I have been reading Pasi Sahlberg’s “Finnish Lessons 2.0 “ (updated in 2015 from the first edition of 2011). In this book, Sahlberg (who is now a visiting Professor at the University of NSW) argues that there are hidden features of successful education systems around the world - what he refers to as “Invisible learning”. The article below is offered as a discussion paper for our community and should not be read as a complete endorsement of the findings that Sahlberg offers. There are things to learn and worth considering. What are these hidden features or the “Invisible Learning”?
To answer these questions, Sahlberg investigated the performance of national systems on PISA tests since 2000 when the OECD collected data for the first time. The educational landscape looked very different then to today. Australia was ranked as 4th in reading. In 2003, we were ranked 8th. In 2018 we are ranked equal 12th. If you want to read further, go to:
Since 2000, the number of countries participating in PISA has increased and some of them (notably Estonia, Shanghai China and Singapore) are performing conspicuously well. What is going on? The author argued that there are common features in countries that have “flatlined” or declined in their PISA scores and there are some common features of countries that have advanced in their performance.
Five common features the author observes of countries whose performance has declined:
1. Competition - make schools compete with each other. In Australia, we have the MySchool website and the annual media interest in the league tables that they compose from HSC results based on an arbitrary compilation of Band 6s. Other states have similar media interest.
2. Standardisation - write national standards for teachers and students.
3. Test-based accountability - set tests on national standards and expect students to perform in accordance with the standards
4. De-professionalisation - of teachers, in the sense that control of curriculum and assessment is centralised within relevant State and Federal authorities
5. School choice - linked to competition as a means of demonstrating school effectiveness rather than democratic choice for parents
What makes some education systems successful?
By contrast, the author suggests five features of successful school systems. Some of these can be contested, of course, but they make interesting reading.
1. Collaboration - schools and teachers collaborate rather than compete. Cooperate trumps competition (no pun intended)
2. Creativity - instead of standardisation, schools and systems are supported to be creative in preparing students for an unpredictable future
3. Trust-based responsibility - instead of accountability to test scores, encourage excellence through aspiration rather than shaming
4. Professionalism - trust educators to fulfil their educational vision and schools to live out their mission
5. Equity - blind to demography - ensure that ALL schools are strong, not just those that are well resourced or who enjoy a long term tradition of quality
It’s food for thought for all, especially when we dream of the future for ALL Australian students.