What can Australia’s education system learn from Finland?

by Robert Ballantyne22 Jul 2015

Finland’s education model has been scrutinised with great interest by other countries, not only for what it has done in the past, but what it is about to do in 2016 when it unveils “a different kind of education” and introduces “teaching by topic”.

As of 2016, students aged seven to 16-years-old will undergo at least one extended class of multi-disciplinary, phenomenon-based teaching and learning. The rationale behind Finland’s radical education reforms is to build on its already world-class education system.

Currently, only a small handful of Asian countries such as Singapore and China outperform Finland in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings.

Under the plan, schools will have the freedom to decide the length of each class so as to not interfere too much with their existing programs.

Helsinki’s development manager, Pasi Silander, told The Independent that a “different kind of education” was needed to prepare students for life after school.

“What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life,” Silander said.

“Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed. We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

This is a consideration that has certainly not been lost on our leaders here in Australia.

Recent reports showing a sharp rise in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs prompted the Federal Government to commit $12m to increase student uptake of STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools.

Dr Benjamin Jones, an adjunct research fellow at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), believes that while following Finland’s example can help modernise our education system, equal effort must be made to ensure that it is fair.

The crucial difference between Finland and Australia, Jones said, is that the Finnish system has “remarkable consistency across schools” and there is little variation between students from low and high socio-economic areas.

“There is much Australia can learn from Finland if it wants to also be a world leader in education,” Jones wrote.

“It is imperative, however, that we move beyond the empty slogans of ‘clever country’ and ‘education revolution’ and put in place systems that will allow all Australians to have access to high quality education.

“If Australia is to maintain its prosperity into the future, we should look to the Finnish example and ensure our education system is not only high quality but fair.”

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