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Dr. Sahlberg speaks about educational reform in Salisbury’s Riall lecture


Staff Writer

Pasi Sahlberg, professor of practice at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, was this semester’s Riall Lecture series speaker on March 22.

The series began in 1988 from the contributions of E. Pauline Riall. Ms. Riall served as both a teacher and principal at Salisbury University from 1929 to 1969.

The lecture series is designed to bring inspiration to Salisbury’s education students, and to positively impact the overall future of education.

“It is very emotional, and every time I leave more inspired to become a teacher,” junior Candace Boettcher said.

Sahlberg is the author of “Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland?” and spoke about improvements he feels the U.S. can make in education. The interactive lecture allowed students to participate by answering various questions.

The lecture focused on why some education systems struggle and others succeed and began with a simple demonstration.

Sahlberg tasked the audience with finding the sum of the series of numbers that appeared one at a time. Although it sounded easy enough, the crowd almost unanimously answered incorrectly.

Sahlberg used this as an example to try and show that people make mistakes on both simple and complex issues. If one person makes a mistake, he said, it is more likely that others will follow.

The professor said he attributes some of the struggles in American and European education reform to this phenomenon.

The nations, he said, have followed similar reform methods, and both lag behind the world’s top systems.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, Finland ranked No. 1 in the world in reading (2000), mathematics (2003) and science (2006).

The remainder of the lecture focused on why some systems thrive with Sahlberg citing cooperation, creativity, trust based responsibility, professionalization and equity for this success as well as why some systems do not improve.

To this, the professor answered competition, standardization, tests based on accountability, de-professionalization and privatization. The main problem Sahlberg sees though as holding the U.S.’s education system back is equity, emphasizing that family status should not impact a child’s education.

The conclusion of the event focused on five suggestions for improvement.

The first was to invest in equity. Sahlberg cites the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) studies that attribute the top education systems’ success to excellence and equity, citing that there has to be a focus on both the quality of the curriculum and insuring equal help to all students.

His next suggestion was to invest in teams. Schools that have strong teams tend to raise the quality of education, Sahlberg said.

Thirdly, he said, breaks and recess are necessary. To show this, Sahlberg displayed a typical fourth grade schedule in Finland. The classes are forty-five minutes long with a fifteen minute recess between each class. There is also a lower emphasis placed on homework.

Fourth, Sahlberg said the U.S. must “make better use of old innovation.”

However, he said, there does not always have to be a new answer to problems. Sahlberg said he believes that successful education systems have borrowed many ideas from America, but those ideas have not been followed in American education recently.

Sahlberg’s last suggestion, though, was to teach health as a skill. He said that a teacher should not assume that one knows how to care for him or herself, and that health should be incorporated into all subjects and teachers must set an example every day.

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