastaan" (against bullying).
The programme teaches essential anti-bullying responses because students might witness a bullying incident and they have to decide what to do: whether to defend the victim or do something else.
Some 20 countries including New Zealand, have adopted the. programme while schools in Britain, the United States and Japan are testing it, Sunday Star reported last year. But Kiva, Heinonen stresses, is only one method the country uses to address bullying.
"Kiva has been successful but we have other preventive concepts that involve the children. For example, students know to approach another child if they see him or her sitting alone. "There are many different methods of tacking bullying but the school must be committed. Decide on the method you want, and see it through."
Source ; The Star