Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Special Features of the Finnish Education System: Reasons Behind Finnish Students' Success in PISA (Scientific Literacy)

Jari Lavonen, Professor of Physics and Chemistry Education at the University of Helsinki, gave a presentation about the reasons behind Finnish students' success in PISA (scientific literacy).

The notes from his presentation are as follows:

PISA framework 2006 had a science emphasis, measuring knowledge about science and the knowledge about the use of science. For example:
  • identification of scientific issues
  • explanation of phenomena
  • drawing of evidence-based conclusions
  • open or closed answer
  • different competencies
  • knowledge categories
  • application area
  • setting
  • sample question, Level 3, about acid rain. 65% of Finnish students correctly answered the question, while 43% at the OECD average
Competence areas:
  • Finland -- 70 points above the OECD average
  • 70 points is approximately one proficiency level
  • Scandinavian countries are close to the OECD average. Why? The Finnish answer: teacher training, students try harder, they take PISA seriously, fewer empty answers. The Scandinavian answer: Finnish teaching methods are old fashioned
Low achievers vs. high achievers
  • Finland -- few low achievers
  • Scandinavia -- performance even on all 6 levels
  • Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Korea -- profile similar to Finland's
  • UK, USA, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, France -- opposite profile to Finland's
Performance within schools vs. performance between schools
  • Finland -- low variation between schools
  • Germany, Czech Republic -- high variation between schools
  • e.g. Germany -- already differentiation at the age of PISA testing (15)
  • if PISA took place one year later, Finland would have a bigger difference within the age group
Interest of Finland
  • high human development index leads to less interest in school
  • Finland's interest in science lower than OECD level
Education policy (with PISA data)
  • science teaching from teacher education, local curriculum, learning materials
  • Finland's national curriculum, textbooks, teacher training, responsible for high scores in PISA scientific literacy
  • Japan -- juku responsible
Main cornerstones of education policy:
  • consistent and long-term policy
  • commitment to a knowledge society
  • equality e.g. effective special education
  • local power of education
  • culture of trust in the education system
  • budget: Finland 65.3%, OECD average 53.2%
  • discipline: Finland 96%, OECD average 80.5%
  • access: Finland 97%, OECD average 76%
  • school size: Finland (less than 20 students) 50%, OECD average 47% of class size 21-25 students
Finland's PISA head teacher report:
  • 91.7% pubic schools
  • OECD: 82.7%
  • 97.5% reported that 99% of funding came from the government
  • 64.3% of students not divided by ability
Science subjects in school:
  • grades 1-4 -- integrated curriculum: environment and natural studies, 9 hours per week
  • grades 5-6 -- integrated curriculum: Biology/geography - 1.5 hours per week; Physics and Chemistry - 1 hour per week
  • grades 7-9 -- separate curriculum
  • grades 10-12 -- separate curriculum
  • Korea -- primary - integrated, 2 hours per week
Finnish science curriculum
  • much of content reflected in PISA
  • separate science at grades 7-9
  • PISA - lifelong learning capacity
  • OECD definition of literacy fits well with science goals in Finland
  • often responsible for most of the teaching
  • good in Finland
  • many contextual relationships in textbooks
  • e.g. science and humans, science and society
Science teacher education
  • subject teachers (grade 7-9, upper secondary) study one major and one minor e.g. math and Chemistry
  • primary teachers (grade 1-6) study 13 subjects
  • subject teacher education 3+2 years (3 years Bachelor's, 2 years Master's)
  • BA/BS - major and minor studies -- similar to other students, begin pedagogy and communication studies
  • MA/MS level - e.g. history of science, pedagogical theory (undertaken at the university), teaching practice (schools), thesis (either in the subject or in pedagogy)
The University of Helsinki's teacher education programs:
  • 11 faculties, 6 have teacher education
  • work together to plan the teacher education curriculum
  • subject knowledge and skills
  • pedagogical knowledge and skills
  • competence for continuous professional development
Teaching methods for science
  • not much research
  • some research after LUMA
  • Norris et al. (1996) -- teacher's pedagogy conservative, traditional, lots of practical work
  • Simola (2005) -- teachers supported by trust in teachers, "traditional" role believed in and accepted
  • Pehkonen, Antee, and Lavonen (2007) -- education policy, national core curriculum, teacher education, students good understanding in reading
  • Aho, Pitkanen, and Sahlberg -- stable environment, educational reform, comprehensive school, interaction of education with other sectors
  • obvious reasons:
  1. Finnish culture -- trust in education, status of teachers
  2. education policy -- widely accepted vision of knowledge-based society, devolution of power, trust
  3. comprehensive school -- goals for science education and textbooks, headmaster as pedagogical director, school practice e.g. lunch, special education
  4. teacher education -- the old fashioned way, respected, 5 year training

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