Learning and institutions

It seems to me that participants in PLENK2010 already know good points of PLE, PLN, LMS and their borders as well. Those were reported at the beginning of Friday Elluminate (the recording is available) . I want to take a broader point of view. Or try anyway, to discuss about factors that help learning in a state level as Finland. I like a presentation of Tarmo Toikkanen: Education in Finland, held in Galgary 15.7. 2010. Perhaps some of you heard it there?It is Slideshare with 16 slides with audio, easy to follow.

I do not want to say that Finland is good at learning things, I know we have normal difficulties and this theme  is a very complex one. But I admire Tarmo’s way to choose some of the important facts. Official explanations must be shown (slide 4) and some are worth noticing: Master level of teachers for instance. Tarmo’s unofficial explanations begin from slide 6: teaching is a valued profession, slide 7-8: teachers have freedom to try out new pedagogies. I love slide 9: free time and less homework are needed for long childhood. Slide 10 can explain reading and writing results – did you know that we speak and write in a same way? We are so simple.

In the end of the presentation you can find how Tarmo puts the technology into its place: it is not the first challenge in learning. Students activity is more important and a good basement in pedagogy, learning culture etc. Slide 15 shows some possible future trends: open content, informal learning etc.

Perhaps some of you like this presentation as I do 🙂

4 thoughts on “Learning and institutions

  1. Thanks for passing on that slideshow. Quite aside from any connection to PLENK I found it a great stimulus to thinking about what can work in a “traditional” setting.

    The Respect-Independence-Qualification cycle with regard to teachers is very important, and I am curious as to how early on in your curriculum subject area specialization for teachers comes into play. Our system has all subjects taught by generalists throughout the primary and intermediate levels whereas China has math taught by specialists from a very early stage for example. Where does Finland fit in on that spectrum?

    Another point that struck me was the fact that your experience in Finland counters the general correlation between assigned work (in class + homework) and success. Could this be related to a cultural attude towards learning which involves families in “educational” activities beyond what is directly required by the schools? In our culture East Asian families often involve their students in extra-curricular programs that are even quite formal extensions of the school experience. I expect that what happens in Finland may be less formal but just as effective and may be more uniformly practiced across the entire population.
    P.S. On a completely different matter – I sympathize with the spam problem you mentioned in a previous post. For me that was why I turned off commenting a couple of years ago, but I have recently installed Akismet and it does seem to be working, so I have opened things up again (though I hope it is not rejecting real comments as well as the bad ones)

  2. Hi Alan,
    Akismet is working well and I am happy to get comments again.

    I have to check the math teachers situation in Finland, I don’t remember. Teacher education for subject teachers comes after Masters’ degree and is only 60 credits. Finland’s success in PISA has been explained more with class teachers (generalists).
    Your second question about homework etc I want to turn to Tarmo, I had never seen that description earlier – but I liked it. It makes sense.

  3. Great analysis on my presentation topics, Alan! The RIQ cycle is very important, as it is self-strengthening. Alas, the opposite of having bad teaching also creates a vicious cycle, which is hard to break. My understanding is that in the US for example, the viable options seem to either create a new class of high quality teachers, or create an alternative schooling system that makes a clean break from the old.

    As to the excellent PISA results with Finland having the least school hours and least homework – it’s just a hypothesis that giving time and space for independent play (and learning through play) is a factor. The numbers are there, so something’s going on. But the reason could also be in the didactic pratices of the teachers, the attitudes in homes, or just a self-sustaining culture of “doing well in school” by some students. I really don’t have any definitive answers. Researchers are welcome to take a jab at this! 🙂

  4. Thanks for answering, Tarmo.
    I want to continue by telling Zaid’s contributions after listening a presentation of Finnish school system in Malaysia a year ago:
    This suggestion may be true in any country. Finland is quite normal with all the difficulties you can imagine. But the future as Zaid says:
    1) Focus less on exams, and more on learning.
    Exams should resemble and test what we want them to learn (authentic). Not how much they can memorize. They need to be able to understand and apply what they learn, otherwise what is the point? Group/Individual project-based exams, using well constructed assessment rubrics would be a good start (peer-assessment next!). And let them use all the tools they need to complete the project, because in the real world we would use the tools necessary to solve the problems and challenges we face.

    2) Focus more on teacher education, and less on centralized content/curriculum.
    You can have the best curriculum in the world, but if your teachers stink, I 99% guarantee you that you will fail. However, if you have a crappy curriculum, and great teachers, I can guarantee you that you will 99% succeed. Because, the great teachers will transform the curriculum and inspire the students to learn. In short, invest in teacher education, hire the best people to educate, and let them innovate the curriculum as they facilitate and learn together with the students.
    3) Focus less on investing on flowers and big buildings, and more on equipping educators and students with the learning tools needed to transform the way they learn.
    The Internet is the 21st century’s oxygen for communicating, collaborating, and learning (without it, you or your institution is going to suffocate into ignorance and irrelevance). If you can afford it, spoil the educators and students rotten with learning devices and great Internet access. Provide training online and face-to-face often, exploring with them how they can utilize all these learning tools to transform the way they learn.

    Thanks to Alan, Tarmo and Zaid, I have three wise men here. And more will come?

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