Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Alberta/Finland Partnership

I was reading an article tittled Testing, Testing by Larry Booi and J.C Couture in albertaviews magazine where education in Alberta and Finland were compared and contrasted.

Here are some highlights:

  • In December 2010 an Alberta-Finnish partnership was struck between the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), Alberta Education and the Finnish Ministry of Education & Culture.
  • "Too many people outside classrooms telling teachers what to do. The Alberta/Finland partnership is transformational in that it's about teachers themselves developing school reform." Dennis Shirley of Boston College.
  • If we believe that our overriding task in schools should be to develop the full potential of all of our students, with all of the diversity and differences among them, on thing is clear: we'll only get so far with a system that focuses on standardization, goals that are easily measured through multiple-choice exams and teachers who are essentially technicians. The combination of such a model with unpredictable education funding leaves us vulnerable.
  • In addition to being more decentralized and less bureaucratic, Finland puts a higher priority on the early years of child development.
  • Finn's core curriculum for the first few years of elementary school is based on learning through play - no the typical North American paradigm of hurrying the child.
  • "As we talked more with Finnish educators, I grew to understand their education system is based on relational trust rather than data trust." ATA president Carol Henderson
  • What Finns don't do in education runs counter to many assumptions in North America. For example, they don't have any standardized tests in their schools. Instead, they rely on teachers to assess students.
  • "The term 'accountability' cannot be found in Finnish education policy discourse. Educational reform principles since the early 1990s - when much of the public sector administration went through decentralization - have relied on building professional responsibilities and encouraging lateral learning among teachers rather than applying administrative accountability policies. Therefore... thematic assessments, reflective self-evaluations and an emphasis on creative learning have established a culture of mutual trust and respect.
  • The Finns reject "the North American obsession with sorting kids and ranking schools."
  • In Alberta, students take standardized provincial tests in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. These assess a very narrow band of learning outcomes and are not only expensive but redundant.
  • Finnish elementary students not only don't begin school until age 7, they spend 40 per cent less time every day in formal instruction than do Alberta students.
  • "Finland succeeds mainly by "attracting highly qualified teachers with supportive working conditions, strong degrees of professional trust and an inspiring mission of inclusion and creativity." Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley from their book The Fourth Way.
  • Above all, educational improvement efforts are focused on the school rather than at the civic or national level.
  • "How do they encourage teacher engagement in Finland? They don't. Teaching is the incentive. It is high prestige, higher than doctors, lawyers and architects." Canadian Journalist Rick Salutin
  • The training averages from five to seven-and-a-half years and is comparable to other professional degrees. All teachers must have a master's degree and do a thesis.
  • "If Alberta relinquished its title as the lowest-taxed province and settled for a tie with BC for lowest tax rate in the country, this would yield $11 billion for education, healthcare, children in poverty and seniors." ATA president Carol Henderson

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