Friday, 5 December 2008

Insights from the development history of the Finnish education system: Sharing by Mr Reijo Laukanen

I was incredibly grateful to be able to interview one of the leading figures in the Finnish education reforms over the last thirty years - Mr. Reijo Laukanen, from the Finnish National Board of Education.

I think history tells us how an education system has improved so significantly in 30 years' time, and what contributed to this. I chose Finland as my investigation area partly because Hong Kong also underwent radical reforms for a similar period of time, but the results are starkly different - we are left with a fragmented, unstable system. I wonder what has gone wrong - was it the direction, the implementation method, attitude or everything?

To a certain extent, it all stemmed from a political demand by society – society demanded a better education for their future generations. In 1968, there was a student revolution that led to protests and demonstrations for a right to a better education. It was key to the successful reforms that society was willing to embrace and support a better education system which would involve certain sacrifice. Imagine Hong Kong government raising the tax and claiming that is necessary for a better education system. Finns are happy to pay the tax because they believe in education and see the effective use of such resources.

The Board also appreciated the need to gather support from the ‘soul’ of the system –teachers. Although they radically changed the curriculum and raised the qualification requirement of all primary and secondary teachers to masters level, they retained all the teachers and helped them to meet the requirement in a gradual, realistic way through the span of a decade and different transition phases of change. They provided teachers with in-service training to help them adapt to the new mode of teaching.

More importantly, he showed great respect for teachers and appreciated the need to address teachers’ concerns openly and honestly. I’d say it was this fundamental attitude of recognition and respect that made the reforms possible. Because of this belief, they considered their proposal thoroughly before any rash action – with adequate research of overseas models and consultation of community and education sector, done on a long term consistent basis – they acknowledged the need to hear what others thought and cater the reforms for the needs of the education community.

Another interesting feature is the foresight and long-term consistency in the education policy over these decades. Finnish taxpayers and government have consistently contributed 6.5% of the GDP to education so that the standard of free education can be raised and maintained. This comes with the widely shared belief among different political parties and sectors of society in equality and the importance of education – and this is carried through the civil service which makes the policy reforms.

Education can affect generations of young people in their most vulnerable times. It cannot keep changing and shifting between different policies. I really don’t understand what the HK government is thinking by antagonising teachers and this ridiculous language policy.

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