Click here for the full interview or an excerpt below.


Q: Can you point to the ideal set of core competencies that student, across the world, should all have when they leave formal education?

A: I do not believe in any one global set of outcomes, but I do believe that leaving the school system confident and resilient with an inner urge to strive and learn must be a key outcome. When we talk practices and pedagogies that foster what young people need in their lives – and here I’m thinking literacy, maths and science but also collaboration, creativity, social skills, empathy, and resilience –I believe that the Finnish system is doing things right. The Finnish teachers and the school system understand that drilling, testing, going to more private lessons after school and doing more academic extracurricular activities do not produce meaningful outcomes. In Finland, all children play, sing, sew, cook, they tinker and enjoy free time together throughout their school day. If you were an economist without first-hand experience in work of the school, you would probably think: “This is a complete waste of time, time in school should be maximised to learn those things that make a good school (i.e. what is measured in tests)?” Non-educators do not always see the benefits of not having a clear measurable goal for each class as teachers do. Teachers are sensitive to the invisible “small data” mentioned earlier, the strengths the students acquire, their joy in learning and the complex process of understanding and growing up as human being. Unfortunately, economists and other non-educators lead many international development organisations, consulting firms and research institutions that shape the directions of global education reforms.

Q: What mind-set has created the current school system? Do we as parents want our children to succeed so badly that test scores seem to be the most effective way to keep track of how they are doing?

A: It depends where in the world you ask this question. If you ask it in South East Asia or in some African countries, many parents would agree that schooling, constant standardised testing and academic achievement are the pathway to better education in a top university and thereby to prosperity. But here in the USA, where I’m currently living, we see a strong revolt against the current system, with parents choosing to home school their children in order to keep them away from all that unhealthy stress caused by huge amounts of high-stakes standardised tests. Remember, it is not only about being stressed out on the day you do the test – all the preparations for the test wear many people out in school. Teachers must ensure high test scores often to be rated as “effective teachers”, so all teaching just becomes a matter of prompting for the right answers rather than learning about the wonders of physics, arts and music or being inspired by daring new teaching approaches. There is no time for floundering around. There is no room for play either in such schools anymore.

Q: If not PISA, how should we benchmark results and what kind of new practices should we adopt to make education more equitable?

One thing that Finland has been doing successfully is practicing equity by making sure that special education is available for everybody. It is not something that is only meant for some 10 percent of those that have learning difficulties or behavioural problems. Every child is special in the way that they learn and they need different things. Then there is healthcare and a whole child development approach with the child being the centre piece, including a strong focus on music, arts and creativity, and we are doing these things as an integrated part of teaching content in every school.

The educational system in Finland has also adopted the theory of Multiple Intelligences, developed by my good friend and colleague here at Harvard, Howard Gardner, 30 years ago. The Multiple Intelligences theory assumes that you can be acute, and talented, and successful, in a number of different ways. You do not necessarily need to be good at mathematics or any other school subject to be talented. Most classrooms will probably include many of these different intelligences, and as a teacher you need to come up with a type of frame of reference to teach a class of 25 differently talented students. If you can design and think about teaching that way, that you need to figure out where these talents are, and what these students are capable of doing, then you are teaching, and learning, as a result of this, will look very different.  This frame of reference is complex and that is why we need advanced research-based training of all teachers in every school.  In Finland, we require a five-year academic masters degree from all primary school teachers, and it is a research-based and very rigorous programme to make sure that all the teachers understand teaching and learning in a professional way. In my view the root causes for equity and higher quality learning are the theories of teaching, the theories of learning that teachers have and in particular to the minds of teachers, these are all absolutely critical components and have fundamental consequences to the classroom work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s