Achievement worth celebrating
AUSTRALIANS are renowned for experiencing Tall Poppy Syndrome, but we stand to benefit from celebrating achievers.
That is the belief of Inverloch Primary School principal Wendy Caple, after touring the Scandinavian country of Finland.
Whereas Australians often tend to look up to sport stars and shun away from academic talent, the Finns take pride in education and celebrate those who succeed in the classroom.
Finland is regarded as having the best education system in the world, featuring highly in the Program for International Student Assessment – a score of literacy and numeracy measures of students – with no variation across schools. Australia was ranked ninth in the study in 2009.
“We have to promote our values more and be proud of whatever we do, after seeing how proud the Finns are and how that lifts them to excel.”
She was part of an educational tour of Finland conducted by the Victorian Principals Association and Secondary Schools Principals Association, comprising 22 principals from Victorian schools. The group visited the Finnish capital Helsinki and the regional city Jyvӓskylӓ, the country’s main university locale, inspecting schools and gaining ideas of how to enhance teaching in Australia.
“They have a high regard for education. They are very proud of their country and know that education will help their country. So if the students do not do their homework, they know they are letting themselves down. It’s about taking responsibility for yourself.”
That passion for education results in well behaved children and the support of parents – every teacher’s dream.
“Usually the same teacher stays with the same grade from grade Prep to Grade 6. Their research suggests that every time you change teachers, you lose about a term because new teachers spend a lot of the first term testing.
“What we did not discover was how these kids manage when they get to Year 7, having had the same teacher for six years. I believe that we do not lose learning time (in Australia).”
Education is valued to the extent it is never an election issue and as a result, constant changes are not made to the system, disrupting learning.
“Their government believes in equity so the people are really looked after with healthcare and education. Kids that are identified as having learning difficulties early are given support early.
“They pay higher taxes but they do not mind because they know they are getting something in return.”
The tour took in specialist vocational schools with modern technology and extensive training facilities, plus sports secondary schools with 70 sports to choose from, including formula one racing. No wonder the Finns excel in the sport.
Students receive an intensive science program from Grade 1 and also study religion, art, physical education and history. From Grade 3, woodwork, textiles and English is added to the curriculum. In Year 7 they learn Swedish and by years 10-11, many of them are speaking up to five languages.
“They are stringent in their testing but none of it is ever published like the MySchool website (in Australia). They just use the information to help in schools.”
While Australian students attend school for 32 hours a week, in Finland the hours are shorter. Grades 1 and 2 attend for 20 hours, and hours for grades 3 to 6 children vary from 22-26. By secondary school, attendance is 30 hours. A healthy lunch is provided.
Finnish schools are not bound by fences unless in the city on busy roads and many children aged eight return home to empty houses as both parents work.
“In Helsinki, there were trams with little kids travelling on their own. The kids are really independent from a young age and that reflects in their learning too.”
The experience enabled the principals to delve deep into Finnish culture, exploring natural attractions, visiting places of interest and eating too much reindeer.
“It was a Christmas special meat but because we were visitors, we were given it as a treat.”
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