Political consensus in education: the way of our future
Time for political consensus in education
The Finns have been able to create the most successful education system in the world because their politicians have been able to put the strategic educational needs of the country before their own party interests.
We believe that it is time for New Zealand politicians to do the same.
Politicians are good at politics, not at education
Education change is poorly done. It is more often the result of party politics than a real attempt to enhance teaching and learning. All political parties are guilty of this.
Every new government seems to start by dumping what was begun by the one before. They then start their own projects from scratch and want results in less than three years so that they can claim successes in any election campaign.
Time for evidence based decision making in reality, not political rhetoric
"Evidence-based" decision-making is a popular political phrase but there are few signs evidence-based decision making is used in our education system.
- Copy ideas from countries that do less well than our own;
- Fail to identify and protect the best things about New Zealand schools;
- Ignore how complicated it is to make even one change successfully;
- Introduce multiple trials and pilots making it impossible to know how useful any individual one is;
- Make changes before any project has settled down;
- Fund initiatives inadequately so that the ones that show promise can't grow and develop.
School communities, parents, students and teachers are caught in the middle of this political arena
New Zealand children do not get fair and equal access to educational opportunities. Our schools are increasingly separated on socio-economic and ethnic lines. Students with the greatest need for education support end up in schools in communities with the fewest resources.
Schools, students, boards, principals and teachers are in the middle of a constant tug of war between politicians as they experiment in education and look for people to blame when their ideas don't work.
This cycle is unfair on our children and is a tremendous waste of money and resources. Real change can take a generation to see.
Educational consensus is a better way - the Finnish model
In Finland, politicians have created a consensus across all political parties about how their country could have a world-leading education system. Since the 1960's, different political parties have been in government but the commitment to this strategy in education has been consistent.
"we decided together, as a nation, that education is to build a nation - that it goes beyond the politics and the political powers - it's kind of a common theme and common understanding ... committed to this main idea of providing a good education, publicly financed education, for every single child ..."1
Finland now has the best student achievement results in the world.
Good schools for all students
Finnish politicians agree that there should be good schools for all children, not just for a few.
Finnish parents do not choose from many different schools in the same area. Instead their children are guaranteed a high quality education in their local school.
The money saved by not duplicating small schools means all schools in Finland can be well-built and well-equipped.
Their schools provide access for students to counselling, health, nutrition and special education services.
Local schools working together
The Finns focused on local schools working together.
School leaders and teachers share what they know for the benefit of all students.
The Finns see no merit in the children in one school achieving educational success while the children in other schools around it struggle.
Respect for teaching and learning
The Finns respect and value those who teach their children.
The Finns invest heavily in the education of those training to teach and support practising teachers with extensive professional development so that their skills are well developed and current.
Only 10% of graduates are accepted into training courses and once there they must complete masters' degrees.
Teachers are trusted to do their job without constant auditing.
Teacher organisations are active partners in education change. As the Finnish Minister of Education says:
"… our teachers' union has been one of the main partners because we have the same goal: we all want to ensure that the quality of education is good, and we are working very much together with the union."2
Schools reflect society
To understand an education system, you must also understand its political, social, and economic contexts.
The Finns know that schools cannot, on their own, overcome social inequalities.
They believe that the success of the education system is intertwined with other sectors of society. A well-functioning society and economy based on fairness, equality and the rule of law, and supported by strong public institutions and a democratic civil society is an essential factor in effective schooling.
Time to put the educational needs of New Zealanders before party interests
In Finland politicians recognise that putting the strategic educational needs of the country before their own party interests produces great results.
If enough of us ask, New Zealand politicians can do the same.
2. An interview with Henna Virkkunen, Finland's Minister of Education.(2011) The Hechinger Report.
Linda Darling-Hammond. (2010). Steady Work: How Finland Is Building a Strong Teaching and Learning System
Joshua Levine. (11 April 2011) Finnishing school Time Magazine
Bert Maes (24 February 2010) What makes education in Finland that good? 10 reform principles behind the success