‘Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS’, what a brilliant headline to this piece by Pasi Sahlberg a Finnish education innovator and commentator.
What he is referring to in GERMS is the acronym for The Global Education Reform Movement.
In a brutal but fair summary of the changes and policies, other countries have adopted he surmises they would have all been better off using the Finnish system and avoiding GERMS. But here I think we need to differentiate between government and centralised change and the external ideas and concepts.
He is quite correct in his summary of what has been called a ‘reform movement’ and what it’s policies have been.
- Focus on core subjects
- Quicker and cheaper way of achieving learning goals
- Corporate management models
- Test-based accountability
I have written about Ed 3.0 and the education revolution, or reform before, but Pasi’s piece has made me think that we should also consider what damage has been done by the poor recent centralised changes.
Standardisation in the 80’s and 90’s across western European and the USA concentrated on the outcomes of education as the indicator for improved education by testing students and teachers.
In fact, what has happened is stress and breakdown in the processes as I wrote last week in my piece about Stress and Tragedy in the UK Education System.
It also has managed to achieve the lowest common denominator and made individuality and creativity in the teaching process impossible.
Of course, the drive was financially based and a good example of how to apply management philosophy to learning without understanding what damage it will do.
The other change to accompany standardisation was the focus on core subjects which while logical has again been detrimental to the teaching process.
The subjects not included in the ‘core’, were humanities, arts, music and physical education and we have caused numerous social problems, like obesity as a result of this act. We also realise now that we lack creative thinking in our student output mainly as a consequence of these two initiatives.
The outcome of the first two concepts is to make schools and teachers take a pragmatic and effect based views of their profession and process.
The emphasis on results and measurement by testing has restricted teachers time and input to focus on ways of achieving the results which in turn causes teachers to teach for exams.
The outcome is we now have students who know how to pass exams but not to think. Not surprising really?
The use of the business model and cultures on education has driven the pursuit of business, economic and fiscal goals above goals based on moral, cultural and human improvement and values.
Lastly, test accountability and the above models have created a fear of being punishment amongst teachers and schools and diverted attention from teaching to avoiding penalties, a real corporate malaise that destroys freedom and creativity.
Pasi goes on to say that none of these ideas have been adopted in Finland where they would rather promote the creativity of teachers, students and the overall happiness and achievements of students.
Needless, to say they score highly on academic scales such as PISA.
Here, however, I start to disagree, I think that he is oversimplifying the issues.
There is no doubt that by not taking these measures the Finnish education system offers good ‘control’ of what might have happened if we had not gone in this direction.
But I would propose three things;
- First they are doing well because they have an advanced culture in and so the education system and its achievements are part of a wider social success
- Second that they are also facing problems in common with other education systems
- Third that the motivation of students comes from independence, relevant factual teaching context and understanding how learning helps them to achieve their individual goals
While it is interesting to analyse why we are where we are, the problems caused by the policies above are only part of the picture.
The main issues are and will remain as follows
- Central control of education policy and curricula
- The fear of change and innovation in teachers and schools
- Not understanding what the overall goals of education are
- Not understanding how to engage with online learning and commerce
- Not teaching teachers new skills because of the lack of strategic vision
- Not putting teachers and students at the centre of the process
So it’s interesting to look back and assess where we’ve come from only if it helps us to look forward.
As Einstien said, ‘ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’
Funny, I keep finding myself coming back to this quote again and again.
So let’s look forward and think creatively about this problem and come up with new solutions!