For years, Americans have repeated a mantra when discussing public schools, “Look to Finland!” Now, we see the same dangerous reforms happening in Finland’s schools that are happening in America’s schools!
Prominent leaders believe that teaching is still a strong profession in Finland. And certainly using technology can be useful. I guess, like most reforms, time will tell how Finland does. But these are still the concerns found in the media, and their similarities to schools here cannot be ignored.
Here are the changes from This is Finland, see if they sound familiar.
Teachers are called “enablers” which changes their role.
Finland’s professional teacher workforce has been the envy of the world. Changing teachers to enablers is troubling on many levels.
It might sound nice to hear that students will take control of their own learning. But the role of teacher is reduced to helping students as they work online. Teachers become promoters of a tech-based curriculum. Their role is secondary and might eventually be eliminated.
Finland has been known for its support of professional teaching. Anyone can be an enabler. It takes degrees and preparation to be a real teacher.
Students no longer study structured subjects in depth.
There’s something to be said for some lessons that complement subject mixing. Finland has changed to “phenomenon-based learning.”
But there continues to be a need for students to dig deep into separate subjects, so they can learn the specifics. Blending subjects together means no one learns the foundation of any one subject.
Without such structure, students miss out on important information. Instruction is incomplete.
Technology can be frivolous and uneven when it comes to learning. There’s no proof that it does better than human teachers.
The world is changing so schools must change too.
No one wants to be stuck in a rut, not moving forward with advances in society. But when change occurs for the sake if change, we risk losing what works. Good change usually builds on past success.
Also, schools have always adapted to change. I learned about the Internet through professional development at the high school where I taught in the ’90s.
But that’s not what the current message is about. It’s about disrupting schooling…creating a drastic transformation that destroys brick-and-mortar schools and the teaching profession.
Schooling is catering to machines, and it’s using students for that purpose.
Digital learning will no longer happen within four walls.
Here is how they describe the technology transformation.
We cannot talk about phenomenon-based learning without digital technology. Technology is the tool for making learning processes visible for reflection and evaluation, documenting learning, processing information and searching information. It should be as natural a part of learning and teaching as paper and pen.
Learning environments expand from the school building to other institutions in the surrounding society. Learning is no longer organized into traditional classes only but can happen in workshops, in projects and on-the-job in vocational education.
We all know learning happens everywhere, all the time.
But formal schooling happens in a structure. That structure includes a building where students come together. It’s called a school, and it is vitally important for socialization and a democracy.
These changes in Finland’s education system seem difficult to believe. In autumn 2016, they were described as the downfall of the world’s best education system (see Joe Heim. “Finland’s Schools Were Once the Envy of the World. Now, They’re Slipping.” The Washington Post. December 8, 2016.)
Why would Finland’s leaders tamper with what works?
Remember how we praised this joyful article from The Atlantic by Timothy D. Walker? It was one of many they published lauding the beauty of Finland’s thriving school system. They supported their professional teaching workforce. Play for children seemed sacred.
There was this article from the Smithsonian, “Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?” by LynNell Hancock. Consider the confidence at that time behind this statement criticizing Race to the Top.
“I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”
For this, Finland churned out great PISA scores. Now, those scores seem to be slipping.
Wealthy corporate school reformers in this country, never repeated the Finnish mantra. We never heard them say, Let’s adopt some of what Finland does for our public schools in America. They must have known they would be pushing school reform over there like they do here.
There were clues that Finland’s system was changing.
In early 2015, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia during a Finland school visit, appropriately gushed, I have been to the mountaintop. I have trodden sacred ground. I have seen the light. I have been to Finland. It’s the place where teachers go after they die if they’ve been good and taught the Whole Blessed Child; if they’ve rejected the hell of Obsessive Standardized Testing.
She shared a vivid account of the beauty of the Finnish school system. But at the end of her report she mentions a foreboding encounter with a Finnish teacher. Eskelsen Garcia recalls:
After my talk, one teacher came up to me and said she was worried that perhaps their politicians were learning from us. She said that they are now talking about changing what has made them so successful. Maybe our teachers didn’t need as much training, and they could do it cheaper. Maybe we didn’t need universal preschool or vocational programs. Maybe we needed to focus on more testing.
This teacher wondered how politicians could be so foolish as to jeopardize something that took so long to build and though far from perfect, was working as well as any system in the world.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it might not be foolish politicians at all, but devilishly clever people who had no interest in the education of children who did not produce profit. It occurs to me that the Finnish politicians that put their country on the right path 40 years ago are now gone. New politicians with new allies are in power. And Finland is a problem to the GERM. The problem is that it exists. That it succeeds.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the patient GERM will start to pick it apart until they can erode public trust in a good system – something even the best United States public schools have experienced for decades.
Germ stands for the Global Education Reform Movement, coined by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg (See Valerie Strauss. “How Germ is Infecting Schools Around the World.” The Washington Post. June 29, 2012.)
What other countries see the same changes taking place?
I am sorry Finland. We should have learned from you. Instead, you’ve become us.
Joe Heim. “Finland’s Schools Were Once the Envy of the World. Now, They’re Slipping.” The Washington Post. December 8, 2016.
Valerie Strauss. “How Germ is Infecting Schools Around the World.” The Washington Post. June 29, 2012.