There is a proverb that says ‘borrowed garments never fit well’. This is particularly apt for education systems on the journey from good to great. I believe there are two roads that can be travelled when it comes to school improvement – pay someone to do it for you or ‘sew’ your own success. One of my favourite quotes is from Richard Elmore and co’s book Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning: We learn to do the work by doing the work, not by telling other people to do the work, not by having done the work at some time in the past, and not by hiring experts who can act as proxies for our knowledge about how to do the work.
Many education systems from around the world look to Singapore, South Korea, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Finland for the answers but if it were as simple as borrowing their models, then educational improvement would literally happen overnight. Countries such as Finland have taken years if not decades to build a high performing education system. What we can do is look at what works, learn from their success and weave some of these ideas into our own educational narrative.
As Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland? acknowledges that “the Finnish school system cannot be transferred anywhere else in the world. Many of the successful aspects of Finland’s education system are rooted deep in our culture and values.” He goes on to say that “what we can do…is take a look and learn from one another.”
Earlier this month Sahlberg was interviewed for the Huffington Post – the responses
were ideas worth thinking about:
- Primary school teachers put well-being and happiness of their pupils before measured academic progress
- Urge parents to take more responsibility for their children e.g giving more time and attention to them at home
- Flexible learning pathways that provide personalised options to study what individuals believe will help them become successful in life
- A universal standard for financing schools so that resources are channeled to schools according to real needs
- Align the vocational schools curriculum to the standards of academic high schools
- Elevate schools as places for social learning and development skills
- Celebrate national achievements, rather than high rankings in global education league tables
- Ensure a universal standard for teacher preparation that follows standards in other top professions
Systems around the world can learn from each other about what makes the most difference and while each system reflects its own political, economic and social context, the key driver I think, is a relentless focus on quality learning and teaching. This learning recognises the needs and capabilities of every student and the critical importance of good teaching and teacher capacity building.
We will never bring about the changes required in building quality schooling by continuing to use the stale rhetoric of the school improvement agenda. With its narrow focus on high stakes test scores, programmatic of the shelf solutions , driving achievement through competition and so on, this agenda ignores the experiences that do make a difference.