Dialogue with Pasi Sahlberg - Let Children Play

Richard Henry, Head of School November 24, 2018
Dialogue with Pasi Sahlberg - Let Children Play

Last week I was invited to the home of the Finnish Ambassador to Singapore to meet with Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish professor and world-renowned expert in education. Mr Sahlberg has been a thought leader in education around the globe for many years. His research and books have been used by many to drive educational reform. His most influential book, Finnish Lessons 2.0, was published in 2011 and provides an analysis of the Finnish school system and its support of vocational training.

The gathering last week was for a select few. Along with myself were two representatives of the Singaporean Ministry of Education and three Principals, each from some of the most highly respected schools in Singapore. Our task was to discuss the future of education in countries such as Singapore and Finland whilst also looking at best practice around the world. Mr Sahlberg delivered an address in which he targeted three key areas that he is currently focussing his research. The collected “think tank” then discussed at length these topics and shared our perspectives on education today and in the future.

Content v Skills

As with most aspects of education, there is a need for balance. As a child progresses through their years of learning, schools must clearly articulate the phases of skills development whilst also being purposeful and transparent when designing content delivery. When I shared our approach at GEMS with the other members of the group there was a clear interest from the Ministry officials to learn more about what we do and why we do it.

Technology Use

With our children exposed to a vast array of technology today, it is imperative that both the school and parents set clear expectations for its use. Recently there have been many articles on the amount of screen time that children should have. Our group discussion focused on the fact that the parameters for children should not simply focus on time itself but also determine what the technology is actually being used for. Are children using technology to watch kittens play on YouTube or are they creating apps to solve real-world problems? There is obviously a significant difference between the two with respect to learning.


Mr Sahlberg stated that it was his opinion that student wellbeing is one of the most important aspects of education today. Incorporating wellness into schools is as important as a healthy environment, proper nutrition and physical activity. Wellbeing is one of the three pillars in our GEMS (Singapore) strategic plan. In his new book, Let Children Play, being released next year, Mr Sahlberg explains that play is the key to ensuring that children have the skills they need to succeed.

It was pleasing to have been invited to this unique event but even more pleasing was the reassurance that GEMS World Academy (Singapore) is delivering an educational experience which is closely aligned to the world’s leading educational thinkers. Collaborating with people such as Mr Sahlberg enables us to not only reflect on our practices but lead the conversations on quality education in our world today.


Richard Henry
Head of School


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