Onderwijs. Andere oorzaken van Finlands succes voor PISA 2000 dan de voorgestelde
Prof. Tim Oates: andere
oorzaken van Finlands succes voor PISA-2000 dan de vooropgestelde
What we can learn from Finland?
(Uit: The ‘qualificationssledgehammer’:
why assessment- led reform has dominated the education landscape).
Prof. Oates vraagt
zich af of zijn de hoge Finse PISA-scores
in de late jaren negentig en begin deze eeuw wel een gevolg zijn van de meestal
geformuleerde succeskenmerken: de grote autonomie
van de leraars, afschaffen van inspectie en niveaucontrole van de overheid ….
Zijn/waren die successen in de late jaren negentig niet vooral een gevolg van
de toestand vóór de grote hervorming: het opleggen van een gestructureerd
nationaal curriculum en van door de staat goedgekeurde handboeken en hoog
gekwalificeerde leermiddelen (handboeken e.d.), controle van leerresultaten en niveau o.m.
door strenge nationale maturiteitstest op einde secundair onderwijs, …? Het zijn volgens Oates niet de hervormingen en
kenmerken die Pasi Sahlberg en vele
anderen beklemtonen (b.v. grote autonomie van de leraars, geen niveaucontrole
door de staat en inspectie …) die de oorzaak
waren van de hoge PISA-scores rond 2000.
Vooraf merkt prof. Tim
Oates op dat er een en ander af te dingen valt van de internationale
scoresvan Finland.Hij schrijft: “It is worth noting that Finland fell out of the top ten countries in
mathematics in PISA 2012, confirmingadeclinesince2006
(OECD2013).Similarly,whileFinlandcame ineighthplaceinmathematics in TIMSS2011,itwasalsorevealed thatFinnishseventhgradershadfallen radicallysince TIMSS 1999 (IEA 2012, p. 56). So at the
same time as the ‘miracle’ was discovered, the country’s pupils werebeginning to slip. This further suggests that
Finland’s ascendancy is far more complicated than what than what many commentators suggest.” NvdR: Oates vermeldt
niet eens dat volgens de meer curriculum gebaseerde evaluatiestudies van de
universiteit van Helsinki in 2010 & 2012 de Finse 15-jarigen vrij zwak
presteren voor de basisvakken en dat er ook een sterke achteruitgang is in
vergelijking met jaren geleden.
Prof. Oates: “It
is worth considering systems with alternative approaches to the lopsided focus on assessment and qualifications. Finland is
an important example, but not for the factors commonly assumed to be in
operation there. Much of the discussion about the Finnish ‘education miracle’,
rising from a low achiever to one of the top performers in the world, has
focused on the degree of autonomy enjoyed byFinnishschools.Low levelsofinspectionandtheabsenceof high-stakes national tests in primary- and lower-secondary education
have been heralded byBritish
educationalists as proof that school autonomy with low accountability is the
key to ensuring high quality.
But this overlooks
three vital features of the Finnish system: (1) the nature of the system in the
1970s and 1980s, when Finland dramatically transformed its education system;
(2) the locus of control that continues to exist in the Finnish system; and (3)
the importance of the rigorous matriculation examinations at the end of
upper-secondary schooling. Schools may appear more autonomous than schools in
England, but the system demonstrably is not free of restriction and high-stakes
Finland leapt to international attention following its
performance in PISA 2000, andprominentcommentatorshavefocusedon elementsofthecurrentFinnish system in explaining the country’s educational success (e.g.
Hancock 2011; Partanen 2011; Guardian 2014). But this is not a sufficient approach.
As argued in the 2010 English curriculum review, in order to understand the
underlying reasons behind high-achieving countries’ success, one has to analyse
the arrangements in place prior to and during the period of improvement. Merely
looking at the system as it is now, when it already has achieved high
performance, is insufficient to unveil causation (Oates 2010).
From the late 1990s to the present day, Finland’s education
system has been characterised byrelativelyhighschool autonomy,with low levels ofcentral inspectionandlowlevels of externaltesting(Sahlberg2011).Thesystem is also noteworthy for
its ‘front-end restriction’, associated with a highly selective, and long
duration, teaching training. This contrasts with systems focusing on ‘back-endrestriction’,characterisedbya strongemphasison inspectionand target-based accountability arrangements. A
key question is whether the current characteristics of the system were also presentwhenFinland’stransformationfroma
relativelylow-performingto ahigh-performingcountryoccurred.The historicalrecordsuggeststhatthe answer is a resounding
‘no’.A historical analysis of the
system’s characteristics andthenatureofpolicyprecedingandduringthe transformation suggests that high control from the centre – including
high-intensity inspections, state-approved textbooks, and national benchmark
tests – played an important role.
Indeed,keyFinnisheducational analysts,such asHautamäki(2014), emphasise that the system between 1972 and 1985 was strongly
state controlled, with all teachers
having to go through extensive in-service training in whichthemandatorycontentwasdelivered.At thesametime,schoolinspectionswereextensive,andallteachingmaterial hadto beapprovedtoensurethat it was aligned with a very detailed, national curriculum, spanning
over 600 pages. While there were no
national assessments in any subject in compulsory education, the detailed
curriculum, intensive in-service teacher training, and standardised tests in
some school subjects – which were used by educational researchers – ensured
comparability of school marks.
Thus,thereweretwomajor phases inthe developmentofFinland’s contemporaryeducationsystem.Thefirstphaseinvolved
the enactmentof fundamental reform from 1968 onwards, which created a fully
comprehensive systemandthefoundationthatgaverisetohighperformanceinthelate 1990s. At this time,
implementation at the school level was ensured by heavy centralised state
The second phase, on the other hand, involved a strategic
move towards more school autonomy and low levels of centralised inspections. In
the decentralising spirit of the late 1980s, the office responsible for
approving textbooks was closed in 1990. In my own interviews with current
Finnish teachers and educationalists, theyemphasise high-qualityteachersand high-qualitymaterialsasthekey ingredient of Finnish success. And, of course,
it is important to note that the rigorous matriculation exams at the end of upper-secondary
school remain a key part of the system.
It is clear that most international commentators have
inaccurately focused on the second phase, frequently associating the current
system’s characteristics with the previousperiodoftransformationandsubstantialimprovement– duringwhicharrangements wereverydifferent.Thefirstphase endstobe ignored
outside Finland, and the highly centralised change strategy may indeed be the
‘inconvenient truth’, at odds with the oft-desired and appealing narrative regarding
autonomy (Alexander 2012; Benton 2014).
Once the system had been established, central control was
relaxed, but it is vital to recognise that the quality criteria established in
the first phase were vital for the transformation – and continue to be the
basis of contemporary system performance.One ofthefactorsexistingin both phasesisthehigh-quality teacher training,whichis highlyselective.All teachers are expected to have master’s degrees, with research and
evaluation playing an integral role in the training curriculum. Withsuchdemandingcriteriaand content,teachertrainingcan certainly be characterised as a key
control mechanism in the system. It ensures that all teacher practice embodies
the values and practices of the system. This ‘front end’ type of control
explains the lack of need for ‘back end’ type of control in the form of a strong
inspection system and national assessment, which characterise the English
While itisimportantto acknowledgetheproblemsinvolvedin drawing causal conclusions from narratives of this type – since there
could be other, unrecognised changes, not necessarily in education,
contributing to Finland’s rise – it is still important to have an accurate
picture of what policies the country pursued during its transformative stage.
Clearly, at the very least, the reasons behind Finland’s improvements are not
as clear-cut as commonly assumed in the debate.
The first lesson from Finland is that ideas about issues
such as equity and ability played a vital role in the transformation of its
system. The social and political discussion prior to the adoption of fully
comprehensive compulsory educationwas importantfortheconcertedand coherentimplementationof the new system, and for its continued
success. Rather than focusing too much on assessment and qualifications as
drivers for change, the Finnish discussion concentrated on ensuring coherence of all
elements in the proposed system (in line
with Schmidt’s notion of ‘curriculum coherence’). In fact, the structure and assessment approaches of the main high-stakes
matriculation examinations at the end of
upper-secondary education were pretty much left alone, continuing in much the same form as it had for about a
century. The examinations have not remained static, but changes have reflected
changes in the curriculum, rather than
vice versa. Thus, curriculum drove assessment and qualifications – which contrasts sharply with the English situation.
Thesecond lessonfromFinland isconsequentlythatcoherenceisvitally important.Inthefirstphase oftransformation,this wasensuredviastrong central control. Once the new system was
established, this control was replaced by the ‘front end’ restriction in the form of
a highly selective teacher training that became the bedrock for ensuring
continued coherence between the different elements of the system.