Feb 2, 2018

Rundle: right-wingers Finnish on a low note

A recent op-ed dismisses the strength of Finnish education based on the fact that the language has phonetic spelling. There's a bit more to it than that.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


The Suomalaiset – Finns to you – have a word we could well adopt in English: "sisu", a term that means a mix of physical and mental stamina, the sort of inward resilience that allows you to hack your way across the winter tundra after a wolf has torn your leg off (in Finland, it’s also a brand of truck).

You need a bit of "sisu" to cope with the ideological pumpings of the right -- a case in point, being Blaise Joseph and Jennifer Buckingham’s comment piece for The Age on Wednesday, decrying the recent enthusiasm for the Finnish school system as a model for Australia. The article is mostly mealy-mouthed question-begging: While acknowledging that Finland’s socialist, low-testing, non-streaming, flexible system delivers the best results in the world:

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15 thoughts on “Rundle: right-wingers Finnish on a low note

  1. David Irving (no relation)

    “If only one had a test to tell you whether it was horseshit.” I think we do. Aren’t these people from the Centre for Independent Studies?

    1. Dan

      Nice one David. No relation to whom, Washington Irving?

  2. old greybearded one

    Indeed Guy, what a load of crap and not a teacher among them. I have listened and spoken to Sahlberg and he makes plenty of sense, he also compares systems with NAPLAN things and without. Guess which ones aren’t improving? The East Asian systems are very culturally monolithic and of course discipline is very stern. Even the boss man of Singapore said he thought they were chasing the wrong road. We send our kids to school to young, we waste time in pre school teaching things many of them are not ready for and above all, the ones in greatest need do not get the most spent. Sahlberg point out that no matter the system, if there is high equity there are good results. The right keep blathering about outliers on the system. I can make a very good statistical case that since Howard upped the private school funding massively and everyone else followed him, our results have been on the decline. Are we wasting money on the haves and under resourcing the have nots? Gonski matters and it was starting to work in NSW. One standout in our set up is how big the wealth/education gap is. In systems that exceed our results this is an obvious difference.

  3. John Porter

    Re: Finnish education

    Thank you, Guy Rundle, for exposing the sheer stupidity expressed in the ‘comment piece’ about Finnish education in The Age last Wednesday.

    As for that comment about the simplicity of the Finnish language, Guy rightly points out that it is fiendishly difficult to learn for almost anyone – that is other than Estonians.

    Back in the 1960s I studied for a year in Finland and have made numerous trips back since. For this 50 or more years I have been wrestling with the language. I can now have a reasonable conversation with a cab driver but still struggle to read a newspaper. The second language of the country, Swedish, is much easier for English speakers, especially Scots. My Finnish friends like to joke that they have the ‘World’s most private language’ – maybe Basque would give them a run for their money!

    I remember that we hapless English-speaking ex-pats used to say that it would take us a week to learn as much Finnish as we could Swedish in a day.

    As for their education system. A few years ago I was staying with some Swedish-speaking friends when we were visited by their eight year old grandson who was attending a state-run primary school. I was amazed how he was speaking excellent Finnish to his mother, excellent Swedish to his grandparents and excellent English to me.

    I suggest that the authors of that Age article consult Prof Fred Karlsson’s ‘Finnish – An Essential Grammar’ Routledge, London. That will blow their minds!

  4. AR

    By their lights shall we know them. Dim bulbs indeed.

  5. zut alors

    Thanks for the warning. I won’t trust the Mac language widget to give the correct Finnish translation.

    Re the bit about the Finns not being number one by such a large margin: does that mean that if Federer wins Wimbledon by only a couple points he will be judged as slipping in standard?

  6. Jim Hanna

    All in all, I thought their article was well-balanced. It was about much more than the simplicity or otherwise of the Finnish language (which was, let’s face it, only one sentence in the whole piece).

    It also pointed out that Finland has a small, geographically concentrated population, less cultural or racial diversity, and a lower immigration rate than Australia. These are factors which set it apart from Australia which, of course, has schools and communities in remote and regional areas and perhaps the most culturally diverse school population in the world. The best comparison we have to Finland is the ACT, which is consistently Australia’s best performing jurisdiction.

    That’s not to say there aren’t lessons for Australia in the Finnish experience. The esteem in which Finnish teachers are held wasn’t mentioned. That’s something we need to strive for.

  7. Damon

    Excellent stuff. This is why I read Crikey. A fact-check with humour and pulling the piss out of ideologues to boot.
    “…for a girl; everyone who ever learnt Finnish was either a CIA Cold War station chief, or it was for a girl…” Excellent!

  8. Patrick Bowman

    I feel your pain, Guy. I’m learning Hungarian — for a girl.

  9. Richard Shortt

    Correct. No nonsense of state and private. No nonsense of state and federal. Just smart schooling that produces extraordinary results. And multilingual citizens.

  10. Bob the builder

    Never good to start an article with an irrelevant bit of smart-arsery, especially when it’s not based on your own knowledge.
    I see you’ve corrected the original start from The Suomi to The Suomalaiset, but that is still incorrect. The ‘the’ is redundant as it’s contained within Suomalaiset.

    If you need to display intellectual snobbery, leave it for things you actually know about.

    1. AR

      A little learning…danger.. etc. Like the hoi polloi.

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