School News & Blog

June 18, 2013

Finnish Education — Myths and Realities

A couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture by Professor Fred Durvin at the Education Faculty of the University of Southern Queensland. Professor Durvin is from the University of Helsinki and his area of study is multiculturalism, linguistics and communication. He is a visiting scholar to USQ at the invitation of Professor Patrick Danaher, the acting head of the faculty.

Prof Durvin spoke about the myths and realities of the Finnish education system. His candour and enthusiasm made for a great talk and well worth the drive to Toowoomba on a cold Thursday evening. Plain talking is not easily found in academia but he had it in spades. His talk covered why the PISA system is not a good tool to assess academic ability, how competitive the Finish system really is, how children generally start school in Finland at age two but why these statistics are not recorded and how reporting of bullying and school shootings in Finland is suppressed through the lack of English language reporting.

But in revealing these facts, there was no sense of malice or judgement. He was just setting the record straight. As the author of 20 books while still a youthful 40 year old and as someone who brings a freshness and naturalness to his public speaking, I thought he would be ideal to talk to our senior students at the School of Total Education, so I invited him to visit. I also wanted to see his reaction to our unique Total Education program.

To my surprise and pleasure, and I suspect with the encouragement of Patrick Danaher who accompanied him, he came! And he did not disappoint. The Year 11 and 12 students were really taken with him and his infectious enthusiasm. He didn’t have to give a presentation, they just peppered him with questions, causing him to say to me later “They asked better questions than my colleagues.”

One student asked where he got his passion for his subject from and he answered with his usual candour that it was from his upbringing in a tri-lingual home and wanting to find a country where he belonged and felt happy. He ultimately realised that national identity was not a source of happiness, that all people are the same. It was a wonderful moment of real knowledge for the students.

Prof Durvin was impressed by the School, its design features, its atmosphere and the novel and effective educational approaches. His presence in Queensland is a real credit to the University and to Professor Danaher in particular.