How well does Finland’s school system educate children with immigrant backgrounds?

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

A story on the Guardian  praises Finland’s educational system for setting a “great example” in educating immigrant children. While I am certain there are many success stories out there, are matters that rosy as the London daily claims?

When I read the article I thought about a  survey published in February, which showed 41% of  teachers would want to limit at schools the amount of pupils with immigrant backgrounds?

Like everything else, perspective is key. What do children with immigrant backgrounds say about our educational system? Do they agree whole-heartedly with what the Guradian writes?

Certainly there is a lot of good will in this country to make immigration work. Even so, do we agree about the big picture, or what is the role of these students will be when they become adults in our ever-culturally diverse society?

Certainly there are big differences between schools in eastern Helsinki and small towns like Liperi.

“Liperi is a small town in the region of Pohjois-Karjala and there weren’t too many Russians when we moved there (in the 1990s),” says Aune Rugoyeva. “It was sometimes pretty tough at  middle-school since my classmates chewed me out (for being Russian) and excluded me (from the rest of the group). It was a very lonely place to be.”

The bullying that Aune suffered at the school was possible thanks to the teachers who turned a blind eye, according to her.

One of the most important questions our world-famous educational system should therefore be asking is how does it encourage cultural diversity?

When schools speak of “multiculturalism,” or diversity, do they overlook the important fact that the pupil is culturally hybrid and can move between two or more cultures ambidextrously?  When students with immigrant backgrounds, especially those who are visible minorities and who have lived most of their lives in Finland, are asked to “tell about their cultures” at school do we fall into the trap of “us” and “them?”

Probably the last person to understand a student’s hybridity is a someone who has never been an immigrant never mind lived in two or more cultures simultaneously.

Does our school system strengthen and reinforce the students cultural hybridity as an integral part of Finnishness? Most importantly, does it teach important values such as acceptance and respect of such diversity?

Another matter that the Guardian article did not write about is that teachers in Finland rank almost as high as the police with respect to their conservative views of society.

  1. andi

    I’m right with you there. The teachers in the schools my kids go to sometimes don’t know whether my kids are Finnish or British. This despite the fact that they have lived practically their whole lives in Finland and consider themselves to be Finnish who just happen to have a Scots guy for father.
    In most cases second generation immigrants (a rather crude term I think) are actually no different from those whose ancestors have lived in the country for generations, minor differences of religion and them usually being bilingual not counting, and want nothing more than to be treated like every other school kid.

    • Enrique

      Hi Andi, you are right and it shows how we don’t really grasp what real diversity means. Your children are Finns as they are Scottish or as they are culturally diverse. Do our schools, and society in general, understand this. I don’t think so. Think for a moment how easy it is to label you from somewhere else and forget you. Think how I am supposed to acknowledge you if I accept you as one of us despite your multicultural background.

  2. gunilla

    An othet aspect of this “When students with immigrant backgrounds, especially those who are visible minorities and who have lived most of their lives in Finland, are asked to “tell about their cultures” at school do we fall into the trap of “us” and “them?”

    It can also reflect genuine interest abouth other cultures even if the question might be a bit clumsy. Not necessarily ment as us and them. Better to discuss than to ignore cultural differences.

  3. Yossie

    I think andi is right there with the “want nothing more than to be treated like every other school kid.” if you really want to avoid “us and them”

    “Does our school system strengthen and reinforce the students cultural hybridity as an integral part of Finnishness?”

    But what do you mean by this Enrique? What should the schools do in practise?

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