Learning and school are representatives

of two completely unrelated categories

of concepts. Pedagogical points of view cannot

be used as foundation for development of the school.

(Ludwig Wittgenstein)


© Pasi Vilpas

moc.liamg@sapliv.isap (read from right to the left)

Teacher in Biology and Geography

Sotunki Upper Secondary School & Distance Learning Center




By composing this article I want to demonstrate how policies, which for most of us appear as completely ordinary and of no specific importance, still can have deep reaching consequences on the pedagogical level at the school. I direct my article especially for teachers but I recommend it warmly also for decision makers, school students of appropriate maturity, parents and all those of us who are dreaming of becoming teachers one day.

For us to effectively develop the school, it is not enough to identify flaws. It is of key importance to understand why the unwanted characteristics do exist in the first place. The following text is an analysis of not only the WHATs but very much of the WHYs.

The numerous small and large scale examples are needed to make it clear how widely effective and how all inclusive our policies are.

Although not completely updated, this text is also available as podcast on:





Quantitative measuring gives a kick start to School Mark Economics

The effects of school evaluation on learning motivation

School as a source of alienation and social exclusion

The effects of school evaluation on the constructivistic learning orientation

School learning

Student mediated evaluation

Restrictions on the Teacher mediated evaluation

The Teacher´s self evaluation

The Teachers´s double signaling and its side effects

Does Information and Communication Technology give us solutions?

The School does not change by reprogramming the Teachers

Open learning contradicts subject dependent world view

Matriculation survey

Social exclusion with a fake identity

School as a role model

Anything or nothing -phenomenon


The Conclusions explained



Learning does not appear the most prominent goal of the school work at all. From the point of view of an external observer, the goal seems to be declaration of the students´ ability order. This is happening by the school marks and degrees.

Ultimately, the marks and degrees are used to direct the flow of the students to their higher education, adulthood professions, social relationships and status. The whole educational system is subordinated to this.

Discussing school becomes intellectually relevant only after we take into account this fact. The world of school is only to a small extent overlapping with the world of learning.

In my text below I deeply question the usual assumption that a school system designed for creating and supporting social inequality is pedagogically solid. In close relation to this I want to make clear what are the deep reaching pedagogical consequences of our habit to see the rate of adopted knowledge as the end product of school learning. This is profoundly distorting the overall psychology behind school work.

The most crucial fundamentals would be found on the axis of dislike - enthusiasm towards learning. When evaluation pays attention predominantly on the adopted facts, it is difficult to keep the learning process alive. Learning is a state of mind. And this is not a cliché.

The criteria by which the students normally are assessed are very much senseless and they are heavily detrimental to the development of the future school and the society as a whole. The students loose their strive for independent thinking but become masters of foretelling how the teachers expect them to think. The best performers of this ”creative thinking” will be priced with good marks.

The problem ceases from getting solved by simply updating the criteria of the assessment. A complete shift to a radically different way of thinking about learning and the identity of the school is needed.

Collaborative processes are in the center of information technology. But in the prevailing classrooms these kinds of approaches are surprisingly difficult to realize. In the school, which is assessment centered, co-operation with other students easily lowers the rank of the altruistic ones.

The popular misconception, that it is wise to measure quality of learning quantitatively (and frequently), is difficult to change, even though this mode of action is the biggest hindrance of the deep oriented high quality learning to evolve. It seriously damages both the student´s and the teacher´s internal motivation and replaces it with superficial learning and teaching strategies.

Any teacher of experience knows absolutely well how effectively the expected difficulties in determining the students´ ability order can be used both to support the steady state class room methodologies as well as to shoot down alternative approaches.

Importation of ICT does not reach its influence to the way how the school understands its own identity. The interdependence points to the opposite direction: a deep oriented learning culture easily refers to an open minded orientation towards ICT.

The school students don´t get any building blocks at all to develop their digital identity during their school years. The school seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that for many of them convincing Internet presence, for example, a high level Topsy-score is going to be the degree that will matter for the most. We carry along our networks and the networks we carry are representations of ourselves. It is the network content which makes the difference between the elite schools and the ordinary ones.

Eaven the matriculation exams could very well be organized conveniently on a "drive in basis" on the Internet. If considered important, the employers and institutes of post graduate education could then easily use the exams for quality control of the applicants in real time. There is no need to organize the exams on a centrally controlled large scale level at the schools any more.

Information technology is nowadays an intimate part of ourselves, comparable to our own underpants. Computer class rooms and laptops in a carriage are in many ways missing the point.


It has become of importance to improve learning skills, creativity, cooperative abilities, network competence and learning motivation of the school students. However, goals of qualitative nature are difficult to reach in the quantitatively oriented school reality. Laying stress on the assessment, which traditionally is done quantitatively, seems only to make the goals escape further and further. The assessment centric approaches, though, are difficult to change because a school without (quantitative) marks would not anymore be the school as we know it.

Contradiction of the prevailing school model is also evident with the views typical for philosophers, sociologists and network scientists theorizing on the values of the future society. Getting these contradictions solved may ask for lots of changes in our conventional way to perceive the school as an institution. Solving them, though, may possibly be one of the main conditions for the school education to stay valid in the future at all.

Although, in the text below, I am mostly writing from the point of view of a Finnish upper secondary school teacher (about equivalent to the High School teacher in the USA or the gymnasium teacher in Germany), I suppose the problems I am going to deal with are about the same in all educational levels and all around the globe.

My conclusions differ from other school thinkers so deeply that I owe them an extensive explanation. This is why my text has gathered some length and width too, hopefully without loosing its weight. I personally would prefer just a compact list of abbreviations.

Quantitative measuring gives a kick start to School Mark Economics

Measuring results is the most important and far reaching part of the school work. From the point of view of a teacher, this determines the concept of knowledge and the form of pedagogy favoured. From the student´s point of view, evaluation determines the aspects in the school subjects that he or she considers important. If the student has an interest of getting high scores, he or she has to concentrate on not making mistakes during the school work, especially in the exams.

This kind of a teaching and learning strategy regularly reaches a level which, with a good reason, can be called School Mark Economics (arvosanatalous in Finnish). In the branch of economics in question, the school marks are currency by which the successfulness of the school work is measured. The flow of the currency is regulated by the teacher. The efforts, that don´ t have an effect on the marks (= on the teacher), are not respected by the students and are not worth putting on. The one dimensional “quantity of learning” (= school marks) supersedes the multi- or even pandimensional “quality of learning”. The popular misconception, that it is wise to measure quality of learning quantitatively, is difficult to change, even though this mode of action is the biggest hinderance of the deep oriented high quality learning to evolve.

When looking at the school system from an outsider´s point of view, learning does not appear the most prominent goal of the school work at all. Instead of this, it seems to be to declare the ability order of the students. In its attempts to successfully do this, the school is ready to sacrifice the students` eagerness to learn, willingness to produce new ideas, cooperative skills, strive for the depth of thought, aim for self-realization, ability to break common paths of thought etc.. Still, these are the qualities regularly considered and emphasized as the most important characteristics required in the tomorrow´s society (I will later have a closer look at the basis of my argumentation).

The effects of school evaluation on learning motivation

Externally performed evaluation easily becomes interpreted as lack of confidence. This applies on a daily basis to the students´ relationship to their teachers. It is important to be aware, that this sort of an interpretation mostly not at all can be controlled by the teacher him- or hersef.

Putting the students in a ranking order is pedagogically harmful waist of time. This, though, becomes clear for the teachers only but immediately if the schools or the teachers are in a threat of becoming put in a ranking order as well. Still, the students are supposed to react with an incessant enthusiasm during a constant treatment of this kind.

Because school evaluation happens by relational means, it is never possible for every student to get the maximum scores. The complete number of the very successful ones determines, how big an effort is required from the rest of the students. As a simple and clever consequence of this, the students find it most practical to slow down a litlle. Because they are the best ones who determine the length of the scale, their social status easily becomes very low. Hence the typically low ambitiousness of the students does not result from the lack of competition but from its considerably high level instead.

Competition of course, at its basics, is a very positive force driving us to develop. But we have to be pedagogically conscious of the specific forms of it that can be socially harmful in the class room.

If the overall learning results prove to be too low, the teachers can improve them by composing easier exams. An other possibility is to place topics, that will be asked in the test, to the lessons given immediately before the test. If the learning results prove to be too good, acts of the opposite kind will be realized.

As a result of this basically tautological nature of evaluation, the scores given by separate educational institutions or even teachers are not, should not be and could not even theoretically be, comparable. Only this can serve as an assurance against inequality, which otherwise would result from the differences in the teachers´ (or the students´) level of skills.

An interesting implication of this is, that the school marks loose their identity as proper measures of competence.

School as a source of alienation and social exclusion

The tautological nature of assessing the learning results becomes most obvious if we imagine a theoretical situation, where all the students would reach the maximum scores. For the teacher this would mean a great success (as long as there is even one weaker student the teacher can improve his or hers work).

In reality, though, the presented score distribution would, for the most, be interpreted only as a sign of the teacher´s professional incompetence. This would happen, because an elemental characteristic of a good exam (hence a good teacher as well) is its ability to assort students. This explains why a completely successful teacher would, in fact, not be successful at all. And this is why, for an important proportion of the students, the school does not give protection against alienation and social exclusion. It is playing an active role in producing them.

The effects of school evaluation on the constructivistic learning orientation

The maximum scores could easily be reached simply by owning all affordable time to practising ideal answers for the future exams. The unwanted side effects of a learning strategy like this are immediately apparent. This, though, is exactly what an assessment (= assorting) concentrated school system requires from its students. Hence, the only thing which the students truly study in a constructivistic manner in the school proves to be the teachers. The teachers´ constructivism is similarly restricted towards, for example, the matriculation exams.

This phenomenon makes obvious the common statement, that constructivistic pedagogy cannot be successfully realized in the everyday life of the school. It is not surprising, that inside the school this state of things is interpreted as a sign of faults in constructivism. For an outsider the explanation lies in the philosophical and pedagogical nondurability of the school´s most traditional and prominent evaluation tools.

The following list of unwanted side effects of the external and teacher mediated evaluation at school is probably not comprehensive:
1. Gives an impression of nuisance by intention.
2. Leads to School Mark Economics and by doing this, strengthens the use of superficial learning strategies.
3. The student` s role as an externally manipulated object is highlighted. The work satisfaction is lost because of this.
4. Reciprocal cooperation does not prove clever anymore (cooperation lowers the rank of the altruistic students), it does not be indispensable, and in fact, in the only serious real life situations (= in the exams) it is not even allowed.
5. The dream of the teacher` s role as an encourager to openness changes into reality where weaknesses must be kept hidden. The role of a coach cannot be combined with the role of a school mark controller.
6. Creativity is not learned by avoiding mistakes, except of course, creativity in avoiding mistakes.

Finally, instead of learning, the students begin to concentrate on how best to get off the teacher. Point four often transforms co-operationally intended learning into a completely chaotic mess.

School learning

Our role as learners is mostly determined by the common misunderstanding, that to learn is the same as to remember the facts. The attitude develops in the school and for a good reason is usually (at least here in Finland) called “school learning”. Intellectually more honest would be to call it “exam learning”. “Real (high quality) learning” becomes (low quality) “school learning” almost inevitably if the learning results are known to later become targets for exam based scrutiny. To use the name “school learning”, though, is very revealing because it clearly demonstrates how widely the exams and the school institution are interpreted as synonyms for each other.

Conditioning to fulfilling the expectations of the teacher prevents the students from using their own brain which, though, is said to be one of the central goals of the school. The students learn at a very early stage that the teacher is not really interested in the student´s own thoughts but in the student´s ability, and not only in the exams, to decipher the teacher´s thoughts. The students who are good at doing this will be priced with good marks.

In addition to real learning, which nevertheless is taking place in the school, it is important for the school students to learn how to give an impression as if they were learning. This in turn could not have such an organic role in the school, if this were not the case also with teaching.

These observations of the way how the school works, are often apparent already in the kinder garden. They perforate our whole school system, reaching also the universities. When grown ups, the former students have lost their strive for independent thinking. Instead, they have developed into masters of foretelling how other people expect them to think.

The teachers often would like to favor methods, which would force the students to a deep and concrete level of interdependence when they work in groups. One can for example make a deal, that all the group members get the same final mark or that the mark will be determined as a sum, or an average, of the marks of all the individual members of the group. Although the solution is well stated by pedagogical and social values, it regularly is considered unfair by the students as well as by their parents too. The urge to put the individual students in a ranking order regularly overtakes these kinds of pedagogical values.

The teachers usually see their role as school mark controllers solely as a catalyst for good quality learning. Often this role is considered even as an immediate condition for it. Possibilities for the opposite are difficult to see. The students, too, have become so used to the system, that they find it difficult to identify any lack of appropriateness in it.

The upper secondary school students cannot remember anymore how most of them lost their cognitive curiosity only after having begun their school career. This may as well be caused by other reasons, but the most essential difference between the kinder garden and the school is the abundance of the teacher mediated evaluation in the latter.

Student mediated evaluation

Evaluation motivates its performers because of the feeling of power it arouses. This feeling of power could, theoretically, be utilized for pedagogical purposes as well. Nowadays, the teachers are mostly concentrating only on minimizing it. The feeling of power could easily be fed by making the students evaluate themselves.

In the student mediated evaluation, the school marks serve mostly as just pedagogical baits, instead of being used for manipulative purposes between the teachers and the students. The student could, for example, be encouraged to plan, write, mark and consider the school tests independently without the teacher. This would enhance the students´ abilities to evaluate, what sort of knowledge is important and to develop feasible tools for measuring how well the goal has been reached.
At the same time, the students would also end up considering the question: “What is learning?”, in other words the qualitative dimensions of education. The usual approach has mostly laid stress on the question: ”What have we been taught?”, if even that. Processing these kinds of questions makes the students take into account the principles of handling, organizing, analyzing and presenting information.

The most famous paradox of quantum physics where measurement (= quantitative approach to evaluation) makes its target (=qualitatively oriented learning attitude) to disappear, may surely not be solved completely, but it will become milder and a number of advantages can be derived out of it.

An average upper secondary school student takes approximately 60 exams during his or her upper secondary school career (in Finland). This treasure cist of litterature is mostly left intact in the pedagogical sense. Although the student would not at all be in a need of for example mathematics, it still is clear, that everybody benefits from becoming able to create and analyze notes of mathematical kind. This advantage is deeply independent of the person` s later professional orientation.

Restrictions on the Teacher mediated evaluation

The student centric approach does not prevent the teacher from giving tests and exams as well. In this case, though, it is important to avoid externalizing the student` s motivation. An arms race between the student and the teacher will immediately begin, if the teacher` s exams begin to have an effect on the student` s school marks (= on the educational, professional and social future of the student). This will turn hollow all the recommendations about the importance of a deep oriented learning strategy.

The phenomenon does not depend on the type of exams the teacher favours. If the target is on a deep oriented learning strategy, all the teacher´s tests may serve only for pedagogical and diagnostic purposes, but not for tools of segregation between the students. In fact, for the modern learning conceptions to become established, there is a need for completely new perspectives on considering the learning results.

Usually, when considering the effectiveness of new learning and teaching methods, the final big question is: “But what are the learning results?”. When presented in the school, the question could as well be translated into ”But what marks have the students got?”. In other words, already asking the question, and hence also answering it, contains as given a hidden preassumption, that only criteria characteristic for School Mark Economics are justified.

This paradigm-level failure becomes obvious also in the internationally organized comparative surveys on school learning. When the yardsticks are from yesterday, success in the surveys gives questionable basis for self esteem.

The Teacher´s self evaluation

The quality of learning can as well be measured in a more neutral and pedagogically reasonable way. The fact, that mostly the volume of the transferred knowledge is percieved as the sign of valuable learning, is the main reason for the methodological rigidness of the school. More feasible, but still easily detectable indicator of quality would rather be the rate of the students´ internal motivation. Waking this up and keeping it on a high level should be the main objective of the school work. Instead of heavy cognitive and manipulative approach, the students and the teachers should widely be encouraged towards more flexible and relaxed forms of interaction.

It is quite revealing, that when the students are asked to list the most important qualities of a good teacher, the word that very often first comes to their mind is fair. It is worth noticing, that this quality doesn´t have very much to do with learning. It derives its way from the vocabulary of games, or the court of justice. Of course, fairness proves important if the role of the teacher mostly is seen to be putting the students in a ranking order. But, for example, as a quality of a good ski instructor, the word fair would never be seen on the list.

The exam based means are only a small and in fact detrimental fraction of the other wise wide motivational playground. Because of the quantitative orientation of the school, though, the areas beyond that are very difficult to take into proper use by the teachers.

The Teacher´s double signalling and its side effects

The problems of the school, that I have analysed earlier in my text and the spectrum of reflections they create, are difficult to detect by the teacher. In addition to their fuzziness the problems do present themselves in a manner, that makes them appear structural and inevitable parts of the school system. Although the problems give an impression of being independent from each other and of separate character, they all share the same basic origin. They are caused by the teacher, who has to combine two basically incompatible roles of profession: the student´s coach and the controller of the school marks.

This double role is against any rational as well as emotional reasoning. The student is supposed to confide to a coach, who in the student´s mind belongs to the opposing team. In other words: The very same place which should be dedicated for learning is at the very same time a place where the learners have to keep their weaknesses hidden.

This slight nonreasonability shoots down the ideals of any pedagogics not to mention the modern ones.. This is the main cause of friction, that all too often can burn out both the student as well as the teacher too.

The situation results to a self supporting bilateral lack of trust. I recommend the reader to remind him- or herself of the feelings of suspect which the previously suggested ways of the student based evaluation certainly woke up.

The problems of the school are not anybody´s fault. They are only emerging as a result of the prevailing way how the school is organized. Still it is typical, that the teachers are mostly ready to take the blame. Often though, the guilt is gladly pushed on the fellow teachers or on the students. The career of a young innovative teacher all too often begins with a “What was it we experienced good old teachers did warn you about?” –humiliation. To completely recover of this may prove to be impossible forever. The teachers´ room is filled with an atmosphere of blame so dense that no space is left for the teachers to take risks and to evolve their pedagogy.

The teachers often blame the students´ bad home conditions and today´s high prevalence of light entertainment for the problems of the school. These are the circumstances that not at all can be influenced by the school. When the problems of the school are externalized like this, the connection often brakes to the students who specifically would be in the biggest need of them.

Does Information and Communication Technology give us solutions?

We might now be ready to see why, against usual expectations, developing the school does not have anything with its technological artillery to do. Importation of ICT does not reach its influence to the way how the school understands its own identity. The interdependence rather points to the opposite direction: a deep oriented learning culture easily refers to an open minded orientation towards ICT. At the focus, of course, is not the technical equipment itself, but all of the ways how it can be cleverly used.

In close connection to the previous few lines there is also an other important aspect of the school work to which ICT on its own neither does reach its influence.

Information becomes knowledge only after it is processed in ways that makes it to become part of the learner´s own inner self. Learning by book, by the Internet or by any other media or any method always stays a task, where the learner personally has to construct an internal model about the things to be learned. It is impossible to think with pure brain. Concepts fuel the system. They are as critical element of thinking as is the brain itself.

This is why the profession of the teacher does not essentially transform according to the media where the information originally is stored. If our idea is to disregard this stage of work somehow by using ICT, we easily bring up empty and hollow students who only by their looks resemble human beings. When searching for high quality learning, it regularly takes even more than only nine months for a baby to be born.

It is simply not important, and especially there is no urge whatsoever, to use ICT as long as the school is organised around ranking orderism. This target can as well be reached by cheaper and less complicated manners. Because of its co-operational essence, ICT often makes managing the traditional ways of school work even harder. This is why the formula, which would unite ICT with the students during the lessons, still largely stays unsolved. The computers at schools easily end up just for the students´ recreational purposes during the breaks.

The way information technology is used can not be controlled by external rules or wishes. They easily lead to games of hide and seek and poison the relationship between the students and the teachers. An optimal solution would be a strategy, where the pedagogical use of it could be catalysed as a result of endogenous needs of the students.

If the students at the school have time to play recreational computer games, it mostly is a sign of the fact, that the teachers have not utilized the pedagogical possibilities of the ICT to their complete extent.

We could begin to explore the universe of ICT, for example, by looking at the students` habit of copying texts, essays and other content from the Internet. The state of matter could be interpreted as a valuable message: the original task has been repetitive.

Because of the way how the traditional school work is organized, it is very typical to importing ICT to the schools, that ICT only gives birth to a separate layer of extra work with no proper connections to the regular school life. The school system designed for creating social inequality contradicts very deeply with the co-operative and equitable essence of information technology.

Characteristics, which naturally lead to a more intensive use of ICT, are problem based learning (= instead of learning facts the students learn how to do research), collaborative learning especially when it grows up from the students´ own needs, aim for deep oriented learning, low borderlines between separate school subjects, true team work relationship between the students and the teachers etc. The minimum condition for these characteristics to develop is to protect the students´ internal motivation not only in the exercises and evaluation, but in all other branches of the school work as well.

But lots of challenges make it hard to change the routines at the school.

The School does not change by reprogramming the Teachers

Our ideas about teaching, learning and the school are largely influenced by our own past experiences as students. This is the reason for anxiety, with which most of the parents (they, too, are professionals of attending school) are prone to guard the state of the school. Their main purpose is to make sure the routines stay the same as they were on their own school days.

The most prominent victim of this, here in Finland, is the arrangement of the national matriculation exam. In the eye of an average lay person, the marks reached in the exam are equivalent to the learning results of the school. The teacher or the headmaster interested in his or her employment can not overlook this fact. The more the individual schools or the teachers are competing with each other, the more difficult the overlooking becomes. The School Mark Economics is an inevitable consequence of the system based very much on competition and the matriculation exam.

It is important to realize that one is not able to escape the phenomenon by renewing the exam. These sorts of actions can not change at all the exam centred ways of thinking, but only the strategies, according to which the students and the teachers prepare themselves for the exam.

Open learning contradicts subject dependent world view

To study by deciphering and co-operation, to bring down the borders between the separate school subjects and to not be bound to the content of the course books, leads to learning circumstances characterised by an overall unpredictability. During this kind of an approach, unpredictability regularly reaches up also the cognitive contents of the subjects studied extending itself also to the time tables, choosing of the study environment, learning materials, technical means, methodology and so on.

On the contrary to this, the national matriculation exam (or what ever is its equivalent in different countries) even if renewed, would still surely be based on predestinated learning contents. The students` performance would as well still be measured individually. As a result of this, the new pedagogically sensible learning methods, also in the future, would be lessening the students´ possibilities for high ranks in the matriculation exam.

Although, in the celebration speeches, passing beyond the borderlines of the individual school subjects is often demanded, the wish is difficult to fulfill. Separate and clearly identifiable subjects with unambiguous borderlines are simply a prerequisite for evaluation based on the very existence of these separate school subjects. The borderlines have to be honoured, although, in the everyday life and also in the life of scientific research community, it would be more successful to reach over a large variety and branches of the school subjects. There is only one valuable subject in science and it is called curiousity.

In a comparable manner outside the school, the ability to use foreign languages is a target dependent tool. The value of the tool is clear and of practical nature, and makes its characteristics evident in situations of communication and information gathering. Both of these activities are nowadays more and more fulfilled by the ICT.

Detailed technical knowledge of foreign languages is seldom needed, although it often makes life easier. Still, studying foreign languages at school has largely to concentrate on the formal knowledge because of the great public value of the matriculation exam.

Matriculation survey

Open learning can never be organised around a quantitatively oriented final exam. This makes no sense, because in such a case, the openness and unpredictability would simply be destroyed. Results of open learning can only be measured by qualitatively oriented surveys.

According to this, also the upper secondary school could merely summit, not in a final exam of closed nature, but in a matriculation survey of open nature, instead. This approach would bring along much more sensitive, detailed and valuable information about how and what the students learn and how they feel during their school years. If our goal seriously is to steer school life towards more cooperative and problem based learning, a final exam, which prices the best self-keepers is not uniform with this.

It has been suggested that the final exam should be developed into a direction that would enhance the students´ intellectual activities. When suggesting this, one forgets, that exactly this has always been the goal until today. The whole ideological background of the final exam has always laid on the rigorous faith on its effectiveness to stimulate the students´ own thinking.

What kind of a secret quality would the renewed exam have, that would make it philosophically different from its predecessors? During the years of experience we have learned that to study thinking for an exam in thinking does not make much pedagogical sense.

Social exclusion with a fake identity

Not any teacher, even of the most conscious kind, is capable of releasing oneself from the routines determined by School Mark Economics. This explains why the teachers may have it difficult to percieve and to understand the social and ideological upheaval of ICT. In spite of the changes in the technical equipment, the routines at the schools faithfully follow the limitations determined by ranking orderism.

Scientific research communities, on the contrary, are completely dependent on the databases and social networks on the Internet. The work contains lots of spontanious learning where individual person can almost never privately own neither the merits nor the results of the surveys.

The Internet provides an exceptionally effective channel to realize this kind of a group work and community spirit. The medium easily produces a positive rage for doing things cooperatively. This rage is a matter of co-ignition rather than privately experienced cognition and it does not trouble itself with external prices or punishments. Officially justified means of social discrimination typical of the school are in a strong contradiction with this kind of a world view.

The previously presented facts put the school into a strange light. Means of evaluation which ask for social isolation and are encouraging to behavior that is self-keeping are not born of necessity. Neither do the post-graduate studies ask for such. Most of them, at least in Finland, will anyway begin with an entrance examination of their own.

The school prefers ranking orderism only because it has always been preferred. It has traditionally been an organic part of the school institution´ s proper identity.

An essential question emerges: will there be any identity left if this is removed?

The curve of the curves

The notoriuous curve of Gauss is an effective way to express what social exclusion is all about. Considering how much the students are assessed in the school, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that social exclusion really is having a central role in the school work.

Our recent tradition of measuring the results is asking for punctualistic thinking about learning. It is absolutely important to get a hard, exact value of abilities for each separate student. Otherwise, the whole system would fall in a danger of melting away. There is no space for considering and discussing learning in softer, more realistic, time consuming, value relativistic and student friendly ways. We are assessing learning in school, not philosophy of assessment.

The school system, at its basics, has to adopt a role mostly consisting of anything else but pedagogical goals. The situation is difficult to change, because the common people and the decision makers, and often the teachers as well, lack the mental tools for understanding the pedagogical values of the day.

School as a role model

The following quotation is from the book The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman (2005):

"If a business enterprise happens to achieve a steady and strong market position, it falls into a danger of loosing it’s ability to effectively create novel ideas and innovations. This happens because creativity often is conditioned by ability to perceive oneself through the eyes of an outsider. This is why a complete newcomer may often be better in identifying shortcomings and developing new and refreshing approaches than a deeply engaged and therefore narrow sighted specialist.

Any organization whose employees need to direct their creativity to honouring and supporting the organisations internal expectations and hierarchies are doomed. Activity turns inwards instead of being directed to the surrounding world which is developing in an ever faster speed."

This is manifestly what is happening in the school on any of the levels of its organization. When the student finds out, either consciously or subconsciously, that this is the ultimate "name of the game", it would be of a complete surprise if this would have a positive impact on learning motivation. Actually, to notice and understand this, asks for a high level of metacognitive skills. This is why the intellectually poorest are not the only ones who easily loose their educational appetite.

It is difficult to imagine that a new, learning oriented school could ever be developed. For this seriously to become the case, the school should be able to freshly reimagine the deepest essence of itself. The prevailing school model was developed to meet the needs of the industrial era. It took a shape that is extremely resistant to change. The era in question is permanently behind and this will be the case also with the industrial school.

In countries, where the universities largely base their student selection on the school marks, they are not able at all to recruit students prepared for creative thinking and unconventional problem solving. Instead of that, the post graduate educators get students who very intensively are selected for the society of the past.

Anything or nothing -phenomenon

Lots of signs of good learning culture can be found in the pedagogical literature. I have collected some of them here into a compact table (under). In the column at the right the signs are closer, and in the column at the left less close, to the goals discussed earlier. The listed signs are characterized only on an overall level.

Of the most significant importance in the table is the fact, that every sign in the same column is connected to all other
signs in the same column. If the school is aiming for what ever specific sign, the sign in question becomes understandable only if it is joined with all the other signs in the same column.

If separately transferred to the opposite column, each sign begins to sound like nonsense (try this). The columns seem to reject each other with such a strength, that they basically could be seen as two separate groups of tight internal coherence.

Under developed learning culture
Well developed learning culture

1) The student is an object for manipulation, lacking internal motivation

1) The student is an independent subject with strong internal motivation

2) The teacher is the Lord of the Marks

2) The teacher is an encouraging coach

3) The students are a group of individuals with superficial social connections

3) The students are a real community with strong internal connections, cooperation brings the keys to enjoyment and success

4) The teacher focuses on excellent results in the exams normally at the expense of the students´ internal motivation

4) The teacher focuses on feeding and protecting the students´ internal motivation raising up the deep oriented learning culture

5) The main target of the student is to be successful in the School Mark Economics

5) The main target of the student is successful learning

6) Evaluation is teacher centred

6) Evaluation is student centred

7) Teaching is difficult to bring to completion because the students are teacher oriented

7) Studying is difficult to bring to completion because the students are knowledge oriented

8) Creativity of the students gets directed to the studies mostly only when asked for

8) Creativity of the students gets often directed to the studies without external pressure

9) Relationship between the student and the teacher is manipulative

9) Relationship between the student and the teacher contains real and fair companionship

10) ICT is used in manners that are emphasized and controlled by the teacher

10) The students utilize ICT spontaniously for gathering information, developing their skills and maintaining the community spirit

The moral of this table is that it is difficult to change learning culture in small steps.

The goals determined in the column at the right are surely stated in the curricula in most of the schools. When considered only superficially, the list seems to give a good alternative to the one at the left.

As a following, though, of the strong internal coherence, the right side alternatives do practically never get realized in the schools. Represented, instead, are the points found in the left column, and also with such a strength that they hardly can stay undetected.

The students crystallize the observation into an effectively short sentence: “Are these things going to be asked in the exam?”.


According to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the source of the bullshit we so easily tend to produce is residing in the concepts that are not clear. Maybe it would be clearest not to mix school with learning at all.

The Conclusions explained

Learning and school are representatives of two completely unrelated categories of concepts (in the same way as for example flowers and electricity). This is why it is impossible to discuss these concepts simultaneously in a sensible manner.

This is the central dilemma of the school. And as dilemmas always tend to be, it is unsolvable.

It becomes tempting to conclude that the basis for us to traditionally combine the studies of pedagogy so elementally and especially with teacher education is intellactually wrong.


I own my warmest thanks to my college Juha Luodeslampi. Juha inspired my thinking with his unconventional and student centric teaching methods in the Sotunki upper Secondary School during the years 1996 - 2001. The primal ideas of this text were born cooperatively with him.

I am deeply thankful to my wife Birgitta and my daughter Pihla. My work is a result of their endless patience and nerves.

At home in Sipoo during the autumn 2013.
Copyright: Pasi Vilpas
Teacher in Biology and Geography
Sotunki Upper Secondary School & Distance Learning Center

Baroness Morgan
Michael Gove
The British School System