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Archive for August, 2015

First Public Address: An Indulgence

Friday, August 7th, 2015

As one advances in years there is a tendency to more strongly believe the merit of what one has said in ealier years. I don’t see why I should be an exception.

Shortly after I became Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney in 1976, the Museum celebrated its 150th year or sesquicentennial. As is customary in such circumstances there were speeches, exhibitions and other celebratory events.

I gave my first invited public address as Director later that year. The most important point to make, looking back at that time, is not that many in the audience fell asleep, which is unsurprising considering the length of the talk and its didactic style. What is important is that I still hold to many of the same views I expressed then: a concern for the rights of those on the margin, especially indigenous peoples, a belief in the importance of the natural and human environment and a distrust of the actions of many of those in power.

President John F Kennedy, speaking in mid 1963 at the American University in Washington DC (where incidentally President Barrack Obama also chose to speak of the importance of the agreements reached with Iran concerning nuclear non-proliferation) expressed hope for a world where the powerful were just and the weak were safe. Kennedy’s hopes have not been realised.

Notwithstanding the horrors of the present day, the ongoing destruction of the natural environment, the increasing inequality as the powerful grab ever more benefits for themselves, often robbing the citizenry in the process, the refusal by those with major political power to accept the challenge of negotiating for a more just world, the intellectual laziness of many with influence, the persecution of those with different beliefs and backgrounds, I express those hopes also!

I celebrate the innate creativity of the young, the contribution of people in science and the arts and the many who make so many exciting intellectual contributions, those who, as the 2006 Nobel Prizewinner in economics Edmund Phelps says, seek to prosper through mastery of their abilities and those who flourish through their creativity, through fascinating journeys into the unknown. I especially celebrate the courage of those who do accept the challenge to make the world a better place, often by overcoming the terrible challenges which face them in their own lives or the situations they face. What other way is there?

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Finnish History and Schooling: A Perspective from Hannu Simola

Friday, August 7th, 2015

How the school education system works in Finland is something that has attracted a lot of attention over the last decade or more since that country’s 15 year-olds achieved top of the class in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000. It is undoubtedly true that the practices within organisations are significantly influenced by the cultural norms of that country which are in turn significantly influenced by the country’s history. Much of what we know about effective learning at school has come from studies of schools in Finland.

Though Finland’s students, like those of some other countries are no longer in first place in the PISA project, the practices in that country are still of great interest. The most prominent writer on the system is Pasi Sahlberg and his views have appeared recently in books and articles. Of perhaps special interest are his comparisons of the approaches taken in Finland with those of the USA.

There are numerous accounts of Finnish education from educators who have visited. A new book takes an historical approach to how school education is practiced in Finland.

Hannu Simola, until recently Professor of Sociology of Education in the Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, has written the series of essays, some of them with colleagues over an 18 year period to 2011. The Finnish Education Mystery, published as an e-book by Routledge, bring them together. The essays focus on how the nature of Finnish society and political history have influenced Finland’s education system. (A consideration of the reforms in the United States might well be similarly instructive.)

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