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'Change is good if you don’t need to worry about failure': Pasi Sahlberg on Finland's curriculum overhaul

In the 30 October issue of TES, teacher Lisa Pettifer travels to Finland to explore the curriculum changes occurring. Here, leading Finnish educationalist Pasi Sahlberg gives his view on her article

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In the 30 October issue of TES, teacher Lisa Pettifer travels to Finland to explore the curriculum changes occurring. Here, leading Finnish educationalist Pasi Sahlberg gives his view on her article

This is an edited version of an article in the 30 October 2015 edition of TES. To read the full article, subscribe to TES

Reports about education in Finland or any other country are often just a snapshot of visible aspects of schools, teachers and students. Many stories that have been told about Finland lack deeper understanding of what goes on in Finnish schools and classrooms. What can you expect after a short visit to a strange country by someone who is not an experienced educator?

Some of these stories rave about excellent teachers, beautiful buildings and relaxed atmospheres in Finnish schools. Other stories confirm the writer’s prejudices and beliefs about Finnish education. Then there are those who manufacture new myths about successful education using Finnish schools as a springboard.

Lisa Pettifer writes as if she’s writing her journal. She is able to catch something authentic of the life in Finnish schools. It is indeed that spirit of professionalism, collectivity and enthusiasm that distinguishes the culture of Finnish schools from many others, including those in England.

Finland’s curriculum system is not very easy to put in words. Each school is in charge of designing and maintaining  own curriculum, and these practices vary from one school to another. This story shows that Finns tolerate more uncertainty, experimentation and failure in education than most other countries. In Finland failure precedes success, rather than being its opposite. Change is good if you don’t need to worry about failure.

Pasi Sahlberg has worked as a teacher, a teacher educator, a researcher and a policy adviser in Finland. He is currently a visiting professor of practice at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education

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