FINLAND AND ITS CURRICULUM
Reforms to the curriculum give freedoms to teachers and encourage pupils to take charge of their own learning
The success of the Finnish education system is well known and attested to in the Pisa Oecd League tables. Well qualified, high status teachers, a pro-education culture, a comprehensive system looking after the needs of all learners, combined with a degree of choice for parents all contribute. As we review our curriculum it is worth looking at how Finland managed its curriculum reforms. A recent 2010 OECD report ‘Strong Performers And Successful Reformers In Education: Lessons From Pisa For The United States; (‘Finland: Slow and Steady Reform for Consistently High Result’) provides some intriguing insights. It reveals that both regular class teachers (grades 1-6) and subject teachers (7-9) exercise an enormous degree of professional discretion and independence when it comes to the curriculum. There is a national core curriculum in Finland, introduced in 2004 but over the past 20 years it has become much less detailed and prescriptive The core curriculum also offers some broad criteria for student assessments, but it is teachers who have the principal responsibility for building systems to continuously assess the progress of students. Essentially the curriculum is a framework, leaving education providers and teachers latitude to decide what they will teach and how. Teachers select their own textbooks and other instructional materials, for example. Because the only external testing in comprehensive schools is done on a sampling basis and is designed to provide information on the functioning of the system as a whole, assessment in Finnish schools is a classroom responsibility. Teachers are expected to assess their own students on an ongoing basis, using the assessment guidelines in the national core curriculum and textbooks. However, a major focus in Finnish classrooms is also on helping students learn how to assess their own learning. Finnish classrooms are typically described by observers as learner-centred. as the emphasis on student self assessment would suggest, students are expected to take an active role in designing their own learning activities. Students are expected to work collaboratively in teams on projects, and there is a substantial focus on projects that cut across traditional subject or disciplinary lines (not too dissimilar to the IB approach it seems). By the time students enrol in upper secondary school (grades 10- 12), they are expected to be able to take sufficient charge of their own learning to be able to design their own individual programme, so upper secondary schools are now mostly based on individual study plans. There is no longer a grade structure; each student proceeds at his or her own pace within the modular structure. every student constructs his or her own study plan, which consists of different courses in various subjects according to each student’s individual choices. The focus is on trusting pupils to take personal responsibility for their own learning and it is not accidental. The following is taken from the preamble to the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education, Finland (2004):
‘The learning environment must support the pupil’s growth and learning. it must be physically, psychologically, and socially safe, and must support the pupil’s health. The objective is to increase pupils’ curiosity and motivation to learn, and to promote their activeness, self-direction, and creativity by offering interesting challenges and problems. The learning environment must guide pupils in setting their own objectives and evaluating their own actions. the pupils must be given the chance to participate in the creation and development of their own learning environment. ‘
This is something of an antidote to the relatively prescriptive centrally driven version we have here in which teachers are not given much say and pupils are certainly not encouraged nor trusted to take ownership of their own learning. But then again maybe this is a culturally specific phenomenon.
Interesting to note too that Sweden’s Free schools give teachers and pupils a greater say and control over the curriculum.
Key reference: Aho, E., K. Pitkanen and P. Sahlberg (2006), “Policy development and reform Principles of Basic and Secondary education in Finland since 1968”, prepared for the Education Working Paper Series, World Bank, Washington, dc. http://www.pasisahlberg.com/downloads/Education%20in%20Finland%202006.pdf.