Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cram School Business and Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland 2/2

(Continued from "Cram School Business and Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland 1/2")


Finland saw two major school shooting incidents in 2007 and in 2008 consecutively, which were the one at Jokela high school and the another at Seinajoki University.
Since then, the concerned authorities have taken many preventive measures, which have apparently contained further occurrence of the similar incident.

However, it hardly seems that the root cause for such tragedy has been eradicated. A few years ago, the Finnish teachers' union warned the increase in school violence, and the attempts of school attacks are still reported as below:

In October 2016, a 21-year-old woman planned school shooting.

In November 2016, three girls were taken into custody for threatening school attacks.

In July 2017, the 18-year-old set fire on a school, which was half burnt.

Considering the population size of Finland, it is not negligible at all to see three attempts of school attacks, one of which was seemingly half-accomplished, within less than a year. And we cannot help doubting the popular story that the trustful relationship is established between teachers and students in Finnish schools.

Particularly phenomenal is that girls are very active in the recent school violence cases. I really wonder why such strong frustration against schools is nurtured among young women in Finland.

Maybe it is advisable for Finnish educators to learn from other countries that see school violence far less frequently than Finland.
Although many education experts in the rest of the world are admiring Finnish education, I hope that such admiration will NOT make them hesitate to learn from others.

Further Readings:

Discussing PISA 3/3: The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor

The Finnish Embassy in Japan Is Warning against the Fake News about Finnish Education

Monday, January 15, 2018

Cram School Business and Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland 1/2

Since I wrote the blog post on Finland education, I have come to take a little closer look at what is going on in Finland.
This time I would like to show two recent findings about Finnish education, which hopefully attract your notice.


The first is the rise of cram schools in Finland. Yle news, the Finnish state-owned media, reports as below:
So-called preparatory courses or study cramming programmes are a hit (and sometimes a perceived necessity) among high school graduates applying to institutes of higher education. Now, HS writes, companies specializing in giving students a curricular boost are looking to broaden their customer base to high schools themselves, and even the upper grades of primary school. 
 (Note: HS = Helsingin Sanomat)

I heard of the cram school business in Finland for the first time. The global education experts and reporters who have been recommending the Finland education have ever discussed or mentioned this fact? Or do they even know it?

It is significant to know that the actual educational scene in Finland has a dual structure, consisting of the school education and the cram school business in order to make a fact-based assessment of the Finnish education. And along with other negative facts, it casts a big doubt on the much discussed excellence of Finnish school education in the global community of school educators.

This news is particularly shocking and embarrassing to the Japanese education experts and media people because they keep advertising that "Finland education is ranked top in the world without cram schools!"

At any rate, after knowing this dual structure of Finland education, we have to admit that it is one-sided or even meaningless to discuss only schools there.

Actually I have been wondering why Finlanders can stay calm at the news about the very low mathematical ability of their children, - the fact that would definitely cause a big controversy in Japan.
But now I found that they have not been calm: the students and parents resort to cram schools, while the school educators are pleased by the admiration from the global community of school educators.

Since most education experts and reporters are possessed with the school-centered view, they are very reluctant to admit the effectiveness or even the existence of alternative education institutions such as cram schools. Therefore, the educational reports and studies about the country that has some dual structure of education tend to be misleading and unreliable, as clearly exemplified by the New York Times article about the Japanese education.

The reports and studies on Finland education are no exception, or even more so due to the world applause from the global education experts and reporters. Thus it is advisable to avoid swallowing those articles and scrutinize them very carefully with the knowledge of its dual structure of education.

(Continued to "2. Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland")

Further Readings:

Big Doubts on the NY Times Article "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?"
Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype
A New Horizon of the Comparative Education in the Age of "Educational Pluralism"

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Finnish Embassy in Japan is Warning against the Fake News about Finnish Education

The misleading hype about Finnish education, which has long been maintained by ignoring the negative facts, is now loaded with the fake news of the media.
Under these circumstances, the Finnish government has embarked on an effort to correct the misunderstanding as below.

* "The Truth about the Finnish Schools" by "This is Finland", a PR site produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland

* "フィンランドの学校がこう変わる" (Finnish Schools Change like This) by the Finnish Embassy in Japan - An English summary is available here.

"Subject Teaching in Finnish Schools is not being abolished" by the Finnish National Agency of Education

The Finnish Embassy in Japan particularly points out that "some confusion has been made by misreports of the Western media" and is
 warning against them.

The above notices are not addressed to specific media or media reports, but it is easy to find the articles that deserve the warning by searching the Internet as below.
I think that these fake news offer good case studies for thinking over why misleading reports are prevailing in the global community of school educators.

The Finland Embassy's comment on this topic is probably the strongest message, which clearly says that subjects don't disappear. Thus it denies the below articles.

*Spiegel online
Finnland schafft die Schulfächer ab

*The Independent
Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system.

The Embassy expresses a negative view on memorization or rote-learning, but at the same time, admits that some learning require memorization, citing the multiplication tables. Thus the below Japanese article is wrong.

*Gendai Business
(Instead of memorizing the multiplication tables, calculators are used in Finland, the country of the world top education system.)

On this matter, the Embassy as well as "This is Finland" just explains the reason why homework is needed without any negative tone. 
And, as another testimony, Sirkku Sakane, a Finnish-Japanese translator, says in this site (in Japanese) that plenty of homework is given in Finland.

On the other hand, however, the BBC report and the Michael Moor’s film below try to characterize homework as some villain, though they don’t necessarily mean “no homework” but “less homework.” 


*The Film by Michael Moore

And the OECD tweeted the BBC report with a misleading comment of “no homework” instead of “less”, the manipulation which casts doubt over the neutrality and fairness of the OECD as the PISA test administrator.

By the way, some people are scapegoating homework these days. I wonder how they find the fact that high performing Asian countries see the proliferation of after-school tutoring let alone homework.

The Media are Widening the Gap

Generally speaking, the government statement is full of pretty words and rarely admits inconvenient things. 
In this sense, the above notices made by the government-related agencies are no exception because they sidestep negative facts. Therefore, we expect the media to fill the gap between it and the reality.

However, the media have betrayed our expectation greatly as far as education is concerned. 
They have not only played up the Finnish education hype by blocking the negative facts, but also gone so far as to make the fake news, which were checked by the government.
Thus they are functioning to widen the gap.

These fake news reveal the nature of education journalists, the leading members of the school educators community.
They are just using the image of Finnish education as leverage to impose their wishful educational views or policies to the audience, probably with the understanding that other members of the community easily swallow such fake news and join their bandwagon.

Related Readings:

Finnish Mathematicians Were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype

Cram School Business and Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland 1/2

Cram School Business and Youth Frustration against Schools in Finland 2/2

The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor

Illustrating Why We Should NOT Learn from Other Countries' Education

An English Summary of the Notice by the Finnish Embassy in Japan

Below is an English summary of the notice on the new core curriculum for Finnish schools, issued by the Finnish Embassy in Japan in August, 2016. 
This summary was made as a reference material for "The Finnish Embassy in Japan is Warning against the Fake News about Finnish Education."


Finnish Schools Change like This: 10 Questions and Answers (in Japanese)

The cache as of December, 2016: 

The new core curriculum for compulsory basic education in Finland is gathering attention worldwide. While it is reported in Japan that the programming is introduced in Finnish schools, some confusion has been made by misreports of the Western media saying, for example, that Finland scraps all the school subjects. Under these circumstances, the Finnish Embassy in Japan prepared the question-and-answer-style notice about the new curriculum based on the article made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland.

Question 1: Is it true that all the subjects are scrapped and that the phenomenon-based learning is introduced in Finnish schools?

It is true that the phenomenon-based learning is introduced as one of the methods, but subjects such as math, history, music, etc. don’t disappear. It is required in the new curriculum to set up at least one multidisciplinary learning module covering more than one subject, in which pupils are supposed to learn a particular topic such as "Global Warming", "European Union", etc. for several weeks.

Question 2: I hear that the physical classroom setting is removed as well … 

Learning can take place outside of classrooms. Schools and teachers have initiative in deciding how the out-of-classroom learning should be carried out. Learning methods have changed. Pupils don’t need to sit still in the same room any longer. They can choose where and how to learn on their own.
Some newly-built schools don’t even have corridors. I wonder that we will not need the conventional enclosed classrooms in future because learning can take place anywhere.

Question 3: I hear that pupils set their own learning goals by themselves. If able children set unambitious goals to lead an easy school life, they will be spoiled?

It will not be the case. Learning goals and the criteria for high ability levels are clearly prescribed in the new curriculum. Pupils discuss and decide their own goal settings with teachers. One of the problems so far was that pupils didn't necessarily understand how their achievements were evaluated. We expect that we can raise their motivation by involving them in the discussion of goal setting.

Question 4: Memorization is denied?

Some learning, such as learning the multiplication tables, requires memorization. However, the new curriculum focuses on the necessary skills for future life, such as critical thinking, learning-to-learn, how to use new technologies, etc. rather than repeating teachers’ words.

Question 5: Old useful methods are abandoned in the new curriculum?

What makes Finland’s education different from those in other countries is that communities, schools or teachers can decide what and how to learn for pupils. The Initiative in deciding the learning methods and what is best for pupils rests in the place where pupils learn. Many people in the world seem to mistake Finland as a socialist country where every decision is made in top-down style.

Question 6: No homework at all?
There is homework. Since less time spent in learning in Finland than in other countries, we think pupils should review the lessons at home.

Question 7: I hear that exams and quizzes don’t exist, either.

We have exams, but the academic report cards don’t only reflect the exam results. Students are evaluated continuously, guided appropriately and supported. Exams are part of learning but not the key. Proof of learning can be seen in the form of project implementation and presentation. Even if one fails in an exam, he or she can learn many things in the preparation for re-examinations.

Question 8: The new curriculum increases teachers’ workload?

It is true that we need to change the teaching method, which will take some time. The biggest challenge is to change the teachers’ role: teachers will not be mere knowledge providers, and students will not be passive listeners any more. We wish to turn schools into communities for learning each other, where even adults can learn from children.

Question 9: Programming has become a compulsory subject since this school year. At least teachers need know-hows of programming?

Programming is introduced not as independent subject but transversally into all the subjects. Although it is learned more frequently in math than in other subjects, it appears in music and physical education as well.
In first and second grades, pupils learn how to command and message accurately, and logical thinking. From third to sixth grades, they learn easy programme behaviors by using computers or tablets, and from seventh to ninth grades, they work on algorithm and learn at least one program language.
Teachers don’t need to be familiar with programming. They are expected to be facilitators. What they should do is to prepare the environment in which students can learn freely through trials and errors, and sometimes guide them.

Question 10: The new curriculum can possibly damage the reputation of Finland’s education as world top education in the OECD PISA ranking?

It possibly can, but so what? The PISA ranking is of little importance according to the Finnish way of thinking. The PISA is something like blood-pressure gauge, which is useful for checking what we are heading for, but it is not the ultimate goal. We don’t have the PISA ranking in our mind when we make educational decisions. What is important is the knowledge that our children and young people will need in future.



Related Links:

 "The Finnish Embassy in Japan is Warning against the Fake News about Finnish Education"

Subject teaching in Finnish schools is not being abolished:


Friday, October 14, 2016

Illustrating Why We Should NOT Learn from Other Countries' Education

Unreliable Studies and Reports on International Education.

There are contending views on the problem of whether or not we should learn from other countries' educational experiences.
For example, while Martin Carnoy discusses that the domestic educational comparison in the US is relevant rather than the international one, Marc Tucker and others argue that American schools could learn from other countries on teachers' professional development.

Learning from others is a good thing in general, but as far as education is concerned, it is NOT advisable to learn from other countries' experience because the studies and reports on international education are mostly misleading and unreliable. This time I would like to illustrate how we are misled.

Education is Usually in Conflict in Each Country

When we read a report on different country's education, we tend to assume that the education policy or teaching method in the report has been adopted unanimously and carried out in a unified voice in that country.
The truth is, however, that education is usually in conflict in each country. Thus there are objections or countermovements to the reported policies or methods.  
For example, we can find the educational conflicts in the world as follows:

* The UK: Anti-grammar School Argument   VS.   Pro-grammar School Argument
* The US: Traditional Public Education   VS.   Charter Schools, TFA, The 74, etc.
* Finland: Public Education   VS.   Domestic Objections (and harsh reality)
* Asia:      Public Education   VS.   Shadow Education

Illustrating Deceptive Environment of the International Education Studies

However, the school educators' community is uninterested in this kind of reality. So are the global educators and reporters who are the main source of the studies and reports on international education. 
In fact, the left sides of the above conflicts are frequently covered and highlighted, while the other sides are played down or ignored completely. This is how the most articles on international education have been one-sided and misleading. 
This deceptive environment, which is the hotbed of unreliable studies and reports, can be illustrated as below (Blue-colored is the coverage of international education studies and reports):

As far as this environment continues, it is NOT advisable to learn from other countries' education.
Lamentable is that some international organizations such as the OECD, the World Economic Forum, etc. are functioning to promote this hotbed of misleading education reports. 
I hope they will break away from this deceptive environment.  

Further Readings:

The Finnish Embassy in Japan is Warning against the Fake News about Finnish Education

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Discussing PISA 3/3: The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor

3. Agenda of “Rich Countries Club”

One-sided Reactions of School Educators’ Community in Rich Countries

The misleading hype about Finnish education was ignited by the OECD and massively fueled by the school educators’ community, members of which include schoolteachers, academics, journalists, unionists, and others in rich countries.
I would like to discuss the reactions of the community below.

As I mentioned before, while constructivism is viewed as ideal among many educators, it has been causing more harm than good in practice. Frankly not only constructivism but also other progressive education theories loved by them have hardly succeeded.
It must have long been a heart-breaking fact for them, especially for the education academics advocating their ideals in their books and lectures. Thus they had been frustrated and stuck for the positive evidence.
Under such circumstances, the OECD offered the solution by preparing the PISA project based on constructivism.

When Finnish education, which had undergone the reform recommended by the OECD, was ranked high in PISA, the community members were so pleased, and notably education academics readily believed that their proud theory was proved effective.
In this way, the OECD saved faces of many educators by providing evidence for their ideal education.

This solution is, however, not very fair because the PISA tests are designed in favor of constructivist education. And the evidence provided is tentative one in the particular examination and doesn’t seem to prove anything in reality, considering that Finnish children are suffering from innumeracy in their daily life now.

However, the journalists and academics have beautifully dramatized the Finnish education as success story of their ideal. Its beautiful image rapidly spread like wildfire in the school educators’ community and has developed to the hype across the globe.
On the other hand, the negative facts such as objection from within Finland, Finland’s sad result in TIMSSFinnish children’s numerate trouble, and Asian rise in the ranking have been neglected or treated as elephant in the room.
some educationists got together to call for a halt to PISA in protest against the Finland's "unexplained decline" in the ranking.
We should keep in mind these one-sided reactions of the educators in rich countries.

Joint Initiative between the OECD and School Educators

The bottom line is that while the OECD depends on the school educators’ community for the legitimacy of the PISA project, the community welcomes the OECD as friendly external evaluator.
Owing to this “mutually endorsing” relation, they are seemingly taking initiative together in leading the international debates on comparative education. This joint initiative between them seems good for educators, but not so good for learners especially in developing countries.

Since the school educators are concerned with their rights and interests, the policies and methods they propose tend to be costly or budget-consuming. Cost consciousness seems the furthest thing from their mind.
The OECD, of course, reflects their mind. Therefore, it incessantly preaches about the need for the investment in education, but is reluctant to talk about cost-effective means of education.

Cost-effective Solutions are Shut out from the Discussion Table

In the meantime, many countries are now facing the problem of teacher shortage.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has recently reported that the world will need to recruit 25.8 million teachers by 2030, and notably some developing or emerging countries will need more than one million teachers each. Another report says that there are already 100 students in one classroom of K-12 schools and 2,000 learners in one lecture theater of higher education in Egypt now.

It is obviously a tough job to make a budget just for hiring teaching staff to satisfy these demands in those countries. And it is feared that even a minimal teacher training may not be affordable there, let alone the gorgeous teacher trainings proposed by educators in rich countries. Therefore, it is worth considering e-Learning systems as alternative solution for student learning as well as teacher training.

When it comes to e-Learning solutions, a variety of experiences are available in the US, including blended learning, MOOCs, the Khan Academy, etc. And similar efforts can be found in shadow education in East Asia.

However, these cost-effective solutions are prone to be neglected or denied in the school educators’ community, because they can jeopardize the educators’ rights and interests. Accordingly the OECD is unwilling to touch the cost-effective, that is, labor-saving aspect of the technological innovation.
As a result, while they advertise the expensive policies and methods, effectiveness of which is dubious very much, they shut out the cost-effective solutions from the discussion table of comparative education and international policy borrowing.

This attitude of them can result in misguiding the educational resources, and its negative impact must be greater in developing countries, where education budget is limited despite the huge youth population. Thus the OECD’s educational initiative keeps poor countries poor, or in worse cases, exacerbate the situation.

Maybe we should remember that the OECD is the “Rich Countries Club” and seek another approach for education of young people in developing countries.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Discussing PISA 2/3: Politicizing the International Student Assesssment

(Continued from "Discussing PISA 1/3: Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration)

2. Agenda on International Politics

The OECD's Identity Crisis

According to the BBC report, the OECD is an international organization that was born as a means of distributing the American cash and economic wisdom to the war-weary Europe, but it is now suffering from something like identity crisis because it lacks in political power, compared with other international organizations.

Under these circumstances, it is conceivable that the OECD has the agenda to raise its presence on the arena of the international politics. And it possibly looks at the PISA project, including the other educational policy instruments, as a candidate tool through which the OECD can become influential, though its influence is limited to education at the present moment.

If the OECD is urged by this agenda and tries to grow the PISA project to a full-fledged political tool, it should, in the first place, obtain the approval from the educators' community. 
In this sense, it is a normal strategy to adopt a favorite theory of education pundits, which happened to be constructivism, and design the project in accordance with it, even though it is a problematic one. 
In other words, the OECD has to depend on the school educators’ community for the legitimacy building of the PISA project.
Unfortunate is that constructivism doesn’t work in reality despite the wide popularity among educators.

New Test on "Global Competence"

In the meantime, the OECD announced in May the introduction of a new test subject called “Global Competence” in addition to the three regular subjects including mathematics, science and reading.

In the business of comparative education such as international tests and cooperation projects, politically neutral subjects including natural sciences and languages are usually chosen for the sphere of activity, but social studies subjects such as geography, history, civics etc. are usually avoided because those subjects, contents of which vary greatly by countries, are easily politicized.

However, the “Global Competence” test will be categorized into social studies. In this sense, it is an epoch-making and adventurous attempt.

Politicizing The International Student Test

If it is successful, the OECD will be able to obtain the authority to define “Global Competence”, which can be a global standard, and, thereby, expand its influence out of education to the arena of international politics.

Actually if children in a country are ignorant of topics appearing on the test of “Global Competence” or fail to interpret them as suggested by the OECD, the country will be placed low in the ranking. Therefore, education policy makers across the globe cannot help but take into consideration the inclusion of those topics and their desired interpretations into their curricula.

Moreover, once the test project achieves a global recognition, people’s attention tends to concentrate on the countries’ ups and downs in the ranking and rarely dwells on the problems about the assessment criteria, the administration system, test contents, etc. Thus the political power exercised by the test administrator can be easily overshadowed.

I expect that the first “Global Competence” test in 2018 will be carried out very carefully so as not to cause any disputes. However, I don’t expect that those who are aware of its potential political power will do nothing and miss the opportunity forever. 
There will come up lots of people who seek to influence PISA tests in one way or another: some may openly demand that some particular topics should be included in (or excluded from) the test or that yet new test subject, let’s say, “Global History” or “Social Justice” should be created. And others may lobby to change the test contents, the assessment criteria, the committee members, and whatever.

In these kinds of conflicts, the OECD will play a role of final arbiter, and thereby tremendously improve its presence in the international politics.
This kind of political presence probably sounds very attractive to the OECD, the identity of which is blurred

(Continued to "Discussing PISA 3/3: The OECD's Education Initiative Keeps Poor Countries Poor" )

Discussing PISA 1/3: Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration

(It is advisable to first read "Finnish Mathematicians were Blowing Whistle on the Finnish Education Hype".)

Questionable Background between the OECD and Finland's Education Administration

As I wrote before, Finnish education can hardly be deemed successful. And considering the early criticism from within Finland, we cannot help but think that the Finnish education hype has been a total illusion since the beginning.

We should not applaud the education through which less than 20% of students can solve fractions and some of them have numerate difficulty in daily life. At least we should scrutinize it thoroughly before taking it as educational role model.

Finnish education has gained attention since Finland was ranked high in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) administered by the OECD in the early 2000s. 
And some questionable background between the OECD and the Finnish education administration is pointed out in the below articles.

Too Eager to Comply? OECD Education Policies and the Finnish Response

Finnish education, which had been reformed in accordance with the OECD’s recommendation in 1990s, has been ranked high in the international test carried out by the OECD and played up as successful role model, though East Asian education systems, which have been ranked also high, or even higher, in the same test, have never been celebrated or advertised like Finnish one…

The OECD started the PISA project with the aim of justifying its own education policy with which it reformed the Finnish education?

Constructivism - the Problematic Theory

Even Granting that the OECD utilized the international test merely to justify its policy, it could be still useful if it resulted in dissemination of some good and effective education. However, it seems not the case.

It is pointed out that both the Finnish education and the PISA project share the same education theory called constructivism. And this theory is very controversial and problematic: while it is lauded often very enthusiastically by the school educators, it has caused many problems in practice.

For example, the constructivist education reform introduced in the US in 1990s brought a big controversy called math wars. And notorious Yutori education in Japan, which was officially denied recently, was also influenced a lot by it. Similar confusions can be seen in other parts of the world such as Turkey, Uganda, and China, according to a report.
And Finland seems no exception.

Why the OECD Advertises the Problematic Education?

Why the OECD has to advertise this problematic, or at least controversial, education theory by carrying out the PISA project?
For thinking about this question, I hypothesize the below agendas the OECD is likely to have behind. And I try to discuss them one by one.

1: Agenda on Economic Policies

1. Agenda on Economic Policies

Many people may wonder why the OECD, which is primarily an economic organization, is involved so much in education and the international test project. This question would not be raised if PISA was held by the UNESCO, UNICEF or other education-related organizations.
Therefore it can be suspected that the OECD has some hidden agenda on economic policies behind. In fact, the Finnish education scholars are hinting neo-liberal tone of the OECD in their argument above.

It would not be impossible to find something in common between neo-liberalist argument and the OECD’s education theory.
Generally speaking, not only constructivists but also other progressive educationists put importance on students’ active engagement in learning and de-emphasize instruction itself. On the other hand, neo-liberalists say that state intervention should be minimized so that entrepreneurs can act freely to boost economy. Thus you may find these narratives sound similar in a sense.
On the other hand, however, some Japanese researchers argue that neo-liberalists in Japan as well as in the US and the UK cannot accept the OECD's educational thought.

As far as I have read arguments on this matter so far, it’s not very convincing that the OECD advertises constructivism with the aim of pushing forward neo-liberal economy, though I keep looking for more convincing arguments.

(Continued to "Discussing PISA 2/3: Politicizing the International Student Assessment")