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Is the future Finish?

Published: 
Sunday, December 3, 2017

UWI Chancellor Robert Bermudez affirms that every decision is a compromise. Finland, after WWII, plunged into political turmoil. Humanisation and dehumanisation are both possibilities. The former is maimed by injustice, exploitation and violent oppression finding its furtherance in the lamentations of the oppressed, and by their struggle to find a humanity snatched away.

The Communist Party resumed office in the postwar 1944 elections. In 1948, rebuilding actually began: the Social Democratic Party (50 seats), the Agrarian Centre Party (49 seats) and the Communist Party (49 seats). Compromise was a prerequisite for reform, including decisions about the education system. Finland today stands on the bequest of a liberated peasantry, the spirit of capitalism and the utopia of socialism.

Matti Koskenniemi replaced German concerns with ‘lehrplan’ or syllabi embracing child-centredness instead and giving primacy to ‘social cohesion’ as an uppermost goal of education. Schools became ‘places of care’, empowering children to become holistic humans, intrinsically motivated to go further.

Content was organised into transversal competences and studies across school subjects creating five thematic cross-curricula areas. Subject silos dissolved. Syndicated examinations collapsed. Sputnik 1, an artificial earth satellite from the Soviet Union rocketed into an elliptical low-earth orbit in 1957, catapulting education reforms around the globe, including Trinidad and Tobago.

The result for Finland today includes collaborative classroom practices with learners interacting with several teachers simultaneously during periods of phenomenon-based project studies. The core curriculum is stipulated in the Basic Education Act; however, districts are autonomous, articulating bespoke occasions for learning that vary freely across municipalities. Educators possess academic Masters Degrees taking five to seven years to complete and they continuously improve their professional artistry. Teaching is desirable, prestigious and socially advantageous, and educators experience esteem on par with lawyers, doctors and engineers. Salaries are pegged to the national average and offer no particular incentive, though the salary ladder rewards experience more than elsewhere.

The foundation of this confidence and shared sense of moral purpose resides in the way prospective teachers are appointed. Teachers are hired by individual schools not municipalities. This dismantles the scaffolding of permanent appointments offered within a civil service. It becomes the personal responsibility of any educator to find a new position if they are released from a school, creating an immense internal impulse to teach and a duty to care.

Barbara Bruns is lead economist at the World Bank responsible for education in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). She is currently leading impact evaluations of teacher “pay for performance” reforms in Brazil. Bruns noted that in LAC countries, poorly qualified, unmotivated or “burned out” teachers, who “sink like sediment into schools in the poorest neighbourhoods” with the weakest administrators, defeat the humanising power of education to confront inequality. In Finland budgets are driven by enrolment. Municipalities fund capital infrastructure projects but can’t guarantee salaries or fixed costs if enrolment plummets. Many students study two languages besides Finnish. A high score is required for entry into the gymnasium. Over 40 per cent of Finnish students move into the vocational track. Following Finland, Chile is considering the abolition of its standardised Sistema de Medición de la Calidad de la Educación. Likewise, Brazil is considering mandating postgraduate preparation of teachers, despite the poorer quality of its teacher training, and the much higher academic selectivity of teacher preparation in subject-didactics in Finland.

In Finland, teachers face extreme levels of accountability —this may be the ‘magic in the model’. Reading, Religion, w(R)iting and a(R)ithmetic have been supplemented by a curriculum propelled by Rigour (purposefully seeking out alternatives), Relationships (content networks), Re-Vision (looking back at concepts from different points of view) and Recursion (using knowledge heuristically).

Finland has embraced equity, thematic assessment of schools, reflective self-evaluation of teachers, creative learning, crafting pedagogical environments, preparing leading principals, building a cohesive society, removing child poverty, fostering a culture of mutual trust and only loose external pedagogical standards to steer schools. Equality, efficiency, and solidarity—the essential principles of three political ideals—compromised into a consensus.