Illalong News

  • 1st November, 2019

From the Principal's Desk

Lessons from Finland Part 3:

In a quick summary of my last two newsletters, I have long held the belief that the three essential elements within a culture or society for educational success are outstanding teachers, engaging pedagogical approaches, and facilities that maximise engagement in the classroom.

My recent study tour of the Finnish system has somewhat challenged my views. Finnish education has for many years been listed as the most outstanding in the world, and yet my observations noted that neither their pedagogy, nor their facilities seemed to maximise engagement or indeed any interest within the classroom. Finnish educators certainly have a higher mean standard of education, with all Finnish teachers required to hold a master’s degree, but I do not see how this alone could add to the significant educational gains we see in their system.

So now to the theory!

If we take two of the consistent leaders in educational outcomes, Singapore and Finland, both countries have a few things in common:

  1. Both countries have been invaded and upon independence have had to struggle for their identity;
  2. Neither country has significant natural resources to speak of.

If a country does not have an abundance of natural resources that they can use for the development of their economy, they must rely on the development of a knowledge economy. Only through improved education can the country foster innovation and creativity to drive and further their economy. Such education brings technological advances which can aid improvements in efficiency, research and development.

In talking to one of our parents a couple of weeks ago, he noted that both Finland and Singapore do not have the range of community sporting activities or a culture of such activities that we have in Australia. This is an interesting point I had not considered.

The noticeable common feature for me is that educators, whether in Early Childhood, Primary school, Secondary school or University are very highly respected. This level of respect for the education profession is simply not seen in many other countries such as the USA, UK and Australia. This can be seen to be an extension of the country’s unified acceptance that education is the key to the country’s success and long-term economic growth.

This incredible respect for the profession drives many of the very best high school graduates to select education as their tertiary study, despite the pay being considerably low compared to the mean salaries in other professions.

This respect results in closer collaborations between home and school, better relationships and greater trust between parents and staff. Students are committed to achieving their best and absentee rates are relatively low.

In Australia, there is an ongoing debate on the funding given to independent schools and non-government schools. The premise of this debate is that funding needs to be given to those schools with limited resources and that this is the sole reason for the difference in academic achievement. A quick review of NAPLAN shows clearly that the increased funding has not manifested itself in better academic outcomes. Education is not something we can merely throw money at and expect improvements. 

These factors do however make me reflect on the nature of the community that exists in a school, the nature of the relationships between staff and parents, the level of trust that is afforded, the ability of staff and parents to speak both openly and transparently about a child’s progress without fear of aggression or obstacle, and the academic achievements of young people. There is no doubt that there is a level of resourcing needed to support the development of students, the funds to hire outstanding staff, and the provision of learning aids and programs but, as we have seen, Finland achieves leading results without the polish of resources and facilities.

The concept of trust is an interesting one. While this is evident between parents and staff in Finland, it also exists within the education system itself. Principals do not need to report to the Government on as many compliance issues as here in Australia, they are not required to undertake the same level of administration as in Australia, and many still have the enjoyment of teaching regular classes. They are truly lead educators.

It would seem that there is a general lack of trust and an abundance of compliance measures demanded by the government as a reflection of the wants of Australian society. These measures are deemed important to ensure the quality of the educational opportunities and outcomes, but we can see that in Finland no such compliance levels are needed, and they still get outstanding results. They do not have standardised testing nor regard this as important, instead focussing purely on education; an expression of the trust evident.

It would seem to me that if we want to improve educational outcomes in Australia, an education revolution is needed in which government and parents trust and support educators, teachers are given greater freedom within the classroom and their educational expertise trusted, standardised tests and artificial measures of educational outcomes are abolished, and society starts to truly value educators. As a result, we would then have our very best and brightest, our most dynamic, engaging and purposeful graduates selecting education as a meaningful and valued career – think how many times you have heard someone say, ‘I would never be a teacher’ – now ask ‘why?’.

As a society we need to realise the effect that our relationships and engagement have on the ability of people to truly excel and succeed in their chosen roles. We need to encourage people, trust them, provide support and recognise that educators only want to see a child grow and succeed. Well-being research indicates that many staff in Australian schools feel threatened, have been threatened with physical violence, been assaulted or been the victim of spurious defamatory social media posts. If we are to educate with confidence, all Australian school communities need to work on building trusting relationships. 

This would be a big ask of society as a whole, but maybe not for a school community. While the College enjoys a wonderful relationship with the vast majority of parents, there is always room for improvement, and if we agree that our joint purpose (our only reason for existence) is to aid the development of each and every child, then we have much in common.  It is nevertheless my hope that Australian society can become a little less judgmental, a little slower to blame, and a lot more supportive and trusting. Only through such social developments can the factors of outstanding educators, leading pedagogy, and wonderful facilities truly benefit each child.

Brian Grimes



< Back to News