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WVSD superintendent talks international education

International studies - Supt. Chris Kennedy gives Finland top grades for preparing its teachers.      - Submitted photo
International studies - Supt. Chris Kennedy gives Finland top grades for preparing its teachers.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Finland’s education system is hailed as one of the strongest in the world, a high benchmark for other countries to aspire to.

This is exactly what Chris Kennedy, West Vancouver School District superintendent, came face-to-face with when he took a trip to Finland this summer.

He wanted to see what West Van, a municipality with another high performing education system, could learn from the European country.

As it turns out, he says, Finland is doing a better job training their teachers than at home in B.C.

In Finland, he continues, university spots for teachers are created based on demand, whereas in B.C. “dramatically” more teachers are trained than the number of vacancies.

“I was very impressed with the amount of work they put in with teachers before they actually enter the classroom and the ongoing professional development as they go through their careers,” he told The Outlook. “It seemed more thorough and consistent than we often are here.”

It’s widely discussed that “the best of the best” go into teaching in Finland, he adds. If teacher candidates are unsuccessful, then they look into other occupations, like becoming a doctor or engineer. And it’s not the pay in particular that attracts people to teaching in Finland, Kennedy says. Teachers get similar salaries, or less, here in B.C.

While British Columbia attracts high-quality teachers, he adds, a better job could be done in getting the right people through education programs, while weeding out those who aren’t a good fit.

Although school is free in Finland, the curriculum is organized differently. At 16 years of age students choose an upper secondary program or a vocational program, then at 19, about one year later than in Canada, they start university. Students don’t begin school until seven years old, but can go to user-pay preschools and kindergartens before that.

Over in Sweden, Kennedy noticed more differences. Sweden has a educational system that focuses on competition, he says, similar to that of the United States, whereas Finland embraces equality in much the same way B.C. does.

“The Swedish system does not consider athletics and the arts as part of the school program like we do,” he says as an example.

So should B.C. try to copy Finland’s approach to education?

Not necessarily. British Columbia, and the West Van school district in particular, shouldn’t try to mimic Finland, says Kennedy, because the European country is in the process of changing the way schools are run.

“They need to embrace technology in a better way, they need to make it more personal for students, they need to figure out the roles of parents in their schools,” says Kennedy, adding B.C. is currently working on the exact same issues.

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