The Finnish educational system has become famous worldwide during the last decade. The reason: OECDs PISA tests, where Finland, along with Hong Kong and Korea, has topped the charts. To maintain that position and, perhaps more importantly, preparing today’s school kids for the future the governing institutions are now doing their best to tackle what is seen as a great lack in the pedagogical practices of Finnish teachers, namely the use of ICT as part of their teaching. ICT – Information and communication technologies – is a broad concept. In this case it refers mainly to computers and mobile devices of any kind that can be used in the service of education. Devices that use digital means of storing and transferring information, one should perhaps add.
I’ve been reading an official report and plan that was recently put forth by the Ministry of Education. The plan goes under the name ”Koulutuksen tietoyhteiskuntakehittäminen 2020” (yes, it’s a long word that liberally translates to Information society development in education 2020, ISDE for short). I decided to bring forth two points that may interest readers outside Finland working with these matters.
1. Technical infrastructure first. Looking at PISA results the most striking thing about the Finnish school seen in a international perspective is the small differences in performance between students. They are all pretty good, no matter what school, social background etc. What the ISDE brings to light however is a great difference between the ICT infrastructure between schools. Thus conclusion number one: If ICT is to play a greater role in learning in the future, these differences have to evened out, or the overall result will suffer. It’s not stated in this manner in the report, but obvious nonetheless. The report states that the solutions should be technically transparent, open, economically feasible and ecological.
There are fairly simple reasons for the differences that are reported. In Finland, as in many places, the school and local municipal IT -departments have had the responsibility for the schools. On a municipal level, schools don’t have very high priority when it comes to ICT, compared to other social services. Specifically school tailored solutions have been rare indeed.
Can a company like Opinsys offer what is needed in our case here? Probably at least to some extent. Some of our customers are already in the situation where they have to rethink how to spend their ICT -allocated money, because the amount reserved for the basic infrastructure is more than is needed with the system they receive. Our Linux -based service costs less per workstation (computer) than the traditional system. Which, by the way, brings us to the next point.
2. Imagine that you had just realized that in order to take the next step in pedagogical development, teachers should use white, selfmade doctors’ clothes while teaching. You’re wise enough to see that without proper training they won’t start sewing their own trousers, skirts and jackets. So you put each and everyone on a sewing course, probably online to save some travel costs. Will they start sewing and wearing the stuff as intended. You hope they wouldn’t don’t you? And not primarily because it would look dreadful, but because they don’t have a good reason for it. And teachers should have good reasons for doing what they do.
The ISDE (rightly, I think) sees the greatest challenge in bringing about a more fundamental change in the culture of the schools that would support the use of ICT as a pedagogical tool. How this is to be done is a somewhat obscure matter. When reading the report I can’t but get the feeling that ICT is seen as a magic wand that no-one really knows how to wield in any meaningful manner, but everyone agrees that is has tremendous power and some vague ideas about what it can do. No doubt it is a tool that can be put to good use, but like the white clothes in the example above, the real reason needs to be conveyed on a personal level. What is needed in this world and more specifically in the schools, and can ICT support that? Way too much emphasis is put on future needs of which none are real, only assumptions (the changes in working life, for example).
For the most part, teachers know this. Which is why they are more interested in doing something that changes their present moment. We take this into account when we develop our service. For my own part it means doing my best to teach the use of new tools in a participatory way, so that teachers get to do something that they feel is right. For our technical staff it means developing tools that are easy to use, reliable and scalable. For our support and sales it’s something else and so on.
Education is interesting. Everyone has some experience of it that colours their opinions. It’s hard not to let those opinions become the truth of the matter. Also, it concerns everybody how education is arranged, since it forms the society. I think for one to be successful in this matter, it would be wise to see that you cannot change the future with the use of ICT. Instead teachers should use it to better see the present, that’s where the learning takes place.