INTERVIEW: Finnish Education Guru Pasi Sahlberg: Treat Primary School Teachers Like Doctors

English: Finnish adult education centre, healt...
Finnish adult education centre, health and well-being (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Professor John Hattie, Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne, The Conversation: http://theconversation.edu.au

The Finnish education system is one of the best performing and most equitable in the OECD.

With Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s promise to make Australia one of the best five performing countries for education in the world, what can we learn from the Scandinavians?

One answer might be more simple than we think: elevate teachers to the same social and professional status we hold doctors and other people with whom we trust with vital aspects of our health and well-being.

Today The Conversation presents a discussion between two of the world’s leading education experts on how Australia can learn from others and improve its educational outcomes.

Pasi Sahlberg is Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in the Ministry of Education in Finland. He has worked as a teacher, teacher-educator, policy advisor and director, and for the World Bank and European Commission.

Professor John Hattie is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. His influential 2008 book Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement is believed to be the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors which improve student learning.
Read the full transcript here. 
 
John Hattie: In terms of teacher quality … the message that often comes through is that the teachers need to improve, they’re not good. What have you done in Finland on teacher quality?

Pasi Sahlberg: We decided when we started to build the current education system 40 years ago, we realised that if you have a system that is aiming to be, not number one but, equitable so that every child will be having opportunity and pathways to be successful that requires teachers that are better educated. And better education not just for some teachers but for everybody, all of them.

… Many other countries have probably done a different way. But in Finland, we decided that early childhood development and primary teachers, pre-school teachers and primary teachers are the key. And that’s why we require they will have an academic higher degree before they can teach.

I would say that this kind of systematic way of focusing on highly trained teachers and building a profession during the course of the last 30-35 years has created a system where becoming a primary school teacher is in very high demand in Finland.

… Because many young people when they look at what the primary school teachers do with a high quality academic master degrees that they earn in our universities, they see pretty much what the medical doctors, or lawyers or engineers or anybody else with a similar degree are doing, with their autonomy, independence, respect, professional collective nature of work.

And that’s why I think they are going there. Not only because the university degree is kind of a competitive degree but the image of being a primary school teacher is pretty close to how you would describe a medical doctor’s work. 

John Hattie: The temptation for me to say is for the way that we could do that and improve things and make sure our money is spent well, is tie it to the performance of children and look at the whole test accountability notions to make sure we’re spend in the money the right way.

Pasi Sahlberg: Well, this is your way to think about these things but the culture in this respect is very different in Finland. We are putting much more emphasis in Finland on well-being, happiness and health of children. So everybody is healthy and ready to develop themselves and to take the responsibility of their own learning.

What I hear from foreign visitors to Finland, and we have a massive number of people coming, many of them they are surprised to see how much responsibility for learning in Finnish schools is with the pupils.

So they are driving the learning and development, not the teachers and if you have this type of system, where the responsibility of learning and development is primarily with the learners themselves. You cannot rely on numbers and testing.

Of course, we do that as well, but I think the difference between our countries is that in Finland we tend to rely much more on the numbers, the assessments and tests that are made by teachers and schools and trust the numbers that they show are real.

To read further, go to: http://theconversation.edu.au/finnish-education-guru-pasi-sahlberg-treat-primary-school-teachers-like-doctors-9850?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+September+2012&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+September+2012+CID_520d73d31187ad369db5fe46f1f171e6&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Finnish%20education%20guru%20Pasi%20Sahlberg%20treat%20primary%20school%20teachers%20like%20doctors

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