Maxine McKew: still hopin’ for the right education solution

Why is the Finnish education system so much better than ours? Our fragmented federation doesn’t help, writes the former Labor MP and author of a new book on education.

In considering Australian education policy, the Dusty Springfield hit of 1964 — Wishin’ and Hopin’ — comes to mind.

There would hardly be a senior bureaucrat in any of our state education departments who is not familiar with the evidence of high-performing systems. Singapore, Finland and South Korea, among others, all manage to resist the chopping and changing that has become so characteristic of our jurisdictions.

The Finnish experience is particularly instructive. Dr Pasi Sahlberg, a central figure in that country’s educational reform, often points to the fact that while Finland has had around 30 different governments over a four-decade period, the essential principles that have delivered Finnish educational excellence and equity have remained the same. It turns out that policy consistency in education is a key ingredient.

No doubt delegations of Australian educators will continue to troop off to Helsinki in an attempt to catch the Finnish magic. Impressive reports will be written and in some cases delivered and even read by the political elite. After that, it will be back to wishin’ and hopin’ for the kind of intelligent implementation that might deliver us a first-class system.

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  • Anna

    I believe taking the academics who teach the teachers off tenure and opening up their positions so the best person gets the job is an option. My utter disgust as a teaching student (high school ENG & SOSE) in TAS has never abated. They did not teach lesson planning or classroom management. Academics can teach any new theory that take their fancy and they’re not accountable for the competency of the students who graduate. The academics can stay teaching uni students for over 40 years and never step foot in a class room except to observe (if they can be bothered). If academics are keen on being the best educators they should spend 1 year of every 5 back in a state school classroom in a tough neighbourhood to see what challenges teachers are facing at the coal front.