FROM THE PRINCIPAL - Learning from the best: Finland

Tuesday, 1st November 2016

As part of my recent study leave, I had the opportunity to briefly visit Finland and see what their “world’s best” education system really looks like.

Anybody with an interest in education will have heard of the excellent results this small country has achieved in PISA (Programme for International Student  Assessment) rankings. Finland has been seen by many education writers to have found the “silver bullet”, the answer to how to  get great results for their students. Have they? Some of what I read is actually true - shorter school days, little standardised testing, high value placed on teaching - and some not quite “accurate”. Finnish students do get homework, they have a national curriculum that they must adhere to and there is national testing in the later years of school.

The reality? What I found is a school system that is confident (despite a recent drop in PISA rankings, they remain the highest ranking European country) and happy to continue to seek educational improvement. What I also found is that the new thrust of their plans to further improve their education system mirrors what we are doing at SCAS. Their focus is developing  educational practice based on learning by thinking and doing, project-based learning, student-centred learning and the development of classrooms that support this type of learning. Just like what we are developing here at SCAS.

What this looks like:

  • Classroom/spaces designed for multiple uses
  • Learning stations replacing rows of desks
  • Group work
  • Teachers as guides and mentors
  • Active rather than passive learning activities
  • Problem-solving as the basis for learning
  • Different learning experiences to suit individual students
  • Identifying student strengths and passions
  • Blurred boundaries between subjects
  • An emphasis on high levels of students input and engagement.

SCAS has always sought out the very best to learn from and this has been the basis of our continued success. It is enlightening when we find that our goals and practices are the same as the very best in the world. Now, we are not Finland (nor Shanghai or Singapore etc), we are Australia.  We know that what works in other countries will not necessarily work here. But when we find that what is working for us has been confirmed as best practice in high performing countries it is both reassuring and encouraging.

In summary what I learnt from the Finnish style of education that we might use can be encapsulated in this quote: “Love change, withstand chaos, develop yourself and push your boundaries- and do all of this in collaborations with others.” Hannu Simola, Professor of Education.

P.S. I also learned that their cuisine is wonderful, the people are incredibly friendly, their design history is exceptional and their days in Autumn can be “cool” (the temperature ranged from 0 → 2 all day when we were there).