The real test for Finland’s educational system

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

All of us who have children in Finland are familiar with the high quality of our educational system. Its high standards have been noticed abroad by the 2009 OECD Pisa study, which placed Finland in third place after Shanghai and South Korea.

Irrespective of the high academic achievement of these countries, they are not free from a social ill like racism. Unfortunately the Pisa results don’t measure how well students deal with different cultures.

If some newspaper articles are anything to go by, racism and xenophobia in  China and South Korea are a cause for concern. Even in Finland we have seen such a worrying trend. A good example will be the April elections in Finland and how many politicians will get elected with the help of their anti-immigration and Islamophobic stances.

I personally believe that our high academic standards should save us from populism and xenophobia, or at least keep these social ills in check. One of the cornerstones of our educational system is equality. When we speak of this nobel societal value we mean equality for all people irrespective of their background.

For some parties like the True Finns, Muutos 2011, Vapauspuolue, and for certain representatives of major Finnish parties like the Social Democrats (Kari Rajamäki) and Kokoomus (Wille Rydman), equality does not apply to all members of our society.

If we allow racism and xenophobia to get the best of us in the next parliamentary elections, it will not only end up harming this country’s future but reveal how our educational system has failed.


  1. xyz

    It is important that already young people get used to work/live together with people from different backgrounds. Also, I read in an article that Finnish employers do not value foreign education as much as Finnish education. I was always wondering how employers can value education if they have never worked/studied in any other country?

    • Enrique

      xyz, that is a good question: how can a person value foreign education if he/she has never studied abroad?

      And you are right on the mark about how education should teach people to live and work together.

    • Enrique

      Here is an interesting quote by Alan Bruce on diversity management in Europe: “A significant danger has been identified in the fact that European rights are sometimes seen to be available to European citizens and not to the millions of external workers, refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Europe. The extension of notions of equality of rights of participation, citizenship and access beyond gender to all citizens and indeed non-citizens is now a fundamental question of European social policy.”

  2. William O'Gorman

    I think internationalisation at a young age is the true way to eventually bring a foundation of acceptance, tollerance and understanding to a society. Start with the youth of the country and help them to grow in way that opens their minds to the world outside and all the differences that this international environment brings. It is fundamenally important so as to stop providing the fuel for the future true Finns fire or ignorance and misinterpretation. Finland is aware of this, in my opinion, and more and more schools are becoming international to meet this need. If the current crop of Finns can be educated to be more open and tolerant then there could be a bright future. All we need is the current product to understand this!
    This is something I beleive in for this country and I am working to help make this part of the solution for the future of this country. Small steps, long journey.

    Also about the PISA results- Finland should be even more proud of their standing as it is well known that in many Asian countries (South Korea especially) it is common if not normal for students to take many hours of extra classes outside of the normal class time. Big advantage I think.

    • Enrique

      Hi William, great to hear from you and welcome to Migrant Tales! I hope you had a nice holiday break. I totally agree with you and I think the main task is for Finns to not take the easy and false path of intolerance and xenophobia that parties like the True Finns are spearheading. I especially liked what you recommended: Small steps, long journey. That’s exactly what it is. We must not forget to keep on taking those small steps.

      I know a little about the Irish case from a friend and colleague who told me that you Ireland has done things pretty well on the immigration front. There are, for example, no ultra-right wing parties like in other parts of Europe.

      We hope to hear a lot more from you!

  3. William O'Gorman

    I find it a little disheartening that this post has had such little replies. From what I can see, lots of posts on this blog are all about finger pointing and in some cases plain old bigotry. Then when a post is made that could actually present some form of discussion on the real and actual future integration in Finland, the post lies dormant. The fact is that Finland needs immigrants and the skills they can bring here and just their skills that can make money but the multiculturalism it can bring which can then benefit the society. But why is it that often the discussion focuses on terrorism and hatred and fear? By saying this someone will follow up with a commetn about other countries that multiculturism hasnt worked in, how did they feel on 9.11 and all that but come on. How can we make this happen and make it a reality for the future.. because it will happen and the sooner people start to accept this the better. These are of course my opinions but when people reply (if they do) just keep in mind I am thinking about the future…15-20 years down the line.. . is Finland open or closed for business?

    • Enrique

      Hi William, I totally agree. What you point out is one of the tactics of the reactive camp that does not want anything to change. The stance, as you point out, should be pro-active. Immigrants are now a part of Finnish society and they have to be treated as members of this society. One of the biggest challenges to Finland’s new inhabitants is acceptance. That’s why I think it is great that people get pissed off and do something about the sitaution. Where would I start? From the job sector. As you know, immigrant unemployment is estimated to be three times higher than on average for the country. In some groups it is much higher than that. To a certain degree our social welfare system offers a solution by giving these unemployed social help but it is not enough.

      One of the problems are Finland’s labor markets, which are inflexible and not too conducive to hiring. If you consider that we had one of the highest growth rates in Europe a few years ago, it wasn’t enough to lower unemployment to pre-1990 levels, which was under 3%.

      What do you think should be done?

  4. JusticeDemon

    Sounds like you have swallowed the line on alleged labour market inflexibility, Ricky. This is usually a euphemism that stands for a vigilant trade union movement and enforcement of meaningful employment laws, but what do you mean by a flexible labour market?

    • Enrique

      That is a good question, JusticeDemon. By flexible markets I mean the type that would be more conducive to hiring people. Probably make it less costly for the employer. And I don’t mean third-world wages here.

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