WorldEduLead 2019: Professor Pasi Sahlberg

Presentation #1: Prof. Sahlberg presented on the building of good schools for each and every child - highlighting the importance of equity in education.

For many years equity has been a rarely discussed theme. Prof. Sahlberg took an historical look at equity, outlining why it is of importance to educators and the impact on children's learning.

Prof. Sahlberg delivered the OECD rankings that were released in December 2019. He questioned the basis of these results and wondered what should be looked at when comparing education systems. This enabled him to raise the importance of equity.

In 1966 James Coleman led a commission in the US on equity in schools. Coleman asked what determines what kids are learning in schools. His conclusion was grim - schools didn't really make a difference on learning, instead birth and community were the major influences.

Effective school movements have focused on strong administration leadership, high expectations, orderly atmosphere, basic skills acquisition, and frequent analysis of student progress. However, the focus tended to neglect the impact of equity and of course, outside influences on learning and education. There was an extremely strong relationship between social advantage and school performance.

Prof. Sahlberg stated that in order for schools to improve there needed to be a combination of quality and equity.

Equity in education measures four main things as identified by UNESCO and the OECD Review of Funding for School (2011). They were:

  • Inclusion

  • Fairness

  • Social Economic Status (SES) / Achievement

  • Resilience

Here they identified the strong relationship between social advantage and school performance. There were also a number of links raised between national and international resilience data.

The highest performing schools are those that combine quality and equity.

The main shift highlighted by Prof. Sahlberg was the need for educators to stop asking...

'How good is Johnny at Maths, Reading and Science' to... 'How is Johnny good at Maths, Reading and Science'.

Presentation #2: Prof. Sahlberg's second presentation focused on the myths/facts associated with education. In some cases these were staggering.

Myth 1: The important single factor in improving the quality of education is teachers - Prof. Sahlberg stated that teachers are the most important 'in school' factor. Most critical are the background/home factors. The influence - 2/3s background; 1/3 school.

Fact 1: Around 9% of variation in student achievement is due to teacher characteristics -This is a good fact to have when we are providing so much teacher professional development. Need to examine many factors and influences besides teacher characteristics.

Myth 2: The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers - this doesn't take into account collaboration and leadership. Some vital variables are missing here.

Other education myths from Finland were also highlighted. In recent times a number of Finnish education myths have been floating around.

  • Subject teaching is not being stopped, instead, children are being more actively engaged in planning and assessment. This is now legally required.

  • Homework has not been banished. Children are still required to complete homework, and the research shows the practice is good for them.

  • Not only the best and the brightest become teachers. All kinds of people are in teaching. The Finnish system is looking at having the right people in the right programmes.

Ben Ward-Smith


Lytton Street School, Feilding

  • Twitter Social Icon
Follow @bwardsmith