Catherine Delahunty

Education that works for students

by Catherine Delahunty

This week John Key and David Shearer made key note speeches which included references to education. The rhetoric around education flowed freely but I couldn’t hear any depth or real excitement in either speech. Setting targets for NCEA improvement (which is the Government’s plan) and getting of  bad schools and bad teachers (which is Labour’s plan) misses the bus of student centred educational improvement.

Both National and Labour might like to consider the reasons for Finland’s consistent success as a society which actually values learning for its own sake and gets great results. The core ideas behind the Finnish system are virtually the opposite of National’s privatisation and assessment plan. Perhaps David Shearer was trying to lift the status of teachers in his comments but there seems no coherent set of educational values in either man’s sound bites.

The Finnish education system is based on something truly interesting, the goal of creating more equality for all students. It has refused to see education as a business and has maintained a staunch commitment to educational innovation and high trust between the Government and teachers.

Some of their ideas include:

  • No standardised testing
  • All teachers qualified to MA level
  • A conscious attention to diversity
  • No streaming in high school classes
  • Free ECE plus school meals for all
  • All learners access to remedial help
  • Local public schools expected to be high quality
  • Only best students accepted as teachers
  • No homework at primary school

There is much more and I recommend the book “Finnish Lessons” by Pasi Sahlberg.

Sahlberg is quick to point out that a school in Helsinki can have up to 40 languages spoken  and that the national child poverty rate is  4%.

The key transformation occurred through a political party consensus that the goal of greater equality in education was fundamental. How sad its is to hear the rhetoric of market models, standardised testing, charter schools and bad teachers without a vision that will work to inspire learners. We are far from a consensus that will lead to equality or equity in education. .

Speaking for myself I found much of high school dull and authoritarian and believe we need change. I am excited by the Finnish models and also by the voices of our young people. Who’s listening to either of them?

Published in Economy, Work, & Welfare | Featured by Catherine Delahunty on Fri, March 16th, 2012   

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