Finland is the subject of much myth-making. It’s performance in the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) in the early 2000s made Finland the preeminent destination for education tourists. Unlike the East Asian countries that also perform well in PISA, Finland gives the impression of having achieved its success with a more progressive approach. These arguments were revisited recently when Pasi Sahlberg, a former director of the Finnish education system, was appointed to a post at the University of New South Wales.
However, all is not quite as it seems. The 15-year-olds who sat PISA tests in 2006 began their schooling in the 1990s and Finland’s approach has gradually changed over time. It is an error to look at what Finland is doing now and conclude that this is responsible for past gains. That would involve time travel. Moreover, when education tourists visit Finland, they have often been surprised to find teaching that is relatively didactic and traditional. Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment in the U.K. has written about these issues.
In recent years, Finland’s performance in PISA has significantly declined, a fact that is often overlooked by its cheerleaders in academia and the press. This may be due to Finland’s adoption of new approaches to teaching and learning.
Now there are signs that these new approaches are also taking their toll on Finland’s school principals. According to a piece in The Educator Australia, Finnish principals are facing burn-out. One of the reasons, according to Antti Ikonen, the head of the Finnish Association of Principals, is new practices:
“Ikonen said that increasing digitalization, the need to find more ‘active’ ways of learning and recognising individual student needs are tasks that demand more from the country’s school leaders.”
This is not a surprise. The adoption of methods based upon the educational philosophy of progressivism are always likely to increase workloads.