GERM that kills schools: Pasi Sahlberg at TEDxEast


Translator: Tun Min
Reviewer: Ivana Korom Good evening. How are you? (Audience reply) Good. You know I came all the way
from Helsinki, Finland to New York to tell you about the virus that is infecting our school systems
and killing our schools. So, just about ten years ago,
against all the odds, Finland was ranked as a top performing education system
in the world. And this was quite surprising to many
people as we don’t have a kind of competitive education system
with private schools and standardized testing in Finland. We rather have a publicly financed
school system that is providing equal educational opportunity
for everybody free of charge. And we put teacher professionalism
and equity before anything else. And that’s why many people didn’t really
understand how it’s possible that a country like ours could beat
everybody else. Now when I travel around the world,
I often ask people what comes to mind when you think about Finland. I don’t know how many of you
have been there. Can I see a show of hands?
How many have visited Finland? Not too many. But you know, one of the pictures,
the images people have is like this. It’s a country of snow and ice
and sun rarely shines. Sometimes, people tell me maybe this is
exactly the reason why young people are learning so well in my country
because there is nothing else to do. (Laughter) Just go to school and come back
and do your homework. But we are also known for people
who are not very talkative. That’s why offering an opportunity
to a Finn, to give a TED talk is like an oxymoron. (Laughter) You know what I mean?
We don’t really like to talk too much. And you know one of the stories that you hear if you have
a friend from Finland or if you come to Finland
is about a couple who have been married for a long time, 25 years at least. One day, the wife came to her husband and said, “Honey,
why don’t you ever tell me these sweet things that I hear American
and English men tell to their wives like, “I love you” and such things?” And this Finnish man said, “Do you remember when we got married
25 years ago?” and she said, “Of course, I do.” He said, “And I told you that I love you.” And she said, “Yes, I remember that.” Then the man said, “If I change my mind,
I’ll let you know.” (Laughter) But you know, Finland is also known
because of social equality, innovation and high-tech. Angry Birds is one of the things coming
from Finland. Did you know that? (Applause) How many of you have Angry Birds? Yeah. Quite a few. Okay? A couple of months ago, the United Nations
also ranked Finland as one of the happiest folks in the world
together with Denmark. A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking
in a country where people have serious problems with their
education system and I said that Finland has
Angry Birds and happy people. (Laughter) And you know what the reply was? That we have happy birds
but angry people, because of this. (Laughter) Putting into this context,
the story of education is quite – quite difficult to understand
what’s happening there. This is my grandfather. About 98 years ago, he left Finland
like many other people who came here to New York and became American citizens. He went to war. And one of the memories
I have from my grandfather is his appreciation
for American education. You know. One of the things – I could actually mention three things why Finland is doing so well. My presentation is not so much about this. But let me mention three things
why Finland is doing particularly well in education. One of these things is related
to my grandfather really. We have always been open to learn
from other countries. United States has been one of the great
inspirations for Finland. And we have been learning many things
from your school system, from your research institutions
and practitioners, as well. So this openness to learn has been
one key. The second thing is: we have never wanted
to be number one. In Finland, we have put the principle of having good public schools
for everybody, all the children, as a priority before trying to beat
everybody else. And then, thirdly,
we have taken teachers seriously. In other words, we require that everybody,
every teacher must have a Master’s degree. We respect them. We give them autonomy
in the school, and pay them well. And these are some of these things – (Applause) Some of these things are simple things
that we have been doing. But now when I look around the world,
and I have a privilege of traveling in different countries
including the United States, I see quite different things happening
in our school systems unlike those in Finland. That’s why when I compare what’s happening
in one country to another, I find, first of all, that education systems
are very similar around the world. They all look alike today. And also, the reform ideas, the policies that are trying to improve
the education systems are becoming very similar. That’s why I call this movement
“Global Educational Reform Movement.” It’s based on similar ideas,
and it’s like infection. You know, if you take the first letters
of Global Educational Reform Movement, you get the word “GERM.” That’s why by GERM, I mean the virus
that is travelling with politicians, with ministers and consultants
from one country to another, and making school systems feel bad,
makes teachers leave their jobs, and prevents children
from learning things. One of the reasons for this GERM
and its kind of global spread is that things are happening so fast. I came here from the International
Education Conference where the common slogan
was that we have to move and we have to move fast. Okay? Now, I would like to make a little
experiment with you about what can happen if you move too fast. Would you like to do that? Yeah? I’m a school teacher and so I always
try to activate the audience. So this is what I would like
to ask you to do. It’s a very simple thing. Let me ask first how many of you
like mathematics? How many of you like mathematics
in the school? Not too many. I understand. Okay. So what I ask you to do is simply add up
the numbers that you’ll see on the screen, and shout them out. Okay? Think of yourself like watching
your favorite football team playing. All right? You have to shout out loud. All right? I want to hear some noise here. Okay? So the numbers will come here. Just add the previous sum
to the new number that is appearing. It’s a very simple one. I normally do this with the primary school
kids. So you can do it for sure. Okay. (Laughter) Are you ready for this? Audience: Yes! Okay? One, two, three. Audience: A thousand. A thousand forty. Two thousands forty. Past Sahlberg: Now, you can do
much better than this, all right? This is New York. All right? Give me some sound. All right?
Now. Come on! Audience: A thousand. A thousand forty. PS: Louder! Audience: Two thousands forty. Two thousands seventy. Three thousands seventy. Three thousands ninety. Four thousands ninety. Five thousand. (Indistinctive audience talk) [4100] (Laughter) PS: All right. So how much did you get? (Audience talking) How many of you got five thousand? (Laughter) All right. Good. Now three of the things that can happen
when we reform our education systems and you know,
exactly the same thing happens. Three of the symptoms that we can identify
in the GERM just because of these things that you got it wrong. First of all, is competition. That we have idea that we can improve
education systems by insisting that schools and teachers compete
against one another. Right? People believe that we can run school
systems and individual schools by this idea of competition. In a way our schools, when they are
competing, they are in a situation where two friends were when they went
to a forest for hike. And they came to an area where there was
a sign warning them about wild bears. The other guy took his hiking boots off,
and put the running shoes on. And the fellow said, “But you cannot run
faster than a bear.” And he said, “I know. But I want to run
faster than you.” Yeah? (Laughter) This is exactly how the schools operate. The second thing is the increased
stronger accountability for teachers in schools, for the students’ performance.
Right? So if you compete, you have to be
accountable for something. There’s a choice and autonomy
but teachers and schools are held increasingly accountable
for students’ test scores. And often, we are using standardized
test data to do this. In Finland, we understand – actually
our definition for accountability – accountability is something that is left
when responsibility is taken away. All right? Accountability is something that is left
when responsibility is subtracted. So that’s why in my country we speak
much more about responsibility rather than accountability. And then the third symptom
of Global Education Reform Movement is standardization of education. We standardize everything: teaching
and learning, and performance of teachers and schools, and so on. And that’s why we end up
in a narrowing curriculum and focusing on preparing teachers
and people for the tests. So you know, if we are following these three ideas
of Global Education Reform Movement, this is what is making school systems
feel bad and also making many teachers leave the schools and preventing children from learning
what we expect them to learn. Now what is happening
in the healthy school systems that have remained immune from this
Global Education Reform Movement? I argue that Finland is one of those
school systems where we don’t have these symptoms that I mentioned. Let me tell you about my niece here. She’s now 26 years old. And I’m showing her picture
because in Finland, to be a teacher is one of the most wanted professions. You remember Helen Fisher was talking
about the mate choice. In Finland, if you want to increase your
probability of finding a partner in a mating market, you become a teacher. Everybody wants to marry a teacher. Okay? And she called me six or seven years ago,
and said, “Uncle, I’ve decided to become a primary school teacher.” She was a straight A student
in the high school. She was doing everything
that good young person can do, playing piano, doing sports,
and all these things. And she wanted to go to primary school
teacher education in my university. She asked me, “What should I do?”
and I said, “Nothing. Just go there
and they will take you because you are just a perfect person
for being a teacher.” Three months later, she called me in tears
saying, “They didn’t take me.” And I said, “What happened?” And she said, “I went all the way
to the final panel where the professors
were interviewing me.” And I said, “What was the most
difficult question that they asked?” And she said, “They asked me,
‘Why are you here?’ Why do you want to be a teacher?'” And I said, “What did you say?” And she said, “Because my mother
is a teacher, my uncle is a teacher, my grandfather is a teacher,
and I love children.” And that’s not enough because they wanted
to know what is her deeper drive for becoming a teacher. So if you wonder what happened to her
afterwards, she came back again next year. She was accepted and now graduated
to be a primary school teacher. And she went to teach in a very difficult
school with special needs children. This is her first year of teaching. And this is what I call “a hero teacher”, Somebody who wants to work
with children like this. So she’s my niece. This is what happens
in the standardized classroom. This is one of my favorite cartoons
if you look at this. You know, this is what
various classrooms look like. All these children are different, yeah? But if you have a standardized
procedure to do things, you can’t really expect
anything but a failure. How do you think this gold fish feels
about the task of climbing the tree? So this is a classroom where my niece
is teaching now in Helsinki. You cannot standardize. Everybody in Finland understands
that standardization is the worst enemy of creativity and innovation in school. So what can we do to kill the GERM or prevent our schools
[from being] infected? I think we need to think
about three things really. The first one of them is we have to
reconsider the talent and how we can help our students and pupils understand
the meaning of imagination and the value of using their own minds
for their own good. I have proposed that we should put
defining everybody’s own talents as the first priority in the school, the task, the call
of the education system in the future. The more we standardize education
in our schools, the less this is likely to happen. The second one is the time that we have
to rethink the meaning of time in school. I often hear from ministers and educators
that if only I had more time to teach mathematics,
kids would learn that. Somebody said earlier today
the Einstein’s definition for insanity – that you keep on doing the same things
over and over again and expect different results. That’s insane, yeah? So it’s not about how much time do we have
or how much homework do we do, but what do we do with this time
that we have with our children. And I think that Finland has been
quite good with this. Thirdly, I think we have to rethink
the role of technology. The wonderful presentations
by Beth and others about what we are facing in the future
are good signs of this. I think we are now already living
in the time where children have much more advanced technology
in their pockets and bags than they have in their schools. And there’s no way back. A couple of months ago, I saw
a presentation at TED by Sherry Turkle. Where she was talking about
how we are connected to this technology, but we still remain alone. And I think she’s right. We have to focus much more on helping
people to be with one another – with a social contact
and try to understand who they are, try to integrate
the technology into schools. 45 years ago, in this city, Dr. King was talking about the necessity
to stop the war. And he said that time comes
when silence is betrayal. When I look at education around the world,
I think the time is now. We have to stop blaming teachers
and schools for something that is beyond their control and reach. I think confrontation is not a solution. Lessons from Finland show to us all that none of these things
are outside of our reach but whether we do this or not
remains a moral question. Our future depends on our action today. So I invite you
to join this movement with me. Thank you. (Applause)

22 Replies to “GERM that kills schools: Pasi Sahlberg at TEDxEast”

  1. too bad our government can't see the merit in this system! Are you listening Mr. Wall? It's not too late to stop following the mistakes of the Albertan American wanna-bes.

  2. Let's become competitive with the top world schools.  We are spending $3,000 more a yr. per kid than the world's top school system.  We can do it.

  3. Sorry, That was a quote from u.s. pres. Obama. It w as s w/ regard to increasing our students knowledge levels. The discussion acknowledged possibility our future success in this area by implementing and enhancing U.S.teaching methods from ideas which are successful currently in the top world schools.

  4. Best talk I've ever heard about education, and I've been a teacher for 17 years, and I've heard quite a lot….

  5. i like his presentation about the germs that might hit the education, now i am in finland as refugee and we started to see violence in street against refugees!!, does it the result of that GERM, or related with quick learning from the others?

  6. Great talk! What I especially love about this talk is the mentioning of talent. Nowadays we heard more about only teaching everyone doing the same things and we forget that we are unique. Everyone have talents. We need to bring them out and nurture and develop them and not suppress them with everyone having the same standardized goal.

  7. Like most others, you confuse standardized tests with standardized persons. If the entire zoo is in a common class, then they need to take a common test, period. Just because some will fail at a specific class, does not mean they are less of an animal. It just means that a fish can't climb a tree, or a teacher can't teach an old dog new tricks. It does not mean you are not who you are. You're just in the wrong class. You sound like the sloth who's looking for any class that's easy to graduate by birth-right without learning anything. You don't need school for that.

  8. Finland has good schools because the school kids are white. Just wait 10 years when all the imagrants that have an IQ of 75 have kids and the kids hate white good luck teaching them.

  9. Hello, i'm teacher from Indonesia and very interested about this presentation. I think Indonesian people must see this in their language. May i help to give translate to Indonesian language?

  10. Enroll millions of immigrants from Africa, Mid-East, Central America in your schools, see if they do as well as native Finnish students do, and then you’ll need to lower your standards or these students will get disproportionately lower grades, and their parents will rise up in the streets, cause riots, claiming discrimination.

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