It is that time of year when we discover that our ranking has slightly improved or become worse in Wales. Better people than myself can answer how relevant the test is as a measure of success. I was and am interested in the fact that Estonia has performed so well. I began to research into the education of Estonia and I would like to share a few insights with yourselves,
The Education Act, adopted in 1992, states the following as the general goals of education: to create favourable conditions for the development of personality, family and the Estonian nation; to promote the development of ethnic minorities, economic, political and cultural life in Estonia and the preservation of nature in the global economic and cultural context; to teach the values of citizenship; and to set up the prerequisites for creating a tradition of lifelong learning nation-wide.
The extract above comes from ‘Estonian Educational Landscape ‘.
Using the information about Estonia it is clear that they place cultural life at the heart of their mission statement. In Wales we have the same opportunity to celebrate our culture and use our language.
The PISA results have created a feeling of failure in Wales and across the media but my post is about comparing our structure for the future with what exists in the highest ranked European country.
How do we compare in Wales?
In ‘Successful Futures ‘ the guidelines to our new curriculum that will come into force in 2020 it provides the four principles for our Education system,
The third point clearly identifies the importance of being citizens of Wales and the World. A large part of this links with the ideology that has led to positive transformation in Estonia. In an article by Wales on line it states that Schools have a great deal of autonomy to set their own curriculum in Estonia and I was interested to discover what this meant. I discovered a document that looked at the National Curriculum for basic schools (age starts from 7 until the pupils have reached a level of competency by 17).
Concept of Learning and the Learning Environment
§ 5. Concept of learning
(1) The national curriculum for basic schools treats learning on the basis of output, stressing changes in the behavioural abilities of the pupil or group of pupils. More specifically, this means the acquisition of knowledge, skills, experiences, values and attitudes that are necessary for coping in everyday life………..
Here are the general competencies that are the backbone of learning:
1) value competence – ability to evaluate human relations and activities from the standpoint of generally accepted moral norms; to sense and value one’s ties with other people, nature, the cultural heritage of one’s own country and nation and those of others, and events in contemporary culture; to value art and to shape the sense of aesthetics;
2) social competence – the ability to become self-actualized, to function as an aware and conscientious citizen and to support the democratic development of society; to know and follow values and standards in society and the rules of various environments; to engage in cooperation with other people; to accept interpersonal differences and take them into account in interacting with people;
3) self-management competence – the ability to understand and evaluate oneself, one’s weaknesses and strengths; to adhere to healthful lifestyles; to find solutions to problems related to oneself, one’s mental and physical health as well as to problems arising in human relations;
4) learning to learn competence – ability to organize the learning environment and procure the information they need for learning; to plan studies and follow the plan; to use the outcome of the learning, including learning skills and strategies, in different contexts and for solving problems; to analyze one’s knowledge and skills, strengths and weaknesses and on that basis, the need for further learning;
5) communication competence – ability to clearly and relevantly express oneself, taking into account situations and partners in communication; to present and justify their positions; to read and understand information and literature; to write different types of texts, using appropriate linguistic devices and a suitable style; to prioritize correct use of language and rich expressive language;
6) mathematics competence – the ability to use the language, symbols and methods characteristic of mathematical applications, to solve various situations in all walks of life and spheres of activity
7) entrepreneurship competence – ability to create ideas and implement them, using the acquired knowledge and skills in different walks of life; to see problems and the opportunities that lie within them; to set goals and carry them out; to organize joint activities, show initiative and take responsibility for results; to react flexibly to changes and to take judicious risks.
In ‘Successful Futures’, it sets out 12 aspects crucial to the success of teaching and learning,
Have consistent focus on the overall purposes of the curriculum
• challenge all learners by encouraging them to recognise the importance of sustained effort in meeting expectations that are high but achievable for them
• employ a blend of approaches including direct teaching
• employ a blend of approaches including those that promote problem solving, creative and critical thinking
• set tasks and select resources that build on previous knowledge and experience and engage interest
• create authentic contexts for learning
• employ assessment for learning principles
• range within and across Areas of Learning and Experience
• regularly reinforce Cross-curriculum Responsibilities, including literacy, numeracy and digital competence, and provides opportunities to practise them
• encourage children and young people to take increasing responsibility for their own learning
• support social and emotional development and positive relationships
• encourage collaboration
On studying the two carefully, you will notice that both have many similarities and in the report by Professor Donaldson, the above is underpinned by literacy, numeracy, digital competences and wider skills as appropriate, as well as elements of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig. Competency is therefore a large aspect of the new curriculum in Wales. When these are included with the list of 12 above, we can see clearly that we have a very similar vision.
In Estonia they then discuss subjects,
(4) Subjects with a similar objectives and content make up a subject field. The
primary objective of a subject field is to shape the corresponding subject field competences,
supported by the objectives of and learning outcomes in each subject. The development of
subject field competences is also supported by subjects in other subject fields and
extracurricular and out-of-school activities.
(5) The national curriculum includes the following subject fields:
1) language and literature;
2) foreign languages;
4) natural science
5) social subjects;
6) art subjects;
8) physical education
Subject field is therefore at the heart of how the curriculum is developed at a local level. This can be interpreted and developed according to priorities within a School or locality.
In Wales, we now have the 6 areas of learning,
Health and well-being
Languages, literacy and communication
Mathematics and numeracy
Science and technology.
What is important according to Successful Futures is that Schools consider the locality, the Cwricwlwm Cymreig, the story of Wales and adapt the areas of study accordingly. Setting local priorities at the heart of the curriculum.
On the area of assessment and learner outcomes, they state,
Syllabuses set forth both learning outcomes for each stage of study as well learning outcomes achieved in the cross-curricular topics or as partial skills. Learning outcomes support the formation of subject field competences. Learning outcomes that express values are not assessed numerically; rather, feedback is given to the pupil regarding achievement.
and in Wales,
Progression Steps will take the form of a range of Achievement Outcomes for each Area of Learning and Experience, spanning the components within the Area of Learning and Experience and Cross-curriculum Responsibility.
Achievement Outcomes within each Area of Learning and Experience will include embedded literacy, numeracy, digital competences and wider skills as appropriate, as well as elements of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig.
Grater clarification is then provided,
Assessment arrangements should:
• align assessment with the purposes of learning: assess what matters
• be clear about the reasons for assessment and plan in advance for the intended
uses of assessment results
• promote the use of a wide range of techniques that are appropriate to their
• engage students in their own assessment
• ensure that reports to parents and carers focus on progress
• be as light-touch as possible and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy
use assessment evidence systematically and in combination with other evidence
to inform school self-evaluation
• address the implications of good assessment practice for teacher capacity
• form a coherent, agreed assessment and evaluation framework with a clear vision
and strategy based on all of the above.
Again many similarities can be made between the two education systems. On further reading about Estonia, what became increasingly obvious is that they are not frightened to discuss the role of the family,
Education in the sense of the national curriculum is understood as the shaping of the pupil’s relationship with the surrounding world. Successful values education requires trust and cooperation between the entire school community, the pupil and the family.
Education is the responsibility of everyone within the community however,
The key person in shaping views is the teacher, whose function is to serve as a personal role model, support pupils’ natural desire for clarity with regard to their identity, and to offer, through a suitable development environment, support for the development of behavioural habits that are accepted in various groups and communities and all of society.
In every article I have read relating to PISA, the greatest influence on standards is and always will be the teacher. In Singapore, only the best graduates are chosen. In Finland, teaching is a profession that has the greatest of respect and they trust their teachers to succeed. In Wales, we used to have the tradition of being a nation of miners and teachers. Many Welsh people went to teach in England and across the globe. It was seen as a profession to respect and uphold with the greatest of care but somehow this has been diluted over the years. I fully understand the importance of accountability but I would also state that trust and respect are two lynch pins that grow confidence in a workforce.
What can we learn from Estonia?
Quite simply, we are on the right track in Wales but we have not had the opportunity to fully implement the changes.
Often poor results can lead to more change. I would like to make a plea to all the political parties in Wales and to the public as a whole,
We have the structures and vision in place to allow us to climb the PISA rankings but this will not happen over night. Allow us to embed the changes to become pioneers and to continue to place the well being of our pupils at the heart of education in Wales.