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Is Finland still worth paying attention to?

The most recent episode of the ERRR podcast is now out. ERRR #077 is with Ben Jensen on the Importance of Curriculum, and it's an absolute cracker! This brief blog post shares one of the highlights from my discussion with Ben.

Finland has long been held up as the place to go to see education at its finest. This has, in many ways, been based upon its historically excellent PISA results.

But recent trends suggest a gradual decline in results for the once top ranked nation. Here's how Finland fared in PISA from 2000 to 2018 (graphics from Ben Jensen).

Here's a contrasting nation over a similiar time period, Portugal!

What's going on? Well, it turns out there's a related, but opposite story of what's happened in both countries over this time and it's all to do with, you guessed it, curriculum!

Over this time period, Finland has progressively moved away from a highly specific and knowledge rich curriculum, to a shifted focus on ‘skills'.

At the same time, Portugal has shifted their focus to a much more specified curriculum, and a much bigger focus on knowledge.

Here's what Nuno Crato, the 2011-2015 Education and Science Minister of Portugal had to say on thistopic (again, one of Ben's collected quotes):

  • “without a base in substantive knowledge, students cannot get an appreciation for any subject, cannot develop advanced skills, cannot progress in any career, cannot attain higher-level knowledge and skills in any subject”

Relatedly, here's one of Dylan Wiliams quotes on the topic that I came across when preparing for our 2018 ERRR discussion:

  • “Finland’s results in 2006 were the accumulation of ten years of education for students who started their compulsory schooling in 1998, and were therefore the results of policy decisions made in the early 1990s.”

The punchline? If you're keen to see the policies and practices that led to Finland's PISA prominence, you'd be better of visiting Finland in the late 90s than today!

Often people think that it's rich countries that become smart countries. In fact, the causality works the other way, it's the smart countries that become the rich ones.* And if you want to make your country smart, make your curriculum clear and make it knowledge rich!

Listen to the full podcast with Ben Jensen for many more insights curriculum!

*From Glenn Fahey at the recent Teaching Matters: Science of Learning National Summit in Hobart.

You are reading an instalment 139 of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, an (aspirationally) weekly email in which I share some personal thoughts on teaching and learning, as well as great resources from others.

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This week in Ollie's Learning (Takeaways)

  • New Words:

    • Endonym: The name of a person, people group, language, or place, used by the people to which it relates. E.g., Deutschland is the endonym of Germany.

    • Exonym: The opposite of an endonym! The name given to a person, people group, language, place, etc from an outsider. E.g., people in Australia use the exonym ‘Germany'

  • Quote:

  • Writing technique:

    • Antithesis: When you say one thing, then another. Some famous examples are from Oscar Wilde, ‘The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.' Here's another one, ‘Women represent the triumph of matter over mind; men represent the triumph of mind over morals'. Where have I used Antithesis this week? (From Mark Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence)

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