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Introduction from Associate Professor David Blaazer, Deputy Dean, UNSW Arts & Social Sciences

Welcome, everybody, and thanks for joining us for this month's lunch bite sized lecture series with UNSW's leading academics. My name is David Blaazer. I'm an associate professor of history and currently Deputy Dean of Arts and Social Sciences UNSW. To begin, noting that we are standing on Aboriginal land that has never been seeded, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge the categorical people of the era nation who are the traditional custodians of this land. And I would like to extend my respect to their elders past, present and emerging and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are here with us today. In the 70 years since our university was founded, we've continued to refine and to develop our commitment to providing lifelong learning opportunities to University alumni and friends.

So we are absolutely delighted that you could join us for this talk today. I'd also like to thank those in attendance from our say entire circle programme as supporters who enable UNSW to advance knowledge in this way and many others through research and education by giving in their will. Just a couple of housekeeping announcements. Before I introduce our speaker, first of all, be aware that the session today will be recorded and available for podcasting via the UNSW alumni website, also ... Yes, okay, don't be that person. Make sure your phone is switched off or on silent or something. Bathrooms are out the door to the right, and they'll be staff out there to direct you. And now I'd like to introduce today's speaker, Professor Pasi Sahlberg. Pasi is a professor of education policy at the Gonski Institute for Education.

He probably doesn't need much introduction, actually. He's an award-winning finish educator, and author who's worked as a school teacher, teacher educator, researcher, and policy advisor in Finland and has studied education systems analysed education policies, and advised on educational reforms around the world. He's a former senior Education Specialist at the World Bank, a lead education expert at the European training Foundation, and the director general at Finland's Ministry of Education. He chairs the Open Society Foundation’s Education Board, and is a member of the International Council of education advisors for the Scottish Government. We are indeed privileged to have Pasi work with us here at UNSW. And I'm delighted today to welcome him to give his talk on whether play is okay.


3.07 | Learn@Lunch presentation by Professor Pasi Sahlberg

Wow, I wish my mother was here in the audience to hear all these compliments. What a wonderful honour and pleasure it is to be here and truly a privilege to be able to work with the University of New South Wales. I normally say it is the best university in certainly in Sydney. Some people don't like that too much. But I think that's true. And also for the Kentucky Institute for Education, that is a new institute just newly established, that's actually the reason why I am here. So for those who don't know, that is I think it's important to say a few words about my personal background. I moved here with my family about seven or eight months ago, and the only reason was this Kentucky Institute of the university that is really find it inspiring and interesting place to work.

And the whole this part of the world, Australia is really in a situation where many good and interesting things can happen. Unlike in most other parts of the world, certainly when it comes to the research and development work that I am working with my colleagues, namely the improving education systems. So, that's my area of interest. So we are here sometimes I hear people asking me here that what why did you leave Finland, the happiest country in the world and the place where the education system is praised as the among the best in the world and many other things and when they hear that I came here with my family with children, and my wife, people said, "How can you do anything like that to your own kids."

And I said, "I would do what any serious scholar or researcher would do that. I will run a social experiment on my own children. I put them in a public school system here in Sydney and see what happens and write a paper out of that." But these are the two creatures that followed my wife and myself when we came here about eight months ago. And I think it's important also for the purposes of you properly understanding what I'm about to say about the play here. Because this is not just an academic issue for me. Actually, I'm asking myself a question that I thought I never need to ask that what the play is important for children. I think that that's something that should have been obvious, and never asked.

But anyway, we are asking that not only when we are raising, educating our kids at home, but also when we do our work at the university and research that I'm going to speak a little bit about. But since these two little creatures are here with us, my view, of course to everything I say this afternoon is both professional, but it's a very personal as well. And you all know that your perspective change when it becomes personal, when you talk about your own life, your own children. Rather than talking about other parent's children, that is a different thing. So this is a very kind of appropriate picture also for the opening of the anything that people have to say about play because these two guys they're playing that this picture was taken about a year ago, all the way up in the northernmost part of Finland called Lapland, is about five hour drive north from the Arctic Circle.

And when we took this picture, the temperature was minus 28 degrees. And look at the faces of these guys. They're just playing, this is kind of a praise the  purity of the element, the most important element that we have in this world that is water. But of course in Lapland in the winter, the water is snow and ice. But that's a wonderful element to play. And that's why I find this play thing very important. So that's why I'm going to talk about four or five things to you and end up in this research thing that we are just about to start to do, I hope that you understand that our research portfolio cannot be very fat yet, because we just started work on this like six months ago. But I'm going to speak about the things that we are going to do. But this what you're going to hear before that is based on my research on play that I've done during the last four years, really three years to be exact.

And 2016, I was honoured by the Lego foundation in Denmark, the foundation owned by the Lego company for the 2016 Lego price that is the best price I've ever earned in my life. Because it comes with a lifelong access to Lego bricks whenever I call them. But the price also gave me a kind of a ... It's almost like an obligation to think more about my work, I didn't really work that much play per se before the price game and price comes with $100,000 money and global recognition as somebody who has been doing work on education, creativity, and play. So I started to think about what should I do with this money and what is a kind of an obligation that comes with the price. And then I met my good friend in New York City, a kind of a prominent professional writer, and we got together it's a longer story.

But we got together and started to work on the thing that will be published now in two weeks time by Oxford University Press called Let The Children Play. And it's a massive global research review on the state of play, and what does play mean, and what's happening in different parts of the world and why we should care more about those things. Again, we both thought that we never need to write this book but becoming more important and needed than ever before right now. And the first look that we are really taking the book is the state of play. Now my question to you is do you understand my English? You do? Are you sure? Because English is my third language. So I can speak also finish in Swedish to you. I know that there are some Finnish people here who would prefer that. But sometimes, when I look at people, I kind of wonder, is it because of my language that you don't understand what I'm saying but something else?

If there's anything that you don't understand, just put your hand up and I'll explain. But just like those little boys that you saw, they're also trialling your boys, that is not so common here in Australia. That's a big difference coming from Finland to hear that changes. So few things about the first question we really need to ask is about what's happening? Is it really true that there has been a decline in amount and quality of children's play? Or is it just something that we are talking about, I'm going to show you some of those things. So this is a clear evidence everywhere. It's a clear here in Australia, back home in Finland, we see these. But globally, we conclude that the parents are playing outdoors with their children less than before. And that's of course an issue because if you accept the kind of highest quality of play being what we argue in this book is a free unstructured outdoor play, then we have an issue when the kids are spending less time outdoors.

And of course, if you ask us why this is happening, what is driving this, there so many things, parents are more busy, they have less time to play in general with the children. But then there's another one that is a many people think the kind of a dominant reason behind this is a technology that many of those children that we would like to see playing outdoors, they spend anything between seven to nine hours every day, with different types of screens. And most of the time when it is out of the school, when it's after hours, or weekends is of course from the outdoor play. Then there's another one that we see also, in our research around the world of this paradigms that parents have when they're raising their kids are shifting towards a kind of an overprotective, here we talk about helicopter parents that we tried to pay, people try to keep their kids away from the risks and dangers for the good reasons, I think.

But what happens then is that the lesson gets less and less exposed to these things where they really have to think about what's going to happen if I climbed a tree, or if I do that. And there are many people who say that when the kids are trusted more to set their own rules and regulations, they actually more safe than when they tried to follow some others guidelines for this. And then this one that we also see around the world is based on my colleagues research at Harvard University, medical school, where they found that still when parents kind of a thinking about play or understand that is important. They prefer activities that are somehow structured and somehow come with the promise of learning something, rather than just say that it's a good focus to be hang around with others and do some fun things outdoors. So this is what we have seen really happening during the last 10-15 years around the world.

We did a massive amount of travel for this research so when we wrote the book. And so here are some examples from selected countries. How the state of play, plays out. United States is often bad example of this, how the system has been thriving play not only out of the schools but also out of the lives of young people. If you look at this, how few places they are anymore in America, where physical activity and play would be kind of allowed and made available for kids. In England, the authorities are saying that the nurseries, the preschools and candies are not preparing kids for the formal schooling, which means that they may need to be more academic stuff in a preschool and kindergarten and less play. This is what is happening. Mexico, I went to Mexico to see the early childhood and primary schools to this whole question of play about a year ago.

And I came across this really amazing comment that the early childhood educators, teachers that as their main concern is that the parents are refusing to pay when the kids are playing during the day in a day-care. Because they see that it's not helping kids to do anything. And here in Australia, this was a headline in the newspaper some time ago that the word play is not really something that the Australian schools and authorities really favour. I must admit that during my time here, about eight months here, I haven't really heard any authority, or anybody who hosts the power of education, education policy, advocating play, or learning through play at all, which may or may not be linked to this type of thing. So this is something that you may be aware of our own active healthy gets organisation here that is ranking, doing a kind of a report card on a physical activity in Australia every year. And this is the latest report card from last year.

That again indicates that things are not as they should be with our children here in Australia, the report if this was a student, if the student gets something like this, we would say that not good, you can do much better than that. Actually, now we have the average amount of physical activity per day among Australian children is two hours. And the Commonwealth recommendation is three. And the physical activity, of course, is important because in many cases, it comes with the access to playful activities as well. And this is the Lego, Lego is doing the same thing, Lego Foundation is probably one of the most powerful and significant advocates of play. So they do this play well report just that it kind of confirms the similar trends around it. This is international data. But just take a look at this one here, that the 20% one out of five children say that they're too busy to play, what's happening here, if the kids are saying that they don't have time to play, I think we have an issue over there.

Then the other one is that during the course of the research we were kind of looking for where does the most kind of a convincing and powerful advocacy come for play. If this is the state of play, who are the people who are kind of a most powerfully emphasising that let the children play that the play is okay. They're not educators anymore. They're not university professors or researchers, certainly they're not the authorities or early childhood people. Guess who they are, they are medical doctors, the paediatricians around the world that are now standing up more than ever before and saying that we have to parents and educators and we have to think again, what we are doing and what we're not doing with our children. And of course, this is the thing, this is our youngest son, the same guy who was there. And I often ask in this situation that if you own child is sick. Most of you, you have own children, or you have had little kids.

So if you own kid feels like this, what do you do? If you don't happen to have a paediatrician in your family, which would be a kind of a nice thing to have. But we don't all have this luxury. But if you own kid is like this, what do you do? And you don't know what's going on? What do you do? You go the doctor. And then you go to the see the clinic, the paediatrician that the trust and then you see the paediatrician. And she tells you that this is actually a thing, this is what your child has, you have to do a, b and c during the next seven days. What do you do? You do exactly as a doctor orders. Whether the kid likes it or not, you do it because you want to get your kid healthy. Now, here is the kind of a irony of this whole thing, that these medical, the same children's doctors are now saying things that the health and wellbeing of young people, not only little children, but teenagers particularly is going downhill.

And this has happened during the faster than before during the last eight years. And some people say that there may be different things there. Some people say that it's a screen time that the kids are spending too much time on social media and other things. And it's a kind of a harmful for your psyche. Some people say that it's a school that we are pushing kids to do, achieve too fast and too much and too early. Whatever it is, this is a thing that many medical doctors now, and health experts are standing up and saying we have to stop this, this is not going to end well. So, these are the statistics that you have seen here. These are all Australian things from the Youth Mental Health Report, if you look at these trends, that we have 25-30% of young people, teenagers having serious mental kind of a science of mental illness. That's not good. It doesn't matter how hard we try in our schools to help these kids to learn, learning will not happen. And here are some of those things that these young people themselves identify with themselves.

So this is what the doctors are now saying, this is the book that we wrote. And we so we report, all these things that the medical doctors are now helping us to see, if you look at these, I'm not going to read them because I guess all of you, you can see these things. So, if this is what the doctors, medical doctors of children are saying that the play is important thing. And then there are doctors, paediatricians now that are giving doctor's orders one hour outdoor play every day to the parents, why don't we do that? Why do we put the medicine into gates, and do all kinds of other things. But when they are saying something like this, we are not doing this, this is another doctor's order. They're saying that if we really care about are concerned about children's success in life, don't send them to coaching or additional classes or push them with the homework, read with them, play with the kids.

That's what the doctor are now saying, they also medical doctors are giving advice to the schools, how we should organise and redesign and rethink the schooling, that the research that has been disappearing in many countries, in the name of rising, improved in test scores in reading and math and other things. We have seen in the United States and here as well that there's less time to do those things. So I'm going to play you one. I have a good friend in Harvard Medical School called Dr. Michael Rich, and he's a former filmmaker. He's one of the most kind of a vocal paediatricians about the importance of play and media. I'm going to play this one minute thing that I often sold the parents who are seriously concerned about their own children's success and learning. Just take a look at what the Michael Rich is saying.


19:51 | [Video plays]

Hi, I'm Dr Michael Rich, the Mediatrician and director of the Centre of Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital, at Harvard Medical School, today's busy world; it's hard for parents to know how their children should spend their free time. Should they be taking extra classes or playing more sports? Or can they be allowed to direct their own play or even to daydream? 88% of parents think their kids are pressured to grow up too quickly, and are over scheduled. Yet many of them still have to take extra classes or sports, because they're afraid that they'll fall behind in some way that, they won't be able to compete in the fast paced world of today.

But the reality is that play is absolutely essential for kids to grow up smart, healthy, happy and capable of handling the social demands of everyday life. Make time for your child to play particularly free play in which she or he is able to make decisions about where they go, what they do, what they're doing with their time. Because when children lead play, they build empathy, they figure out how to resolve conflict, and they learn how to negotiate all of the variables of daily life. We're playing today leads to a healthier happier more successful tomorrow.


21.09 | Professor Pasi Sahlberg

That's Michael Rich we are going to do this now just kicking off a joint research project with the Harvard Medical School and Michael Rich on growing up digital. Is called growing up digital in Australia. So we are looking at is not related to the play. But we are trying to understand how the digital media particularly affects children's growing up and education in the school as well. If you heard what Michael said he's not a paediatrician, he's a mediatrician, because he works, he leads the media and children's health. So, this is becoming a big issue. How you doing so far? This looks like a 747 passenger plane going from Sydney to Singapore or something like this, make sure you keep your seat belts fast and because it's going to get bumpy now. Okay, so then the next question, of course, in this area of research that we're doing is that, what are we talking about? When you talk about play? I know that many of you are thinking about, what is play?

And one interesting thing is that one thing I learned during this research is that there's a world of difference. When asking this question in English, in English speaking country like Australia, or England or United States and asking this question in Finland or Sweden, and you know why, because we have in a Finnish language of Swedish language, we have different word for children's play, that is only used when we talk about these things that we are talking about here. Now, this title is play, okay? Could mean anything, if you don't know the context, it can be anything, it can be poker or professional rugby, or it can be playing violin, or it can be about the theatre. But in Finnish language, so sweetest if you use this particular word, you cannot make a mistake. So it's a different, and I found myself in kind of a facing the same question when people asked what do you mean by play? What do you ask this thing, being a player's play?

Before I understood that people have different meanings for these things that in my language, my mother tongue, we would never ask that there's this. Am I right? The Finnish educators here, that's right thing. It's called Lakey, it's a really powerful positive word that we only use when we talk about play as we talk about here. So that's why we spend a lot of time with the defining play. Some people, some critics who are reading our research, and our manuscripts say that, but you have to have a definition of play. And I think we write in the book that we tried hard to do that. But defining play is almost like defining what is love? How do you define love, you know, when you see, when you see two people in love, you can say that, this is there. And it's the same thing with a play, when you see children doing things that you know that you can see that they're playing, but you cannot define it what it is, that's a kind of a difficulty in this academic world that we need to define and finally, kind of go to everything.

So this is a kind of a framework that we use. And we recommend people who are interested in really understanding and how do we know that the children are playing, how do we know that there's a kind of a higher, higher quality play, we call it the deep layer deeper play. And there are five dimensions. And this is where the shallow play. So the kind of loadings of these five dimensions, the weaker they are, so less self-directedness there's or less kind of an intrinsic external motivation there, you get kind of a closer to the shallow play. And this is of course, the kind of idea that we would like to have at the all these dimensions positive emotions, that is a kind of a joyful for children, they do it because it's a fun, and it's a positive thing is the kids are focusing on doing things and playing rather than producing something, they use the imagination rather than follow the script or somebody orders, and so on.

So, more we can kind of a have power on these five dimensions, we argue in the book, that kind of a deeper the place. And therefore the of course, if you ask the question that so what would a kind of a really deep play look like? It can be many things, but the easiest thing that you can find is when the children are playing with one another, outdoors, without any adult or teach or parent intervention day, then it's the most likely these five loadings are actually happening, Lego Foundation that does a lot of research in this field has a similar type of scheme for defining what the play is. But that's what we are offering people who really want to if you want to have a kind of analytical look and ask that what type of play is happening there in a different context. This is one option to do that, you can do a lot of research on kind of a play situation that we're going to do in the research we do.

Now, the other thing is that I mentioned earlier that education authorities can have a less and less include the emphasis on play, children's play in their formal documents. Like, if you don't tweet this, I can tell you that I met the new minister of education yesterday, who happened to be the also the former Minister of early childhood. And she was giving an address about the next kind of a big things in New South Wales during her mandate, not a single word about play or anything like this. And I just told myself, I'm not saying that it's a kind of a mistake. But it’s kind of an interesting thing. We have a new minister back home in Finland as well. She's a 32 year old female. And I can tell you one thing, that one of the first things that she will address when she goes to talk to teachers and leaders and parents. Others is this importance of play not just in a pre-school and primary school, but everywhere.

And that's the kind of a difference, this is what we have in our national co-curriculum in Finland, that kind of defines how the pre-schools and kindergartens and also primary schools, how they define, how they can have a plan they work, that you will see how this play is everywhere. So it's a kind of a legal requirement in some countries, not all countries, but some countries to be included in the programmes and curricula, and everything that the schools are doing. But it's a very much muted and absent in countries like Australia, for example. So, that's the difference. So then the fourth one, and this is what the second last of these things, the fifth one will be about this concrete research that we are doing. But the subtitle of this talk is this loosening, the grip on structured learning. Now, if you asked me as a newcomer in this wonderful country that we really are learning to love, except when it comes to people in the traffic in Sydney.

And I'm saying that somebody who was a cyclist in Sydney, you know what I'm talking about? I love you guys everywhere else. But when you step into your automobile, I just don't like you at all. Some of you, you tried to kill me twice, like really close. But one of those things that I really kind of like been asking myself is when it comes to improving young people's lives, and especially learning in the school that so what should we do here? And this is the question that I probably face more often than anything else now since I came here. And one of those responses, based on my experience back home and some other countries, my simple conclusion here is that maybe we are trying too much, too hard. Maybe we asking people, especially children to do too many things, too early and too fast. Maybe the solution for the kind of a next level of Australian education and southwest education would be loosening the grip a little bit, trust the schools more, and ask them to do less things rather than ask them to do two more.

And maybe the better things would happen that way. Now, I know that there are some people in the audience who said, "What are you talking about?" Because the way to world class education is to try harder and faster and compete with everybody else. Let me show you what I'm talking about here. Now, this is something that most of you, you don't know. But I want to show you this because this hopefully makes you also think, again, what is the best way to bring play back to schools and children's lives and improve learning. So this is one of the video series, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that Australia, New Zealand, Finland, America,  20 or 35 countries are members, the wealthiest countries in the world. So the OECD is doing this, collecting data every year from different systems, you see the OECD countries over there, this shows you if you don't see that in the back, this will show you the starting age of compulsory education around the world.

So that it ranges from four years in some countries, to seven that is in Finland. So Finis, they start formal schooling when they are seven years old. In Australia, here, it's six. Smallest, pretty much there. And this one here is the duration of primary and lower secondary schooling, again, ranges from eight to 11 years over here. So already here, you see that the countries are different in terms of how much they expect children to be taking part in a formal schooling. So I'm going to show you that this is the primary total number of primary school lessons. So we're just adding up the lessons during the length of the primary education. And you will see if not anything else, you will see the countries are very different. So the children in different countries in the OECD experience schooling very differently, including play, because in some places, where they have many more hours to go to school to compared to some of these countries over here, they have much less kind of a space to do that.

Here, the lower secondary school and now we get this kind of an interesting thing here. This is typically the length of the compulsory education or this is the kind of a time that the kids spend in the school, when they take part in this international study called pizza. If you don't know what pizza is, it's OECD's international benchmark, student achievement yardstick that is comparing different countries in reading math and science in every three years. So, the interesting thing here, just comparing Australia and Finland is that, when our kids are 15 years old. And I take my son, if we stay here, hopefully stay here until he's 15. So when he's 15, here in Australia, and his friends back home in Finland, that he went to started schooling, have done five years less formal schooling than here.

Five years, at the age of 15, so huge. So of course, you can argue about this and say that there may be reasons for this, and that, but then this is homework is another one, this is telling something about how much kids are required to spend time related to school, on average. After the school day, or weekends, Finland is here less than three hours a week, this is based on the students own reports in OECD studies, Australia is here, it's a six hours a week, which adding on to what you saw previously. It's basically it means that the Australian gets, according to this data, have much, much less time to do other things than their sisters and brothers in Finland, are you with me? Okay, so this is a kind of a thing that also leads me to wonder, that may be good a little bit less, be better. I don't know what you think. But certainly, if we would be able to do a little bit less like a structured stuff in our schools here, it would leave more time for unstructured play.

So this is, again, an international look. This is pretty much by the way, what our son is experiencing in a year one here in Sydney, where he goes to public school that don't don't pay attention to these subjects. These are just where my head kind of an example of what these blocks could be. But the main thing here is that this child experiences a block here, and very little break there. Another one, a third one, and then the little break here, two more blocks, and then the lunch break, that is very short. And then one or two blocks, and all kinds of extracurricular stuff. I take my son to school every morning, quarter to nine, pick him up if I can, quarter past three. So it's seven, he's in school for six and a half hours. And this is a very different world that he would experience in back home in Finland. Very interesting, I asked the school that what is this 20 minute break here for? And the school teacher said, "It's a tea break."

I said, "Otter doesn't drink tea, what we going to do, coffee either. So what's going to happen there?" Here, it's not even called a play break. It's something that the kids support. And it's not only the school, I've seen this in many other schools that kids are supposed to do something over there. The lunch break, I think in many schools here in Australia, I think far too late. It can be in this school, it's a little bit long, I think it's a 30 or 40 minutes. But then there are parents who are kind of insisting the waste time after lunch should be for extracurricular stuff. I see this in many schools where the kids eat fast, they don't eat carrots and apples that they should, but everything else that is in the lunch box, and then they have access to the extra-curricular activities, which is kind of again, I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, or a negative things necessarily, but it's a very, very different thing to what our son had in Finland, look at this school day over there.

So this is year one or year two school day in Helsinki, where he came from. And again, as I said earlier, that I try to look at these things from the child's perspective. So there's a 45 minute block here. And then there's a playtime, is called recess for play. It's put the boots on and hats and go outside and play by themselves, come back to the 45 minute class, have lunch and play time, and so on. So this, their experiences are very different, they have much more access to this kind of a free unstructured play in all this. This is not just one school, this every single school does this in back home. So my point here is that this is a different thing. That's why there's a much more time to play there. Let me run this to the end because I have one more thing, then the other, together with this fact that there's no time enough to play is the space.

And I'm going to ... Is anybody recognise this place? I've you been there? This is Sir Richard Branson's Island. And I spent a week with him about a month ago on this island. So I hang with Richard, actually call him dick right now. But anyway, this is where he lives in the British Virgin Islands, Necker Island. And next time when you go there, pay attention to one thing how Richard who is using these kind of a business slogans like, work hard, and play hard. And I thought before I went there for the first time, this is my second time, because I hang around with Richard as you know. But I tried to kind of see that. What does it look like, in his place, in his home, that the play is important and plays everywhere. You cannot go anywhere on his Island without coming across by, there's a board game or something that you can play with that is meant for having fun, and doing something.

And so I started to ask myself, how about the schools? How about the secondary schools? Anyway how much do they look like spaces that are inviting people to play rather than just learn, and I think there's a lot of things that we can learn from, certainly from business people and somebody like him about how important the space is that it's giving you a licence to get away from your daily routines and do something fun. So that's an important, this is my last thing here, and I'm happy to have a conversation with you. But as I said earlier that the Kentucky Institute, we have not been able to progress too far in any of our research because we just started recently, but this is something that we are now just actually right now today, getting formerly kind of a licence to go further. We have a research we have designed and launching a research project called Fair Play. And this Fair Play is something that we do in close collaboration and support from Lego and Lego education here in Australia.

So what we try to do because the Kentucky Institute, our mission is a main interest is to look at how can we make Australian education schools system more equitable or equal, fairer. In other words, that all kids should have access to the high quality experiences are opportunities to learn and develop themselves. So in this research, we are particularly interested in resiliency. In other words of how the play different kind of a play experiences in Australia schools, primary and secondary schools, could enhance resiliency of kids, in other words, help those who have less opportunities often coming from the more disadvantaged backgrounds to progress and learn and engage in learning like everybody else. So we could have two different kind of a streams in this fair play research that we're going to do now, with about 30 schools around the state here.

The other one is looking at the unstructured, free play, and the power of the play when we bring these opportunities inside a schoolhouse. So what we basically going to do is that Lego is providing huge amount of these bricks. So we're going to bring these bricks and blocks in the school, and then work with the school stuff, teachers and principals, the main advice is that don't intervene, just let the kids do whatever they decide to do. But the main idea is that we going to see and research how that type of play environment when kids have a kind of open access to an unstructured free play is engaging different types of kids. And my hypothesis is a blazer kind of area. Rather than compared to science, or math or academic stuff, where let's get really feel that I'm not good in play. Now, I don't want to try science, because my mother told me that you're not really a science person, I used to be a science and math teacher myself.

So I can talk about that as well. So this is a structure free Play, is the first dream of this February results. Then the other one, we are looking at the structured learning through play within the same research scheme, where Lego is giving us the first Lego League kind of a toys and packages where the kids are learning more kind of a stem related things. So this will be much more structured within the science and the technology and engineering and math concept. About the same, we have the same question that how this type of approach would affect the resiliency of the kids in the school? Are we able to provide a more equitable or more equal environment for kids to learn when we do it through the concept of play.

Hopefully, when we meet next time, we have some early results about these things. We have selected the schools now, Adrian, I think we have the schools selected, we have all the paperwork done. We're hiring a few people and some my doctoral students are going to work with this. So we will have more detail about that in a moment. I hope that you found this interesting. I thank you very much for your attention. I'm very happy to have a conversation with you. Thank you.


41.50 | Q+A session with audience

David Blaazer:               So now Pasi will be taking questions. There are people working microphones on either side of the room. So I will identify people. And we have a question right here, just right here at the front corner. Thank you.

Speaker 4:                    Professor, thank you for your presentation. I got challenge what you said. I've had six children have gone through the system, the public school and the private schools. 10 grandchildren have had the same experience. I'm involved with the local people who can't afford to go to private schools, and we've got sport going all the time and practise during the week. Incidently when I went to Duntroon, the major question I was asked is, what sport do you play? And I tell them the sport and we're very good, because according to the college now, the thing is that you haven’t proven is that Finnish people borrowing their system with the lesser school, are vastly superior to Australian education systems. My question is, have you really looked at what the Australian system is, forget about the 11 years and so on, you haven't listened to the headmaster? What do they talk about? They talk about the stuff you're talking about. So what are you doing with regard to research?

Pasi Sahlberg:               Thank you very much for your question. Yes, I have seen schools here in all three systems, private schools and government schools and Catholic schools. But obviously, you have to understand that I'm a newcomer here. So there's a limit. I've seen schools in about 65 different countries, extensively in all of the European countries, as well. But of course, I don't have the experience that you have-

Speaker 4:                    Are the Finnish results superior to Australia?

Pasi Sahlberg:               Well, it depends on what we mean by results. If we just look at what the OECD is providing the OECD PISA results, the Finland is outperforming Australia easily in reading science and mathematics. But as I said that's one way to look at the results. There are many other ways as well. But, I tried to do my best and see so many schools as I can here. I understand your point about private independent schools here. Of course, they have a very different governance system and different opportunities to do this. Many of the private schools actually doing pretty much the things that I can see back home in Finland, but I'm more interested in all the schools, not just some of them, but all the schools that could help everybody every single get to perform. I often say here when I came here, and my friends and colleagues back home in Finland, they asked me that. So what is your view on Australian school system?

                                    I often say that, to me, the Australian school system is among the best in the world. But not for everybody. And that's the challenge we have. If you go and ask the same thing back home in Finland, you hear people saying that the school system is among the best in the world, for everybody, every child, pretty much. And that's a kind of a challenge that the country needs to be tried to really work hard to figure out how we can make this system more equitable and equal here, because that is the number one challenge. If you ask me, in the school education here in Australia, it's that this kind of access to world class education is not provided equally for everybody. But thanks for your question.

David Blaazer:               Yes.

Speaker 5:                    There we go. Thank you. I'm a working mom. And from a practical perspective, I was curious to see that in Finland, school finishes at 1:00 or 1:30. And so in Australia, the expectation is that you stay back at work till 5:00, what is the solution you have in Finland for that period of time? But also, are you looking at after school care and how they can engage kids in that play process? As well?

Pasi Sahlberg:               Yeah, thank you very much. And good luck with your children, is one of the hardest work that you're going to have. But great question, there tWO kind of a principal things the society schools are doing. I don't think that there's a one solution, if you want to have a one solution to the thing that the kids are kind of ending the school fairly early. One thing that the elementary schools are required to do, meaning the grades year, one, two, three, four in Finland, is to make sure that they have after school activities available for those children and parents who need it.

                                    So that's why you have this playtime over there, it's not structured thing it can be recreational thing can be music, or drama, or whatever the kids want to do. But that's if the parents want to do that. So that's provided by law for all the parents who want to have it. If you want to have your kids earlier home, that's fine that's your thing. Then the other one is that the labour laws in Finland are favourable for families like this, because we have families run by women, the politics is we have a new government in power last week, and we have 11 female ministers and eight male ministers there, but this means that the political thing is also very much coloured by this fact that families are important, and mothers have to have a right to do the similar things.

                                    So one of those, I was employing, when before I came here, I was employing hundreds of people in my office. And we have to have a kind of an option for mothers or fathers if they want to have a kind of a shorter working hours, so that they can go and pick the children up in a school at two or something like that. So I cannot say no, if somebody comes to me as a father, mother and say that I want to work 80% of my time now because my children, of course, I need to see that this is a real case. But then I have to authorise that, which means that you can leave, you can come to work, and then you can leave 2:30 or 2 O'clock or 3 O'clock whenever you want to do that. And do it for your children.

                                    So those are those two things that are kind of helping parents and children also to do this. But it's a great question. And when the kids get older, when they're in the fifth grade or so on, that's a kind of an issue that what should we do? That's also often the time that is kind of a most sensitive when the kids are about 10, 11, 12 if we leave them alone in the city like this, anything can happen. But that's something that we are trying to do our best. Y

David Blaazer:               Yes, gentleman there. That's you.

Speaker 6:                    Thank you so much for your talk. That's very, very interesting and resonates a lot. One short question you didn't address, I don't think how many weeks you have in each term or session. So how many hours per day, but how many weeks? Over the whole year?

Pasi Sahlberg:               So 38 weeks.

Speaker 6:                    Okay. Thanks. The more important ones were, how much do you think our education system is distorted by the National sort of examination and their plan? And also, I mean, the setting of these fairly to me theoretical marks as to how well somebody's performing to get into certain degree course?

Pasi Sahlberg:               I don't know. What should I say? I think people as far as I'm aware, more aware about the role of nap line, I think people care too much about that. And that's my personal view as a researcher and scholar is that most parents actually completely misunderstand the whole Naplan thing. Naplan is not the thing that should inform what their kids learn in the school. Naplan is not designed to do that. It can help parents as taxpayers to know how the system is doing, or how the region is doing but not standardised. This is not to inform parents, their own kids education. So I think the bigger problem is not Naplan or my school, but the bigger problem everywhere is that, how do we really understand what these standardised assessments are for?

                                    And this is exactly what the Kentucky Institute where we made our kind of a comments about the next format of Naplan was exactly this, the easy way out of this would be to transform this national assessment programme to be assembled based, that will do away. Most of these kind of a shortcomings that we have right now there. I'm not one of those who say the standardised testing is bad, I've had to be abolished. I think that's not the solution. We just need to understand what is it for, OCDP's is exactly the same thing, that there are countries now that are competing against other countries that try to be like Shanghai and Finland.

                                    Just by driving people crazy in these international standardised tests to make sure that they perform well. And it's equally wrong thing because they are not meant to be used for competition. They're meant to be used for national monitoring and understanding how do we do here in several areas compared to others? And what do we need to do to improve these things? But that's my ... I hope that this was the answer to your question.

Speaker 6:                    The other one was the Ada.

Pasi Sahlberg:               I don't know. We have Adrian Piccoli here. Maybe he can say something. But I'm in the learning curve. So I started in early years. And then I'm now in the Naplan and the HSC and Ada will come later, but probably they're going to be abolished by the time I get into that, all changed at least. All right.

Speaker 7:                    Throughout your talk, the word play was often used in the same phrase as the word time, you had time to play, screen time, play time. And in English language, we have a lot of focus on putting past, present, future tense in structuring our language. So in Finnish is there so much focus or not so much focusing in putting tense in so would you say I do play or do you need to attach a tense to it? And I'm just thinking if that perhaps is one of the difference between Finland and an English speaking countries, perhaps the language.

Pasi Sahlberg:               That's so easy question. I'm going to give this to my Finnish sisters here. What do you say?

Speaker 8:                    I just say, you play. Its just, you play.

Pasi Sahlberg:               You were born here in Australia?

Speaker 8:                    I was born in Australia, my mother's Finnish right here.

Pasi Sahlberg:               Okay, you can answer this question.

Speaker 8:                    It's just you play. You don't say play time.

Speaker 9:                    Are you still pro kids going to say a gymnastics class after school or a swimming class or something like that after school rather than staying at home and watching TV or whatever?

Pasi Sahlberg:               Absolutely. I'm all for physical activity as usual. So the other the report card for Australia we are lacking time for physical activity. And if the kids want to swim, like our son,  goes to swimming classes, that's great. And it's often for us adults is difficult to really understand. If somebody goes to swim after school, for him, it's a play. He understands that it's a kind of a form of physical activity and play.

                                    So we should not be so strict about these things. Had to get my kids and send them to the forest and see what happens over there. Swimming and tennis and physical activities, and trauma, all those things are wonderful things where the kids find the kind of a space to play. There's a very important thing for sure. That's the important thing is that whatever children do, if it's supposed to be their kind of a recreation or play, we adults, we can appear as we can do a huge disservice for kids, if we force them to do what they don't want to do. So that's the kind of important thing is that we will always follow kind of other children's own interest and will and support that whenever we can.

Speaker 10:                  Thank you Pasi a very inspiring presentation. I'm Hungarian I'm parenting, the six year old in Australia. I'm an academic at UNSWU in linguistics. And my observation about the Australian school system is that, it’s really focused on the hardcore literacy. And that is music, art, and languages, particularly are missing. And I think these areas also have a lot of opportunity for play and creativity. So how do you see that area to be changed in the future? Or do you have the same view on that?

Pasi Sahlberg:               Yes, of course. But how these things are going to play out in the future. My hope here is much more than many other places, certainly much more than back home in Finland is working with parents. Adrian was my colleague often say that ministers authorities do what parents asked them to do. And I fully understand that it's the same thing. But if I can be successful with anybody who wants to do that, working with parents, what we are doing now, in our son's school is to try to work, my wife is the vice president of the PLC. It's an interesting thing that happened in the third day, when we came to Australia.

                                    She came back from the school and said, "You know, what, I was elected to be as Vice President of PLC." And as a wonderful, let's open the champagne and celebrate. Then the next week somebody came from the school said, "It's not really something that you celebrate, it's a kind of a sign that you didn't understand to leave the room when the votes started." But the parents is, and that's what she's doing now with wonderful parents in the school and wonderful school and the leadership and teachers. But the fact is that people come to school, the parents come to school, say that, "I want to have best things from my own children." I do exactly the same. But we have a different view, what is this best thing, for me is a play.

                                    But more than anything else, for some other parents is the extracurricular stuff and support in literacy and science and those things. So my advice to my wife, who is working now very closely with the council and parents is, "Why don't you use this thing, that beautiful thing that John F. Kennedy said to his people, when he was leading the country that ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country that go to this PLC meeting and say to these parents that, ask not what your school can do for you and your child, ask what you can do for the school." And that's where many of these things related to the play begin, when we have a common understanding, a common language in what we want to do.

                                    So that's where my hope really lies here, much more than trying to improve this wonderful teachers and principals that I work regularly here with, and I have a huge respect and appreciation of their professional quality and competence and moral purpose to work in a school. So, that's not the problem here. The challenge is that we need to help all the other people to see what is good for kids. If this was a group of primary and preschool teachers, and I said, "How many of you think that children should play more?" Every single one would put their hand up. And if I asked you that, "How many of you think that the kids play too little at home?" Every one of you would put your hand up. So the challenge is really elsewhere. And that's where the hope is.

David Blaazer:               I'm going to first of all, thank all of you for attending. And thank you for your questions that also, thank you very much Pasi for somewhat provocative presentation.

Pasi Sahlberg:               Thank you, everybody, once again, for coming. It's a wonderful to see so many people interested in these things. And if you have any further interest in the research or work that we do, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. I'm always happy to come and see what you do or listen to your ideas or look at interesting examples, whether they are in a private school, or Catholic school or government school, I don't care when people are doing interesting things. And I hope that we can somehow meet again and work together for these issues in the future. So thank you very much, everybody for coming.

David Blaazer                And as he leaves, can I just remind you that the next learning lunch will be held on the 18th of July. With Professor Louis Chapel from the Australian Human Rights Institute. So if you can put that in your calendars, or visit our alumni website to get the details. Thanks very much for coming. And thank you again, Pasi.

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