From the Principal

“Let the Children Play” – breakfast with Pasi Sahlberg and sharing the journey of Finland’s educational success

Recently I was fortunate to be part of a dozen or so people who met and listened to Pasi Sahlberg, former Director General of the Finnish Ministry of Education and visiting Professor at Harvard University. Pasi now lives in Australia with his family and is Professor of Education Policy at the University of New South Wales – an impressive resume, and a very impressive man!

Whilst arrestingly intelligent and interesting, and with a breadth of view on education I have never previously experienced, what struck me about Pasi was his simplicity of view. His fundamental question on any query, proposal or initiative in education is always the same – “how will it benefit the children?” Pasi’s belief is that we must primarily develop and enable children and young people for an enjoyed and fulfilling life, perhaps with, but not just for, academic scores. This is certainly in line with Tintern’s philosophy, where we believe that if we do the former as well as we can, the ATARs, NAPLANs and other scores follow. It’s pleasing to see that, for our students at least, this seems to be the case, with our best in our region results opening up the doors of opportunity for our students that we would aim for.

As one of the architects of the extraordinary Finnish performance in OECD PISA testing, Pasi oversaw older commencement at school for Finnish children (7+ year old start), a shorter school day (9:00 am to 1:30 pm for primary students), less homework (3 hours per week for early secondary compared to 6 hours in Australia) and an overall shorter school experience for students (5 years less time at school over 12 years compared to Australia!). He ensured no standardised testing in Finland and mandated Master’s level tertiary qualification for primary teachers.

He makes many important points whenever he speaks, but I would offer a few I took out of that morning.

  • Employing great staff is certainly important, but the social capital invested in those staff is more important. Staff who are culturally aligned, happy, challenged, engaged and collaborative, both by inclination and support, are much more likely to be the very best teacher they can be and so influence young people even more positively.
  • The relationship between results in standardised testing (ATAR, NAPLAN, etc.) and fulfilment and ‘performance’ in life is certainly not simple cause and effect and is not even particularly linear. Given the chance in Australia (where Pasi’s children now go to school), he would happily remove all standardised testing and rankings!
  • Students learn how to live a life by living a life. Play, curiosity, communication, collaboration and experimentation are all key elements of young people learning about themselves and others in their understandings, emotional intelligence and empathy. In Australia, we do very little of these compared with a number of European countries, not just Finland.

Pasi has just released a book I am looking forward to reading in the September holiday; “Let the Children Play”. I would recommend it particularly to parents of Junior School students, but also to those wanting to be literate in the educational debate that now a succession of state and federal governments have sought to dictate to our families and children.

Factis non verbis



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