23 SES 02 D, Democratisation and Autonomy
This paper discusses some significant side-effects produced by the idea of ‘Finnish excellence’ in education. When combined with other socio-historical discourses, the international and national branding of Finnish education and the accompanying ideas of exceptionalism, appears to produce certain conditions for addressing Finnish teachers and education system. In this paper, we argue that these understandings may also work to foreclose critical introspection.
The Finnish education system has been internationally acclaimed for producing high academic outcomes in international comparisons, most notably in PISA by OECD. The Finnish success is commonly attributed to high level teacher training (M.Ed, four years in the University), highly selective teacher training (roughly 10% become selected) to high respect for teachers in the society, and to teacher autonomy as professional experts. There are no official control mechanisms: no obligatory teaching journal, no school inspectorates, no standardized testing, no obligatory teaching material and a very loose national curriculum. (Hoffman et al., 2015; Ingram, 2017; Kivirauma & Ruoho, 2007; Morgan, 2014; Sahlberg, 2011; Schatz, Popovic, & Dervin, 2017; Simola, 2005; Simola, 2008; Simola, Rinne, Varjo, Pitkanen, & Kauko, 2009; Stephen, Bangs, Sage, & Crossland, 2006)
In the past decade, the idea of “Finnish excellence” has become developed and shared nationally as well as internationally (Darling-Hammond 2017; Niemi et al 2012). Internationally, the ‘Finnish model’ provides a sense of hope to educators struggling with high stakes testing and increasingly limited autonomy. Essentially, it makes a case against market-oriented education systems, against the new public management driven accountability regimes and the de-professionalization with which many struggle and the Finnish case has produced hope to many as a viable counter-case. Nationally, in turn, the international acclaim followed by the first PISA-results secured the independent position of schools and educational practitioners for over a decade. After PISA, educators could carry on their work in peace, without external pressure to change anything. They had been deemed ‘the best in the world’. As such, Finnish education has become a brand and an export.
At the same time, there may be unintended side effects to the discourse of Finnish excellence. Discourses ‘do things’ in the surroundings within which they emerge (Foucault, 1972). Discourses, as regimes of truth (Foucault, 1980), produce what can be thought of a true or untrue, desirable or undesirable, legitimate or illegitimate. Taking up a discourse analytic perspective, we therefore wish to trace the effects of the discourse of the excellence of Finish education and teachers. What might it mean to be discursively positioned as ‘best in the world’? How does that enable oneself to make sense of oneself and what one does? How does the discourse of excellence play out in everyday interactions between Finnish educators, and how does it position the various actors involved in Finnish education? What does it become possible and impossible, legitimate and illegitimate to say?
This paper looks at the Finnish context in a way in which it is rarely seen. It presents how the praise and positive ethos, the promotion and branding of an educational system both internally and internationally, may end up working against efforts to critique the system. It may work together with other discourses to contribute to self-sufficient, conservative, and ‘closed-minded’ practices, where various forms of questioning or dissent are considered a danger. This negative effect remains invisible because it is an unwanted one. In the current national and international climate in education, Finland represents hope for many. In this paper we argue that representing hope in itself may have implicit and unintended harmful consequences.
The material we draw on comes from ethnographic observations made by the first author, a teacher educated Finnish researcher, over a period of about 10 years (2007-2016). It is not an ethnographic study as such, as there was never a fully conceptualized study looking at the dynamics and effects that we examine here. Rather, she made notes of the observations when they occurred in the flow of her everyday life of facilitating workshops or just chatting to colleagues because they intrigued or troubled her at the time. We call them ethnographic observations though, as we consider them observations made among the ethnos of Finnish educators. While several more observations were made, we have chosen to present 5 vignettes because we find that each of them capture discursive dynamics present in the larger body of material, and they will allow us to focus of 5 disparate dynamics, which all contribute to a foreclosure of critique. We subject the vignettes to a discourse analytic approach that is concerned to interrogate the ‘regimes of truth’ at play in the statements and to examine what those regimes of truth make possible and impossible to say, to feel, to think and to do. The material thus consists of ethnographic observations, which we have shaped into the form of vignettes. A vignette is a small literary sketch, which needs to depict the context of the statement (or action or silence, as it were), give a sense of the atmosphere, and also within a small space present a significant moment. To do so, we often quote what was said verbatim, but have omitted and changed anything that could point to the identity of the people involved. The point of the vignette is to present something (a statement, an action, etc.) that is simultaneously specific and local, but that can be understood by others who were not present or not even familiar with the specifics of the context.
As the outcomes of this study, we present five vignettes. The titles for the five vignettes are, respectively: “Unquestionably among the best”; ”Now say something positive, please”; ”I believe in the Finnish teacher!”; ”We already know how to co-operate”; “I’m so envious, you are a teacher; you are allowed to say things”; and “Thank you for not being arrogant”. While each of the vignettes illustrate different and specific dynamics, the overarching analysis of the vignettes shows that the discourse of Finnish excellence and especially of the excellence of Finnish teachers is not so much imposed on teachers but actively taken up by them in the production of themselves as teacher subjects. At the same time, despite all the celebrated teacher freedom, the subject positions available to teachers within these discourses may be quite limited. We show how the notion of excellence in various ways forecloses critique or critical introspection, or suggestions that practices may be extended or changed. We also show the production of discursive binaries such a being ‘with us or against us’, being an ‘insider or an outsider’, being ‘a believer or a non-believer’. These may come together to produce a self-sufficient system in which dissent is perceived as a danger, and which is suspicious of ‘outsiders’ (or what is discursively produced and positioned as ‘outsider’).
References (400 words) Darling-Hammond, L. (2017): Teacher education around the world: What can we learn from international practice?, European Journal of Teacher Education, DOI:10.1080/02619768.2017.1315399 Hoffman, D. M., Pöyhönen, S., Cools, C., Stikhin, A., Habti, D., Siekkinen, T., & Sama, T. (2015). Aspiration, achievement and abandonment in 'the world's best country': Merit and equity or smoke and mirrors? Coolabah, (17), 1-76. Ingram, L. G. (2017). A U.S. teacher's perspective on the finnish education system. District Administration, 53(1), 84-84. Kivirauma, J., & Ruoho, K. (2007). Excellence through special education? lessons from the finnish school reform. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft, 53(3), 283-302. doi:10.1007/s11159-007-9044-1 Morgan, H. (2014). Review of research: The education system in finland: A success story other countries can emulate. Childhood Education, 90(6), 453-457. doi:10.1080/00094056.2014.983013 Niemi, H., Toom, A., & Kallioniemi, A. (Eds.). (2012). Miracle of education: The principles and practices of teaching and learning in finnish schools. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons : What can the world learn from educational change in finland. New York: Teachers College Press. Schatz, M., Popovic, A., & Dervin, F. (2017). From PISA to national branding: Exploring finnish education®. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(2), 172-184. doi:10.1080/01596306.2015.1066311 Simola, H. (2005). The finnish miracle of PISA: Historical and sociological remarks on teaching and teacher education. Comparative Education, 41(4), 455-470. doi:10.1080/03050060500317810 Simola, H. (2008). Understanding the miracle of PISA: Historical and sociological remarks on finnish teacherhood. Education & Society, 26(1), 5-23. Simola, H., Rinne, R., Varjo, J., Pitkanen, H., & Kauko, J. (2009). Quality assurance and evaluation (QAE) in finnish compulsory schooling: A national model or just unintended effects of radical decentralisation? Journal of Education Policy, 24(2), 163-178. doi:10.1080/02680930902733139 Stephen, A., Bangs, J., Sage, A., & Crossland, D. (2006). Does any country get ten out of ten? New Statesman, 135(4782), 35-37.
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