Pasi Sahlberg: Britain should be wary of borrowing education ideas from abroad

Writing in the Guardian, Scandi-education guru Pasi Sahlberg says UK policymakers need to be careful of myths about foreign education systems and expresses concern over arguments in favour of market-based education policies…

…This evidence from across OECD countries indicates that market-based education policies are not the best way to improve a country’s educational performance. Similar conclusions are drawn in research on some states in the US, Chile and Sweden, where market solutions have been experimented with in school reforms.

Why, then, are market-based education policies so persistent in today’s education world? One reason is that, with the expanding pool of data and studies funded by various interest groups, it is easy to cherry-pick evidence that supports any chosen policy direction. By selecting information carefully, any education analyst can claim his or her findings as “evidence-based” and justify favourable ideas.

One thing is true. No country should aim to replicate the educational models of others. Finland is no exception. What governments need to get right is the big picture for the educational landscape of their nation. The road to a better education for all our children is not to return to the past but to build schools where curiosity, engagement and talent can be discovered and nurtured. That calls for integrating research-informed international lessons into local needs and capacities…

 

I think what Pasi Sahlberg is actually saying is Britain should be weary of people who are wary of Finland’s education system but (in his opinion) for the wrong reasons. Have I got that right? 

I do find it mildly amusing that we have repeated calls for evidence-based approaches in education, only then to start questioning the value of the evidence used. Ultimately, doesn’t this mean it all ends up being subjective because we chose which ‘evidence’ to pay attention to?

What of the bigger issue at stake here… is there merit in examining systems in other countries and, if they appear to be doing well, how do we know if we could adopt or adapt aspects to work locally?

 

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Comments

  1. What Sahlberg is saying is that some people can use this type of ‘evidence’:
    “Finland has the best education system in Europe.  Finnish students do not wear uniforms.  Therefore, not wearing uniforms will make our education system better.”  This would be cherry-picking.
    ‘Evidence-based’ has to be understood in the same way as it is used in dozens of other professions.  For instance:  “Looking at all the evidence available, the overall picture is that using elements of discussion and cooperative methods will be beneficial.”

  2. Sahlberg is warning against clarion calls to allow market forces into education ie ‘good’ schools expand (how?  With elastic walls?  And how big do they grow before they become ineffective?); ‘bad’ schools close (and pupils have to find places elsewhere);  education can be run by any provider including for-profit firms (Gove said he would allow groups like Serco to run schools).

    But the evidence that market forces improve education is inconclusive and fragmentary and runs the risk of increased segregation: 

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/lsn_faq/do-market-forces-in-education-increase-achievement-and-efficiency/

  3. Sahlberg’s article is in response to a 63-page ‘monograph’ by Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, research director at the Centre for
    the Study of Market Reform of Education (CMRE).  According to Sahlberg, Sahlgren recommends ‘market-based education reform policies’.  (See my comment below)

    Sahlgren is committed to this goal, sometimes called (by its detractors) GERM.  But GERM is a virus which is killing the world’s schools.

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/05/the-germ-a-virus-which-is-killing-the-worlds-schools/

  4. Sahlberg’s article is in response to a 63-page ‘monograph’ by Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, research director at the Centre for
    the Study of Market Reform of Education (CMRE).  According to Sahlberg, Sahlgren recommends ‘market-based education reform policies’.  (See my comment below)

    Sahlgren is committed to this goal, sometimes called (by its detractors) GERM.  But GERM is a virus which is killing the world’s schools.

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/05/the-germ-a-virus-which-is-killing-the-worlds-schools/

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