When the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg went on a speaking tour around Australia last spring, he says he was left “heartbroken” by stories of young children cracking under the pressure of “stringent academic expectations”, The Guardian reports.
“I heard some teachers telling how children are experiencing stress-related crying, vomiting and sleeplessness over the high-stakes standardised tests,” Sahlberg tells Guardian Australia. “Play is being squeezed out of Australian schools as politicians force more stringent academic expectations upon younger and younger children.”
The former director general of the Finnish education system – and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? – Sahlberg is considered a leading expert on an education system that has become a byword for excellence.
Now, Sahlberg is coming to Australia. At the end of 2017 the University of NSW announced that he would join its new Gonski Institute for Education.
A central pillar of early education in Finland is the late start to schooling. Children receive no formal instruction until they are seven, and the focus in daycare centres is not formal education per se but creative play and the health and wellbeing of the student.
The emphasis on play is not trivial but a form of developmental learning. Research has demonstrated that play in the early stages of development can engage children in the process of learning and studies in New Zealand have found that by age 11 there was no difference in reading ability between students who began formal literacy instruction at age five or age seven.