European Schoolnet’s annual EMINENT conference took place 4-5 December in cold Helsinki, but the atmosphere was warm. The tone was set by the Finnish minster of education, Krista Kiuri, speaking without notes the day after the OCED PISA results were published, so she had been very busy with the media, explaining why Finland was no longer ‘top dog’ in the rankings.
At EMINENT Krista Kiuri was concerned about boys’ under-achievement, pointedly asking: “What are we going to do about the boys?” implying that schools as they are are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly and raising the question of what a male-friendly pedagogy might look like. She also memorably talked about too many classrooms being like aeroplanes – where all electronic devices have to be turned off in flight. One of the key answers (there are ‘no simple answers’) to how to raise performance levels is to trust teachers. “Money doesn’t fix today’s problems,” she said, “society does.” She also argued that fewer hours in school can be better; even now children don’t start school until they are seven in Finland and they spend fewer hours in school than almost all other countries.
Interestingly she said that when she was young (not so long ago: she is 39), ‘school was my social media’, but that in some ways ‘school has now lost credibility’ because young people don’t have to be in the same place to keep in touch thanks to social media and being ‘always on’, but even so, she reminded us, social mobility happens only through school; without good schools many children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds never have a chance to fulfil their potential.
Ms Kiuri was among the most interesting and challenging ministers of education I’ve heard. And a testimony to the excellence of the education system of which she is a product.
Roger Blamire, ex-teacher and currently senior adviser at European Schoolnet.