PLC science teacher, Sabrina Earsman, had the opportunity to attend a course organised by the University of Helsinki, Finland, over the September 2017 holiday break.

The purpose of the course was to demonstrate some of the approaches, principles, and strategies that have made the Finnish education system exceptionally successful. Sabrina’s particular interest was Finnish assessment strategies and how these strategies contributed to student learning.

The transformation of the Finnish education system began 40 years ago as a key component of the country's economic recovery plan. Educators did not realise the extent of their success until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a standardised test given to 5-year-olds in more than 40 global venues) revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in Mathematics. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in Science achievement (Hancock, 2011).

The Finnish system places emphasis on developing a child's self-esteem and wellbeing. Healthy eating, exercise, nutrition and managing mental health are all considered important skills to learn at school.

During a Primary School visit, a Principal explained that children are encouraged to "be children", and non-structured play time is valued for its contribution to the building of character, self-worth and interpersonal skills. She also talked about self-paced learning, an approach to schooling that allowed the children to take their time to consolidate their own learning, without it overwhelming them.

In addition, teachers are encouraged to teach the way they consider most appropriate for their students and are trusted to be experts in their field. The use of fluid learning environments, such as going out to the forest to consolidate a Mathematical concept, is encouraged and normative.

Sabrina has an interest in the use of assessment tools and how these tools contribute to student learning. The Finnish schooling system considers that one role of basic education is to develop the students’ capabilities for self-assessment. This supports the growth of self-knowledge and effective study skills and helps students become aware of their progress and preferred learning methods.

Continuous assessment provides guidance to help students in their learning process; in contrast to other educational pedagogies that consider assessment to be a tool to compare student achievement. This again reinforces student self-esteem and helps students take ownership of their learning.

This experience has been both encouraging and thought-provoking. Encouraging because it has validated many of the practices we follow at PLC, especially the role of excellent student­-teacher relationships and the emphasis on personalised teaching and student wellbeing. On the other hand, it has sparked some very interesting conversations in the Science department, where teaching staff have been able to reflect on their own pedagogy and assessment strategies.

This experience has further validated our methods for student self-assessment and peer-assessment, empowering us to continue to be creative in our search for diversity of assessment practices. In particular, encouraging us to consider teaching strategies that may seem unconventional, such as the use of fluid learning environments and project based learning to explore or consolidate scientific concepts.

- Chris Robinson, Head of Staff

Pictured below: Sabrina Earsman during a Science Week activity at PLC

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