I think that we should approach with caution any idea in education where the progenitor has to repeat constantly “But it doesn’t really mean that”. Looking through the comments made about the following article about curriculum change in Finland, Peter Fagerstrom replies to almost every criticism of the idea with a link to another article by Pasi Sahlberg purporting to show that things will not change as much as people think and that school subjects have not been abolished. What I find rather odd is that he does not post this link in reply to a whole host of people writing in support of the Finnish proposals, who are basically hailing the death of school subjects. The supportive comments make much of how 21st century the Finnish proposals sound. My first reaction was that they seem very 1970s! Project based learning, inquiry based learning, phenomenon based learning has been tried out before, on numerous occasions. It is incredibly seductive. I blogged about its enduring appeal here. Having read some of the evidence against project based learning, I personally think the Finnish ideas are unlikely to work. But I’m just an ordinary teacher and have no experience in curriculum design. Maybe they could work if they were implemented in the way their progenitors say they want. Experience from a British perspective would suggest that this is extremely doubtful.
When British primary schools were criticised in the 1990s for an over dogmatic adherence to the Plowden report of 1967, it was claimed that, if the teachers had read the report properly, they wouldn’t have made the mistakes they did. Plowden did not rule out direct instruction or whole class teaching. But that was how it was interpreted by many schools. Equally, Mick Waters was always at pains to point out that his 2007 curriculum for England and Wales did not mean that teachers were not supposed to teach content. Fair enough, but in many instances it came to be interpreted that way.
It may well be the case that in Finland, the proposals will be implemented in a sensible, rational manner. However, I do wish the Finns would consider the impact of their proposals in other countries. Of course, they are under no obligation to do so at all, but I foresee “the Finnish example” being given as the justification for a whole host of dubious educational practices. Teachers will have little time to do their own research on the issue. Even those who do have time and confront their senior leaders with the phrase “But it doesn’t really mean that!” will be fobbed off with the idea that abolishing subjects altogether is simply taking Finland’s ideas one step further forward. In the UK, it could be that a number of senior leaders convince their governing bodies to leap at the idea of project based learning (gives the children 21st century skills and looks so impressive when visitors/governors walk round!) followed by their leaving for promotion before any damage becomes apparent. I do hope I am wrong!