Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about Finland

FinlandEvery couple of years, the OECD publish a report from their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their findings are (very helpfully) compiled into league tables, charting the performance of each of the participating countries in maths, literacy and application of scientific knowledge.

These tables are then used to fuel media stories like this one, which make claims like:

“Australian schools should copy their top-performing Asian neighbours and push to keep only the best teachers in the classroom if local students are to stop slipping further down the ladder.”

The PISA report also provides ammunition for politicians like Education Minister Christopher Pyne to come up with gems like this:

“We’ve spent a great deal of money, 40 per cent more on school education in the last 10 years, but we haven’t focused on the basics – teacher quality, autonomy in schools, parental engagement and the curriculum. We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted with other issues. And our competitive – competitor nations, particularly in Asia, they have focused on the basics.

 

We need to have a back-to-basics approach.”

So what’s this got to do with Finland? After all it seems the media and the politicians are only focused on beating our Asian competitors.

Well, many of the opponents to the “Beat Asia” campaign, cite the Finnish education system as the one we should look to in order to raise standards.

I’m all for looking at other systems to see what we can learn. Indeed it was when I looked at the Finnish system I learned the following…

1. More than 30% of Finnish students say they aren’t happy, or they do not belong at school.

According to the last set of PISA results (PDF) – published in 2013 – on average, 20% of Australian students report they are not happy or that they do not belong at school. Yet in Finland, 32% of students report that they aren’t happy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.28.27 pm

Since PISA started, we have seen a steady decline in the amount of kids who feel they belong in schools in Australia, but interestingly, this decline has been even more pronounced in Finland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.31.39 pm

This is of particular interest to me given the link between school connectedness and wellbeing. 

2. The Youth Unemployment rate in Finland currently stands at 23%

The Finnish rate of Youth Unemployment runs at almost double that of Australia’s current rate of Youth Unemployment that stands at 12%. 

I’m not sure the significance of this to be honest, but I do find it interesting.

What is the education system doing if it serving kids well on standardised tests but not enabling them to get into the workforce? I’d love to get a better perspective if anyone is well placed to offer me some advice?

I’ve previously attempted to tweet Pasi Sahlberg to get his thoughts on this, but he’s a busy guy. If anyone knows him, could you ask him for me please?

3. Finland value different things & different people in education

OK, you probably thought this might the case, but it is nevertheless still interesting to note the different reactions of Christopher Pyne and his Finnish counterpart in the face of declining standards.

Whilst Pyne spoke about competing, getting back-to-basics and teachers who weren’t up to scratch…

When questioned what her thoughts were about the fact the likes of Liechtenstein and Estonia had overtaken Finland in Maths, Finnish Education Minister, Krista Kiuru said:

“We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in.”

Krista Kiuru engages education experts, students and parents in order to make schools a better environment to be in.

Christopher Pyne brings in Kevin Donnelly.

For me, this is one of the main reasons why we should look to Finland to see what we can learn from them. Their focus on the bigger picture.

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation Youth

Engaging the Student Voice

The basis for student voice is to be found in Article 12 of the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child, which sets out the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account when decisions are being made on any matter that affects them.

How many decisions at your school take into account the opinions of students?

I mean really take students’ opinions into account.

If we’re honest many of our efforts around student voice pay lip service at best.

What I mean is, who are the students we listen to? Do we act on the feedback they give us? Do we even need to, or are they the kids we know will say what we want to hear? Have a look at this from the Freechild project to check in with where you’re at in your school.

Having said that, I’ve come up with a simple survey that you could use as a starting point to engage the student voice.

1. What’s the best thing about being at this school?

Asking this question is taking a leaf straight out of the Appreciative Inquiry model of change. By knowing what we do well, we can use this to inform any changes we’d like to make. We can ask why does this work well. How can we leverage this to enhance other areas of our school?

2. What would you like to do more of at school?

This could throw up all manner of interesting ideas. It could be more kids would like to game. Or perhaps they’d like to explore personal interest project, maybe they’d like to chill out more… who knows… Whether you see any value in their suggestions? Well that’s up to you.

3. If you were in charge of the school what one thing would you like to change? – What makes you say this?

Ditto for this one, but crucially the reasons – the What makes you say this? – will prove more fertile ground for change

4. Do you feel able to be yourself at school? – If no, why not?

5. Is there at least one adult at school to whom you can go if you have a serious issue?

These two questions are vital questions to ask in any school. They are paramount for a student to feel connected to school. The importance of school connectedness is the subject of this 6min podcast. SPOILER ALERT – IT’S CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT

I would urge you to only engage the student voice, if you are genuinely willing to act upon the feedback.

You have to ask every kid. It could be anonymous, it could be done via pen & paper and put in a shoe box, or done via Google forms or Survey monkey.

Yes there are more in-depth surveys out there but as a start you could do worse than ask these questions.

If your school as a whole doesn’t want to buy in, as a classroom teacher you could ask your kids:

What was the best thing about this unit/lesson/subject? What would you have liked to do more of? What would you have changed?

I’ve done this with some very witty kids, where the answers have come back, ‘Nothing,’ ‘Chilled’ and ‘The teacher’. But give it time… publicly acknowledge and act on feedback and you’ll start to see a shift in the ownership kids take of their learning.

What else do you do to engage and empower the student voice in your communities?

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation Tech & Social Media Wellbeing Youth

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Online

One of the most common questions I get asked by schools, is along the lines of how can we teach “Cyber-Safety?”

Leaving aside the fact I’m not keen on the use of the work cyber as whilst it may have suited our needs a decade ago, nowadays it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Why do I say irrelevant? Because the inclusion of the word cyber indicates that somehow these actions are separate from the rest of a person’s life. Take cyberbullying for example… the ramifications are not confined to cyberspace, they are very – for want of a better word – real.

OK, I didn’t really leave that aside did I?

Anyway, my biggest issue with teaching – let’s call it Digital Citizenship – instead, is that we rarely listen to what the kids actually want or need to know about or do.

Take for example a group of Yr 9 students I was working with recently, who all said they were worried about their privacy online, but their parents didn’t know how to address it, and their school didn’t want to teach it. The students said they felt that the response from the adults was, if you’re worried about it don’t use it. The adults in their lives didn’t understand that this wasn’t an option. They also felt they couldn’t report any instance of bullying or inappropriate stuff (sexting etc.) because that would just result in them losing access to their phones or laptops.

I’ve written before about the way Digital Citizenship, and in particular the use of Social Media is taught in school.

If we taught kids to drive a car the same way we teach them to use social media it would look something like this:

1. Driving lessons would only be taught by adults with little or no experience of driving.

2. Driving lessons would never take place in a car.

3. Driving lessons would only focus on the dangers of driving and what not to do

Of course we wouldn’t tolerate this, but this is often the approach taken in schools and the community.

If it’s a problem, increase the firewall or ban it. How long will it take for us to realise this approach is failing out kids.

They want to be responsible digital citizens, but we don’t hear that. We just assume they’re up to no good.

No one’s helping in ways they understand, or in ways that genuinely empower them.

Except perhaps…

If you are interested in exploring a more proactive approach to digital citizenship and/or learning in your school, then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Pip Cleaves at Design | Learn | Empower or Nick Jackson at Digital Leaders Australia – and no, I don’t receive a commission, I just really respect their work, and their ability to hear the student voice and engage accordingly.

Or if you just want to learn a little more about what kids are up to these days you could check out this site from ACMA, and yes, I am aware they use the word Cyber…. 

Oh well.

Categories
Education Social Commentary Youth

Hey kids – Stop talking like that!

Teen Speak

I bet there’s certain things kids say that grate on you. I bet there are slang terms that, quite simply, you don’t understand.

Every now and then you’ll come across a helpful list of the latest “kids speak” like this one. Go on, read it. It’s brilliant.

I’ll bet if you think back, there were words you used that your parents didn’t really get, and when they tried to use them, well… it was just wrong.

A couple of weeks back I stumbled across a very interesting article, again from the UK.

A school has decided to ban the use of certain slang words.  It’s worth noting they’re not talking about swear words, but words like:

“Innit” and the ever present “Like” are in the firing line as is starting sentences with “Basically” or ending them with “Yeah.”

Reaction has been varied. Some (mostly older folk) have applauded the move, whilst others have pointed to the naturally occurring changes in language over time.

Others have claimed that it could be considered racist, as some of the slang words under fire are most common in the vernacular of those from West Indian background.

It’s certainly an interesting debate, because I have my pet peevs too!

The seemingly new phenomenon of shortening words really grates on me.

Totally = totes, Obviously = obvs and for some reason – particularly Channel 10 – have been promoting “Double Eps” for over a year now… Is “Episode” really too long a word?

Yeah I know I know… Basically, I’m just being a grumpy old man. After all this is how the kids speak now innit yeah?

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Categories
Education Wellbeing Youth

What if we listened to kids?

This was originally written for my regular column in the Generation Next Newsletter

Child-with-megaphone-image

Last Friday I spent the day at the Student Wellbeing Action Network (SWAN) Symposium co-hosted by Wellbeing Australia and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

The day brought together policy makers, researchers, practitioners, teachers and – most importantly for me – students to talk about how approaches to wellbeing can be enhanced in schools.

All manner of programs were discussed, some barriers identified and goals set in order to move forward.

I spent my afternoon on a table with six Year 11 students, two of whom were from a selective school. Some of their thoughts we quite interesting to me, and I thought they may be to you as well.

One Year 11 boy said the word wellbeing meant little to him.

Two others said that they’d heard the word resilience so much at school, it had become a cliché.

All the kids viewed the word wellbeing with only negative connotations. Ie. To talk about one’s wellbeing would be to indicate you were struggling with something. This – two students said – meant wellbeing was something of a taboo subject at their (selective) high school.

Five out of the six students were studying subjects they did not enjoy or find particularly interesting, despite having been given the choice of what subjects to study for the HSC.

They all agreed that the perceived hierarchy of subject intelligence played a large part in what they chose, along with the expectations of teachers, parents and their peer group.

They also agreed that spending their time doing something they did not enjoy did little for their overall wellbeing.

One of the most powerful statements I heard from the students, was when a Year 11 boy said,

Y’know we come along to a day like this, and hear all of you talking about us, making assumptions about how we feel about stuff and what we want in school. But you don’t have to make assumptions. You could just ask us.

In the space of a couple of hours, I heard – albeit from only a handful of very eloquent students – that they don’t understand the language we use, though they feel it has negative connotations. They spend their time doing things they don’t particularly want to do, at the behest of others, and feel they have very little say in their education.

I wonder what impact addressing these few issues alone would do to enhance wellbeing across our schools?

And no I’m not only talking about just making sure kids are “ok.”

I’m talking about helping kids to flourish.