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.