While in power, Brenden Nelson, the Federal Minister for Education, representing the Liberal Party, proposed a system of testing in schools that he thought would help to raise national standards of some elements of the curriculum in Australian schools by frightening schools, teachers and pupils. When his government failed its own electoral test, the replacement Julia Gillard followed the same beliefs of standard-raising [so called], high-stakes, fear-driven testing regimes, believing that techniques used in a New York School District of about 1400 schools where Joel Klien, ex-lawyer and political aspirant boasted of success, would work here. Klein became her mentor and role model. If the test results in schools did not please them, it was the teacher’s fault or the principal’s fault and they should go. Welded at the hip to Nelson and Klein in these beliefs, Julia Gillard, possessed more power than these two soul-mates and so she instituted, by fiat, the new and nasty Australian school system. Caring for kids no longer applied. Caring about scores on dicey tests did. She set out to prove that she was very strong on the issue; that she ruled Australia in matters of real consequence; and that she knew more about evaluation, assessment, appraisal and testing in a school setting than Aussie school-based- teaching professionals. They were expected to genuflect.
Although Gillard and Klein believe that comments from teachers and other whinging educators should be ignored, the issue has become controversial. The heavy-handed imposition of wide-scale testing regimes challenges the altruism of a number of Australian ‘professional’ groups and parents’ associations. The Australian Education Union, at its 2010 Conference voted unanimously to bann the test, but its display of professional gumption was short-lived.
Despite a wide-spread media cone-of-silence, the general population is asking if there is some alternative to such heavy-handiness. Finland has been presented as a country that leads the world in school achievements as measued by the OECD [the world Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development]. This organisation, established in 1961 and located in Paris with a membership of 30 countries, uses PISA [Programme for Internalionals Student Assessment], a form of assessment applied to 15 year olds. It then lists the countries in order of merit. The 2006 assessment of some 57 countries showed Finland leading on all counts. Even Finland was surprised since it does not particiate in any sort of hard-nosed didactic teaching nor testing programs, nor threats. Australia and New Zealand have done well to date…about 7th.
What does Finland do that we don’t do ? Why are their school children performing so well? What’s the secret ?
Professor Jouni Valijarvi, on the invitation of the Australian Secondary Principals Association visited Australia and revealed it all. Mind you he was comprehensively ignored by the media; and why that is so remains a mystery to the general public and observers. He received a back-end mention on some evening-radio news programs when he spoke at the Australian Secondary Princpals 2009 conference and that was the end of it. The Fourth Estate is now in charge and it suits its interests to maintain a controlled silence. It is carefully monitoring letters to the editor because the controversy needs to build, and the future publishing of results, debate and league tables means big bikkies.
Professor Valijarvi said that Finland’s success ‘…seems to be attributable to a web of interrelated factors having to do with comprehensive pedagogy, students’ own interests and leisure actiivities, the structure of the system, teacher education, school practices and, in the end, Finnish culture” [J Valijarvi : The Finnish Success in PISA – and some Reasons Behind it]
The detail has been summarised as follows…
TEACHER EDUCATION : ” If there is one single reason in Finland, it is their teacher education…how they have managed to keep the occupation of teaching so popular. All teacher education was moved to university level. A Masters Degree is the minimum for all teachers except pre-school.”
“There is great competition to enter the teaching profession. Only about 13% of applicants per year are admitted to the teaching faculty. You do five years and qualify with a masters degree.”
TEACHERS : “Schools are very much based on valuing teachers as professionals. They are a very powerful group of professionals. In Japan it is the opposite, as it is in other Nordic countries. They are very highly trusted in Finnish society.”
“The average teaching class is 18-20 – very challenging if you have very different levels of learning abilities even with such small groups.”
“There is a stress on self-evaluation by teachers, students and schools.”
“Teachers are trusted.”
SCHOOLS: “Primary schooling starts at Age 7.”
“There is no tracking or streaming; levels are the same for all students.”
“One of the strengths is that quality of schools is homogeneous – not so much competition between schools.”
“Finland does not have a system of national test or school-level measuring with students at the same level every year.”
“The Inspection system was abolished here and in Sweden in the 90s. Now we are hiring lots of Inspectors.”
“Finland has a national curriculum – but schools have a lot of freedom in selecting within this curriculum.”
“Only 2-3% go to private schools.”
PHILOSOPHY: “The principle of equity taken very seriously in Finland.”
[For full details of the summary: www.aspa.asn.au ;then click QSPA 2009 Conference.]
A Google search of ‘PISA’ and ‘Valijarvi’ is recommended.