The NSW Government recently hosted an Education Symposium with the keynote speaker being Pasi Sahlberg, the former Director General of Education in Finland.
Sahlberg (to the opening riffs of Stairway to Heaven) painted a snapshot of NSW in an international context.
The frame was somewhat different to what might readily come to mind. The global themes were:
- Wellbeing, health and happiness
- Equity and inclusion
- Big data shows correlations, and
- Small data
Sahlberg postulated that wellbeing, health and happiness are key factors in sustaining a system of schools. Australian measurement of student ‘happiness’ is fractionally ahead of the OECD average.
Importantly, the twin notions of equity and inclusion were the key determinants of whether a system of schools could transition to a higher level. Funding based on need is the core ingredient in achieving such a transition.
Critically, Sahlberg pointed out that big data (think Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA] and NAPLAN) shows correlations. It does not provide a comprehensive understanding of what schools achieve within a particular context.
The zone of most interest was small data – described as being “tiny clues found in schools that can uncover important relationships about teaching and learning”.
This can also be referred to as teacher professional judgement: that special process whereby an understanding of where a particular student is at is determined by the teacher. Collectively, schools can provide valid judgements.