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Saturday, May 2, 2015

the roller-blading President ..... education in Finland !

Education has changed ! – in every pantry, anxious mothers [parents !] speak of putting their wards in institutions of fame, enlist them in various support schemes preparing for entrance tests and put them for private tuitions too – leaving the children little or no room to think of anything else.  Some gutsy and over-ambitious put their wards in residential schools like the specialised ones of Salem Rasipuram ! – still children find time to play [many of them indoor on computers, phones and gadgets !!];  watch television programmes of their choice and follow IPL too... !!

Roller skating is a sport, recreational activity of moving on roller skates -  quad roller skates, inline skates or blades and tri-skates.  This is a photo of a famous person skating at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.  Not unique to him as he has rollerbladed in more than 30 different countries.  On an official visit to  the United Arab Emirates, he managed to fit in a 12km (7.5 mile) skating session along Abu Dhabi's seafront before meeting Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for talks. 

He is no ordinary person – he is Sauli Väinämö Niinistö  the Finland President since 2012. A lawyer by education, Niinistö was Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2003; Speaker of the Parliament of Finland from 2007 to 2011 and has been the Honorary President of the European People's Party since 2002.  Finland is a Nordic country in Northern Europe bordered by Sweden, Norway, Russia, Estonia.   In terms of area, it is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in the capital Helsinki.

Finland was a relative latecomer to industrialisation, remaining a largely agrarian country until the 1950s. Thereafter, it rapidly developed an advanced economy while building an extensive Nordic-style welfare state, resulting in widespread prosperity and one of the highest per capita incomes in the World ~and Finland, is seen as a superpower in education.

BBC reports that – no International education conference is complete without a reference to Finland. Ever since it appeared at the top of international league tables more than a decade ago, it has been endlessly hailed as how to run an education system. Finland, which faces a general election this week, has been the poster child for education reform and overseas delegations have made pilgrimages to learn from its example.

In particular it has been used to argue that you can have high results without an overbearing system of testing and inspection. It was the country where pupils did not have to start school until they were seven, enjoyed the longest holidays and then basked in the glow of global approval when they topped the tables in the international Pisa tests.  The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.

A study by the  research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education, argues that Finland's education standards are in decline. In a report published by the right-wing think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, Mr Sahlgren argues that Finland's star performance in the 2000 Pisa tests was built on the legacy of an older, very traditional education system, which had been part of the country's process of nation building. But this wasn't the image of Finland wanted by education experts, he says. Instead, when Finland was the top performer in Europe, it was used as a "counter-argument" to the success of east Asian school systems in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.  While they were seen as successful because of hard work and grindingly long hours, Finland was seen as the way to achieve success with a much more creative and less centralised approach.

Mr Sahlgren, based at the London School of Economics, says there was "never any real evidence" for such an impression.  "It was simplistic, looking at how Finland's system looked today, without looking at its history."  Finland's school system became part of its building of a national identity.  Rather than being the opposite of east Asian countries, he says in many ways Finland was like those emerging economies.

Compared with its Nordic neighbours, Finland was a "late developer", much poorer and with lower levels of education in the early part of the 20th Century. Finland's approach of investing heavily in education and seeing rapid improvements was in many ways more like the pattern of Tiger economies in east Asia than the more sluggish progress in western Europe. Mr Sahlgren's research argues there is a reluctance to accept that Finland's education system, under which many of its successful teachers had trained, had been very structured and centralised.

Another study challenges what it calls the "misconceptions and misrepresentations" about Finland's success in the Pisa tests. Tim Oates, director of assessment research for the Cambridge Assessment exam group, has published a study called "Finnish fairy stories", in which he debunks what he claims are myths about the Finnish system. He says the waves of "education tourism" that followed the success in Pisa tests failed to look at how the system had improved.

Finland is facing another set of controversial changes, away from traditional subject teaching. And Mr Sahlgren warns of a school system in decline. It is no longer in the top 10 for maths in Pisa tests, having been in second place in 2003 and 2006.

Telegraph states that the UK shouldn't throw away authority in classrooms, an expert has said, trashing decades-long conventional wisdom that an education system to emulate is one that gives pupils more power over teachers and less homework.  These arguments are set to reignite the debate over the benefits of a Finnish model in the UK education system. In recent years, British officials have visited the country to try to find its formula of success and apply it to UK classrooms.

Taking a cue, never get carried by names, advertisements, powerful marketing techniques, perceptions, fees, structures and the like – there could still be good teaching in ordinary schools too.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
15th Apr 2015.


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