"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Technology Group Visits Scandinavian Schools

There are a number of glaring contrasts that stand out in this piece, with trust/autonomy vs. policing/ accountability, and social welfare vs. laissez faire capitalism, as the most prominent to me.

Perhaps it is the privatizers, corporate welfare artists, and denigrators of civic commitment who are the ones who have turned back the clock on realizing a free and democratic America based on equity and excellence? Ya think?

From ESchool News:
Mon, Mar 03, 2008
U.S. educators seek lessons from Scandinavia
High-scoring nations on an international exam say success stems from autonomy, project-based learning
By Meris Stansbury, Assistant Editor, eSchool News

Primary Topic Channel: Cross-cultural communication

A delegation led by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently toured Scandinavia in search of answers for how students in that region of the world were able to score so high on a recent international test of math and science skills. They found that educators in Finland, Sweden, and Denmark all cited autonomy, project-based learning, and nationwide broadband internet access as keys to their success.

What the CoSN delegation didn’t find in those nations were competitive grading, standardized testing, and top-down accountability—all staples of the American education system.

As CoSN officials explained during a webcast held Feb. 27, the delegation traveled to Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen to talk with the ministries of education in each country and exchange ideas with local business and school leaders.

The group’s goal was to learn how these countries are approaching education, reaching students, involving teachers, and implementing policy. Specifically, CoSN wanted to see how strategic investment in information and communications technology (ICT) was affecting education in the region.

As in the United States, most Scandinavian classrooms are connected to the internet, students and teachers have access to computers, and there is an ample supply of online learning resources and virtual-schooling programs. However, according to Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive, ICT in that area of the world “is supportive of programs, rather than a driving force, and is viewed as important primarily to ensure students’ success in their future careers.”

Kati Tuurala, Microsoft’s education manager in Finland—whose students scored the highest in both math and science on the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)—said there is a “huge change in the knowledge economy because of the global market. In order to ensure future success, we need to know how to go from good to great.”

She credits Finland’s success to its major reforms of the 1970s, which included an emphasis on primary education for everyone in the country. “That’s the reason for our present-day success,” Tuurala said.

In all three countries, students start formal schooling at age seven after participating in extensive early-childhood and preschool programs focused on self-reflection and social behavior, rather than academic content. By focusing on self-reflection, students learn to become responsible for their own education, delegates said.

Barbara Stein, manager of external partnerships and advocacy for the National Education Association, said Scandinavian countries “encourage philosophical thought at a very young age. … Grading doesn’t happen until the high-school level, because they believe grading takes the fun out of learning. They want to inspire continuous learning.”

In fact, educators and policy makers in all three countries view accountability and assessment far differently than in the United States, delegates said. In contrast to the focus on quantitative measures and standardized testing found in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Scandinavian officials rely on a system that produces highly competent teachers who use their professional expertise to work with each student and develop individualized learning plans.

“My teacher” and “the teacher” are terms of respect, not only when used by the students, but also by the school leader or headmaster. The teacher is most often viewed as a mentor, someone who has both knowledge and wisdom to impart and plays a key role in preparing students for adulthood.

In Finland, for instance, teaching is one of the most highly venerated professions in the country—and only one in eight applicants to teacher-education programs are accepted. All teachers there have a master’s degree.

Unlike in the United States, which has taken the opposite approach, Scandinavian countries have established national curriculum standards but have set fairly broad mandates, letting authority trickle down as close to the classroom as possible. Local school officials have the flexibility to provide education services according to their students’ unique needs and interests, as long as the basic policy framework is followed.

Therefore, teachers are extremely autonomous in their work. So are students. For example, internet-content filtering in the three countries is based largely on a philosophy of student responsibility. Internet filters rarely exist on school computers, other than for protection from viruses or spam. As a school librarian in Copenhagen said, “The students understand that the computers are here for learning.”

Julie Walker, executive director of the American Association of School Librarians, said these countries see students as having “the filter in their heads.”

Walker also noted that while “the U.S. holds teachers accountable for teaching, here they hold the students accountable for learning.”

One school that delegates visited in Copenhagen, Katrinedalsskolen, has students become independent learners working across curricular areas. Students stay with one teacher or mentor from grades one through nine, moving freely about the building—which is centered around the school library, or “pedagogical center.”


In the Danish system, the notion of grading is a foreign concept, with competitive grading postponed until high school. Students are judged in relation to their own growth, rather than that of others, and they are continuously evaluated. Teachers also write individual learning plans for each student after these evaluations.

Project-based learning begins in the first grade, and teachers work with students to structure their learning through a process described by one educator as “dialogue and trust.” Assessment is achieved primarily through a dialogue with each student, as is communication with parents about their child’s progress.

Exams tend to be limited as exit criteria to grade nine, along with a project-based assignment that requires students to plan, research, present, and create around a broad theme.

Finland, which does not use standardized exams, reformed its educational system in the 1990s to remove the European school inspectorate system of accountability. According to Walker, “Students use progressive inquiry and are educated through questions and problem solving.”

The change occurred because teachers felt the system stifled them and hindered creativity in the classroom.

One school in Helsinki, Aurinkolahti School, believes that learning should let children “have fun and know the joy of life.” Educational technology is used to create a community of learners who build knowledge together.

ICT abroad

It’s important to note that in all three countries, neither abject poverty nor ostentatious wealth are manifest, webcast participants heard. This is owing to strong traditions of social programs that provide young people and their families with a robust support system. “Therefore,” explained Krueger, “there is no great digital divide like in the U.S.”

About 98 percent of homes in all three countries have computers and broadband internet connections. The communities in all three countries also frequently have media centers where students and teachers can receive help from qualified professionals.

Because of this high degree of home connectivity, Sweden has decided that the government is not in charge of implementing technology in its schools.

So, home connectivity does not necessarily translate into widespread, sophisticated use of ICT in schools. Said Krueger, “We did not hear expressions about the need to make a deep-level change in the nature and structure of schooling in the three countries … nor did we get the sense that ICT was provoking efforts to reconstruct the nature and role of school in an extensively wired society.”

However, connectivity for all schools is still a goal in Denmark, and its widespread implementation is encouraged through district competitions for winning technology prizes. Denmark also has a national social-networking portal and is a leader in terms of Web 2.0 applications.

Yet, none of the three countries has implemented classroom technology to the scale of the United States. Said Ann Flynn, director of educational technology for the National School Boards Association, “Technology is less visible in all classrooms—technology such as whiteboards, student response systems, students laptops—they’re just more focused on personal productivity.”

Technology tools, such as computers, have been given primarily to teachers as a way of supporting their instruction—but there are few student-focused ICT initiatives, such as one-to-one computing programs. . . .


  1. Bringing Education to the 21st Century-A Policy Platform

    Do we really think that by doing what we have been doing for the last 100 years is going to all of sudden change the interest children have in school and stop the alarming dropout rates being experienced throughout the United States? There is something critically wrong with the existing structure that is built around the adult’s perceived needs vs. the needs a child brain has, especially in their early years. The problems with early education can be solved not by blaming teachers and school administration but rather by looking at the structure of the stimuli we offer our children. Let’s look at some facts that point to these issues.
    • America has moved forward throughout our history because we have freedom. We have prepared our youth to think for themselves, and to have the motivation and the willingness to take the risk to follow their own convictions. Today it is the group, not the individual that has the focus.
    • The context of what is offered as curricula is by in large focused on what can be presented in a book and on a blackboard. What is offered today is academic content that is not typically useful to the students outside the classroom.
    • All children are born with 100 billion brain cells and a child can lose as much as 30% of their brain cells if they are not ignited by age 6/7. The brain cells are ignited only by what the child’s brain finds to be necessity for preservation and of interest to the future endeavors of the individual. The brain will not remember what it does not consider to be of interest and use. Each child’s brain is different and fantasy and useless information will not find its way into long term memory.
    • Learning requires that a child must be able to proceed at their own pace and see that they are making progress toward their own goals. Learning requires that a child finds their way into a successful place in the real world. Today this requires more than today’s linear structure of class organization by subjects such as English and Math. Skill development requires integration of many fields of knowledge structured that provides for automated critical thought.

    How are these Issues corrected?
    • First the focus must turn from group learning toward the specific focus on the individual. This can be done by understanding individual’s needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses on a real time basis and then providing the stimuli that can grow the individual, filling the potholes necessary for success.
    • Curricula that are provided to the child must allow the child to see the purpose, value and personal benefit to be realized from learning –not being entertained or discouraged by present curricula.
    • Modern multimedia technology must replace the book as the primary teaching tool used in the classroom. The book requires linear lines of communication with the requirement that the student remember a number of facts, which by in large have limited interest or use to the child. Further 3 out of 4 textbooks found in today’s classrooms are published by foreign owned companies who have no interest in the education change needed in America.
    • Parents must take a more active role in their child’s early education. By the time a child enters school their brain has been 85% wired which represents the thinking abilities and areas of interest a child has. Do not expect a teacher to fill in the blanks it is a neurological impossibility.
    • Washington State has thousands or wonderfully able and committed teachers. They need better tools to do the job they love. Those tools must provide the teacher with real time information, not historical tests, to allow them to help each child with their varying yet individual needs.
    • Teachers need to be paid more as they are able to demonstrate their ability to take their classes to a 100% level of mastery of all subjects.

  2. so when do these people start talking about adopting their tax system and the services they have in place for the less fortunate?