Tag Archives: Finland

Scanning the globe

Several reports over the past month highlight issues such as educational funding, early childhood education, new schools and school closure, and curriculum:

Funding

In the Phillipines, http://www.philstar.com argues that the country is not contributing enough to education. While education spending increased from 1999 to 2011 (13.9% to 15%), it has yet to reach the target 20% of the national budget. According to UNESCO, “The share of national income invested in education, which equalled the subregional average in 1999, had fallen behind by 2009 at 2.7 percent of GNP, compared with an average of 3.2 percent for East Asia.” In CanadaThe Globe and Mail reports that school boards have increased their spending over the past decade. In Canada as a whole, expenditures have increased 53 per cent – or 5.3 per cent a year, a rate much higher than inflation. In Australia, The Australian Teacher Magazine reports that the government is in the midst of a debate over the funding of education. While the government has committed to a new educational funding system for four years starting from 2014, officials are debating the timeline for the new funding system as well as the question of whether the funding should go to private schools as well as public schools. Meanwhile, The Norway Post reports that the Norwegian government is making plans to increase spending on teacher training.

Early Childhood Education

In Bulgariahttp://www.novinite.com reports that, in order to avoid a loss of EU funding, new legislation is being drafted and must go into effect by September 2014. Legislation includes revisions to a draft law on pre-school education, which include making pre-school education non-compulsory for 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, The Helsinki Times reports that Finland, where approximately 63% of children aged 1-6 attended daycare in 2012, is considering a new law that would “secure the high quality of early childhood education,” as well as all other issues, including funding and teacher quality.

New Schools and School Closure

According to Norways The Foreigner, Conservative Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has proposed lifting current restrictions on establishing private schools. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has amended the Children and Young People Bill in order to defer decisions about school closures to new review panels. The aim of establishing these panels is to improve transparency and remove allegations of political bias from the process. In Lithuania, the Education and Science Ministry has approved a network of Russian-language schools, emphasizing that education programs of foreign countries and international organizations must be consistent with the education goals and principles in the Education Law of Lithuania, as well as the law on national security and other legal acts.

Curriculum

In Finland, The Helsinki Times reports that a high school reform task force delivered a proposal to the Minister of Education and Science in which they proposed reducing compulsory subjects, such as the study of Swedish, and introducing new interdisciplinary studies. The proposal has been met with resistance from some teachers and politicians. Meanwhile, in The New York Times, questions about the relationship between identity and the curriculum surface for Palestinian children who are educated in Israel, and Muslims who are educaed in Germany. The debate over language instruction is ongoing in countries such as The NetherlandsLatvia, and Japan.

In AustraliaAustralian Teacher Magazine reports on a new review of the national curriculum, which leadership feels should be pared back to basics. Kevin Donnely, one of two men who will conduct the review, raises concerns over teaching and learning, and considers the relationship between educational spending and learning outcomes. As he explains, “We really do need to know whether the millions and millions of dollars that’s gone into education over the last 20 years, where results have flatlined or have gone backwards – we want to know how effective that money has been.”

Teacher Quality in India, England, Finland, and Sweden

A quick scan of the recent news on teacher quality illustrates the continuing debates over the best strategies to develop the most effective teaching force.  In India, a recent panel discussion suggested there is a divide between those who call for greater focus on attracting the most promising candidates by elevating the status of the profession, raising salaries, and establishing guidelines for professional responsibilities, and those who call for updating teacher training programs so that candidates will be better prepared for the challenges of the profession.

In England, the strategy of using financial incentives and higher standards for professional entry to increase the quality of the labor pool has been in the news again as the Mail Online reports that the number of job applicants for teaching training positions in math and physics in particular has “collapsed.”  Two years ago the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to improve teacher quality by withdrawing funding for teacher training to students who achieved only the third class honors degree. The measure put the country in line with other high performing countries, such as Finland and South Korea, but the story reports that the cut-off score contributed to over 700 teacher training vacancies in math and almost 400 in physics. Related reforms include an increase in the number of candidates training in schools rather than teacher training colleges which Geoff Whitty discussed in a recent IEN post. ICTScoop also describes a project designed to recruit new teachers help improve literacy and numeracy in underserved areas as “getting off to a slow start.”

At EDUCA 2013, Thailand’s annual conference for teacher professional development, Pasi Sahlberg explained Finland’s approach to teacher quality. The government has accomplished this by funding teacher education, recruiting the best candidates as teachers, and giving teachers more time to prepare for classes. While what Sahlberg calls this “Less Is More” approach often emphasizes teacher preparation and recruitment, Sweden is experimenting with further investments  in professional development. For example, with funding provided by the European Union, a new project will provide coaching and observation support for teachers in select schools.

Scan of news: Teachers

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members' concerns.

Scotland: Susan Quinn, Union president, highlighted members’ concerns.

Over the past month, reports from various countries have shown both the concerns of teachers and concern about teachers. For example, reports of teacher concerns include India and Argentina, where teachers are looking for reliable salary payments, decent facilities, and quality education for allFinland, where teachers are concerned about a sharp increase in violent student behavior in the classroom; and Greece, where teachers are fighting for the right to protest in the midst of austerity measures that threaten the country’s education system itself. Additionally, in Scotland teachers are protesting a new curriculum and an unmanageable workload.

Reports of concerns about teachers include Lithuania, where students recently outperformed teachers on an exam created by the European Union; Israel, where teachers’ lack of expertise in mathematics has been blamed for student difficulties with the subject; and Malaysia, where the Education Ministry plans to conduct diagnostic exercises to benchmark Science teachers in terms of their content knowledge and pedagogical skills in the field.

Equality of access in math and science in Finland, Sweden, and the United State

In a recent paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, “Moving on up? A framework for evaluating equality of access in education, with illustrations from Finland, Sweden and the United States,” Jennifer von Reis Saari shared the results of a study of the ways in which schools in Finland, Sweden, and the United States, track students in math and science. In this post, von Reis Saari briefly describes some of the current concerns about inequality in Sweden and Finland, as well as some of the differences she has documented in the way these countries, and the US, approach tracking.

Jennifer von Reis Saari

Jennifer von Reis Saari

The recent riots in Sweden are drawing attention to how the assumption that Nordic countries, as well as their school systems, are equitable is oversimplified. Finland, for example, is often considered untracked.  However, visitors to Finland are sometimes surprised that the country has a system of competitive school choice at the upper-secondary level, after age 16.   In fact, despite the Finnish Minister of Education, Krista Kiuru’s resistance to the publishing of league tables of individual school performance, savvy students and parents are well aware of school rankings, and lists of upper-secondary school averages on national exams are published at the end of May each year. In addition, there is an increasing appetite for more differentiation and choice.  In neighboring Sweden, comparatively liberal school choice policies and the allowance of for-profit, publicly funded schools, have coincided with increasing social disparities in educational outcomes.  In a study of student persistence in mathematics and science, I found that students I surveyed and interviewed in both countries experienced ability grouping and tracking in mathematics and science during both compulsory school, and upper-secondary school. To characterize Finnish or Swedish school systems as equal, or un-stratified, obscures the ways these systems react to, and create, inequalities.

A closer look at the experiences of students I interviewed in Finland, Sweden, and the United States, however, highlights how critical aspects of these choice and tracking systems, such as the mechanism for allocation (the how, why, and when students choose, or are selected into, particular schools or tracks), the transparency of the system (how clear the different educational choices and their consequences are), and the permeability (the degree of mobility allowed between tracks and schools), can either promote or obstruct the pathways of students who aspire to careers in mathematics and science related fields. In particular, the Finnish education system can be described as more permeable than either Sweden or the United States; the Finnish secondary school students I studied could more freely choose advanced mathematics and science courses and tracks in contrast to their counterparts in Sweden or the United States.  They could make these choices even if they were not in advanced mathematics tracks before they reached the secondary level.   This seemed to result in a greater retention of passionate, interested students, particularly young men who may have struggled earlier in their school careers.

Focusing on permeability is important not only from a standpoint of equity, but also in terms of efficiency, for retaining and fostering skilled talent in STEM fields.   The lack of permeability of math and science tracks may be a particular concern in the United States, where the high cost of post-secondary education and widening disparities between universities and community colleges, which once served to increase opportunities for mobility, compounds lost opportunities during primary and secondary school. Fostering passion for mathematics and science among students may require structures that respond to increasing commitment and performance by providing clear, built-in pathways for upward mobility.

For more information:

“Equity trends in the Swedish school system: A quantitative analysis of variation in student performance and equity from a time perspective”

“School choice and its effects in Sweden”

“Middle class children’s choices to avoid local schools”

“Tracking Effects Depend on Tracking Type: An International Comparison of Students’ Mathematics Self-Concept”

 

“Nurturing Minds: Educational Design Policies, Finland/New York”

New York City, The Center for Architecture (October 16, 2012) 

The Center for Architecture, New York City

The New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, welcomed a group of architects and educators to “Nurturing Minds: Educational Design Policies,” a panel discussion juxtaposing learning environments in Finland and the United States. Moderated by Samuel E. Abrams, presenters included Pasi Sahlberg, Kaisa Nuikkinen, Bruce Barrett.

Display at the Center for Architecture: School desks floating mid-air

Nuikkinen (Head Architect for School Design, Helsinki City Education Department) began by noting that the framework for building a school in Finland takes into account the expectations of the community, the needs of the workplace, guidelines, rules, and regulations, benchmarking, pedagogical concerns, national policies, laws, and norms, as well as best practices. Finland’s aim is to develop school buildings that function effectively, answer the demands of the future, and combine high quality architecture with economic viability. Therefore, design must be multifunctional, flexible, interactive, and inclusive of those with special needs. Outstanding examples of designs that meet these goals include The Soininen School (Ilmari Lahdelma, architect), and The Latokartano Comprehensive School (Tuomas Silvennoinen, architect).

In contrast, Bruce Barrett (New York City School Construction Authority) began by noting that the New York City School System serves 1.1 million students and employs 77,000 teachers. The city is currently planning for a student population that is expected to increase by 31,500 new seats between the fiscal years 2010-2014, which is a real challenge in an area as dense as the city. Stakeholders need to work together to produce school spaces that meet individual needs of schools. Barrett highlighted the city’s most recent projects, which have included renovations of larger schools that have been converted to house several smaller schools under the same roof (such as Mott Haven Campus in the Bronx, and Metropolitan Avenue Campus in Queens), rehabilitations of older buildings (such as P.S 3 in Queens), and renovations that require additions (such as Midwood High School, in Queens, which had to take over the playground space of a middle school across the street in order to create new building space).

For more information:

The Edgeless School: Design for Learning

The Best School in the World: Seven Finnish examples from the 21st century

 

Finland and Singapore

Global Perspectives: Vivien Stewart, Pasi Sahlberg, and Lee Sing Kong Discuss Teacher Quality
Center on International Education Benchmarking (27 March 2012)

In this roundtable conducted by Vivien Stewart, Senior Advisor for Education at the Asia Society, Lee Sing Kong, Director of the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the National Center for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, discuss issues around teacher quality within the Finnish and Singapore contexts.  Two specific topics that they mention are perceptions of the teaching profession and teaching preparation programs in each country.