What can Finland and Denmark learn from each other when it comes to education? – An interview with Professor Pasi Sahlberg

What can Finland and Denmark learn from each other when it comes to education? – An interview with Professor Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish professor and expert in education, recently visited Copenhagen in order to meet Danish teachers, principals and other educational experts. Sahlberg has written several books on the world-renowned Finnish school system, and currently travels all over the world to speak about how schools and educators can improve their working methods.

Pasi Sahlberg and Peter Andersen
Pasi Sahlberg (to the right) and Peter Andersen, director of Dafolo A/S

One of Sahlberg’s books has recently been published in Danish – Fire strategier til en bæredygtig skole (FinnishED Leadership: Four Big, Inexpensive Ideas to Transform Education). One of these four ideas is the use of small data in schools, which according to Sahlberg is a largely Danish innovation. Martin Lindstrom, a Danish author and consultant, has defined small data as “tiny clues that uncover huge trends”, and Sahlberg sees a lot of potential in using it in the educational sphere. He hopes that the concept will be developed further and spread outside the borders of Denmark.

We were curious to know more about the strengths and differences of the Danish and Finnish school systems, and asked Sahlberg three quick questions.

Finland is often perceived internationally as a model country for education. Is there something Denmark could learn from Finland?

The amount of pupils attending private schools in Denmark has been growing drastically, especially in later grades. This strengthens inequality, Sahlberg says, and refers to recent PISA results showing that Denmark is the most unequal Nordic country when it comes to education. In Finland, the government has managed to maintain the equality of the school system, which Sahlberg sees as a potential source of inspiration for Denmark.

Another important factor, according to Sahlberg, is the professionalism of teachers and principals. In Finland, every teacher has an academic degree, which also includes pedagogical studies. This is not always the case in Denmark, Sahlberg says. The thinking in Finland also seems to be more systematic and fact-based, especially when it comes to school leadership. Danish principals do not seem to have the same authority and leadership tools as their colleagues in Finland do, which makes it difficult for them to lead effectively and get their teaching staff onboard.

Denmark is doing better than Finland when it comes to school satisfaction. What could Finland learn from Denmark?

Sahlberg suggests that Finland could take a closer look at the Danish sense of community, which has been a development target in Finland for a long time. The Danish society and Danish schools are doing really well when it comes to collectivity and inclusivity. These matters are considered important, according to Sahlberg, and the fact is, that Denmark has been ranked as the happiest country in the world for several times (along with Finland, we must add).

The school world is getting more and more digitalized. Is this a good thing or are you worried about the development?

The digitalization itself is not the main issue, Sahlberg says. The important question is what the goals and purposes of the education and teaching methods are. What are the children learning? What should they be learning? And how do we make sure that the welfare of the children always comes first?

There is a need to assess, whether the digital and technological solutions available today are contributing to – or harming – the mental, social and physical well-being of the children, Sahlberg notes. Recent research indicates that many of the problems connected to stress and uneasiness among children are related to the use of technology, which often takes place outside the schools. This makes it difficult to defend on a moral level, even if the technology could also be used for something beneficial. Maybe it would be smarter in the long run to start controlling the use of these devices, or possible even leave them at home, Sahlberg adds.

Are you interested in learning more about Sahlberg's thoughts on children’s learning, education and development? He will return to Denmark in the beginning of April to speak at the Lego Idea Conference in Billund. ​​​​​​​


Who is Pasi Sahlberg?

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator, author and scholar, who has worked as schoolteacher, teacher educator, researcher, and policy advisor in Finland. He is currently a Professor of Education Policy at the Gonski Institute for Education of the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Pasi Sahlberg has studied education systems, analyzed education policies, and advised education reforms around the world. His book “FinnishED Leadership: Four Big, Inexpensive Ideas to Transform Education” was published in Danish in 2018 by the name “Fire strategier til en bæredygtig skole” (Dafolo). His next book “Let the Children Play: Why more play will save our schools and help children thrive” (Oxford University Press), which he has co-written with Bill Doyle, also has a connection to Denmark. Sahlberg’s research, for which he was granted the 2016 LEGO® Prize, laid the ground for the book that will be published in English in mid-2019.