Educating the system. Are our leaders simply too proud to learn from other countries?

In Australia we love our pies! Especially those home-made pies that we associate with growing up in Australia. From apple to steak to chicken & veg... served in a firm yet flaky pastry... Mmm ... we love 'em!

Besides this wonderful tradition of pie-making and pie-eating, Australians are also very open to the culinary delights on offer from other countries and cultures. We love to sample, and often embrace, ideas cooked up in other-world kitchens.

But this open-mindedness does not seem to transfer to the way we think about and do education.

Canadian education change expert Michael Fullan has learned from his fifty years of experience that the education systems which stand to gain the most are the ones willing to "go outside to get better inside". He relayed this message to Australian education leaders when he visited in 2013, 2014 and again in 2015.

But despite Fullan's exhortations little has changed. Australian education ministers, and even some state education authorities, still continue to ignore or reject innovative overseas practices which have been proven empirically to be effective. (Practices, which, by the way, are entirely intuitive to those teaching in classrooms).

But often when I suggest to educators that Australia should look at using tried-and- tested recipes from higher-performing countries - for example Finland - they suddenly lose their appetite for more discussion. Even when I provide a range of compelling findings from the OECD PISA tests, or explain how the Finnish education budget delivers much greater outcomes for less outlay, close-minded Aussies are still not tempted.

The number one push-back argument that I receive is this: "Finland is a mono-culture. Australia is multi-cultural with a large number of students with English as a second language. Therefore Finland's test results will be higher and Australia's results will be skewed lower. Therefore what works in Finland will not apply to Australia."

But while that theory might appear plausible, a perusal of Australian students' test results on the OECD PISA website shows that the better scores attained by our new arrivals and first generation Australians actually help to raise our mean scores. In other words, remove our ESL kids and we fall even further behind Finland.

But this post is not about listing all of the Finnish practices and then arguing their merits for Australia's education system. It's about urging our leaders and decision makers to become teachable: to be open to the possibility that their current beliefs on best educational practice might be wrong; to be willing to learn from higher-performing countries and at least entertain the possibility of adopting their ways for our system. Once our leaders take that crucial first step and sit down and sample a small piece of (humble) pie then we can discuss the next course.

In the meantime here are some delicious pie recipes from Finland -

Finnish Blueberry Pie -

Finnish Salmon Pie (known as Lohipiirakka) -

Finnish teachers who are following this page are most welcome to add your comments - or even share some of your traditional Finnish pie recipes with us pie-loving Aussies!

James Phelps