Education Leader: How Finland Became an Education Leader
Education Leader: Harvard professor Tony Wagner explains how the nation achieved extraordinary successes by deemphasizing testing
Education Leader: By David Sirota, Monday, Jul 18, 2011
On my KKZN-AM760 radio show, I talked to Harvard researcher Tony Wagner, who narrates the film and who is the author of the 2008 book “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need — And What We Can Do About It.” The interview became the basis for my recent newspaper column on the subject. Because that column generated so much feedback, I wanted to publish this abridged transcript of our larger discussion. You can listen to the full interview here.
Education Leader: What has Finland achieved, and what’s the history behind its improved education system?
In the early 1970s, Finland had an underperforming education system and a pretty poor agrarian economy based on one product — trees, and they were chopping them down at a rapid rate that wasn’t going to get them very far. So they knew they had to completely revamp their education system in order to create a true knowledge-based economy.
So they began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.
So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland’s performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country, and really there are only a handful of eastern countries that are educating with the same results.
So, Finland basically focuses on teachers and not on domestic testing. Those PISA tests that you cite are international assessments.
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