“Migrants” lag two years behind “ethnic Finns” in Pisa results

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Here’s an interesting story on the Finnish News Agency (STT) wires: Migrant students at school lag two years behind so-called ethnic Finns in the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results.

Of all the OECD countries, Finland’s Pisa result saw the biggest drop in 2013 from the previous year.

Kuvankaappaus 2014-3-9 kello 8.26.59

Read full story here.

Anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset (PS) MPs like Olli Immonen have been quick to point the finger at migrants and Finland’s ever-growing cultural diversity for the sharp drop in Pisa results.

Any sensible person understands that searching for a scapegoat is useless and counterproductive. We should instead look for the reasons behind the fall and take effective steps to resolve the matter.

It’s clear that if Finland wants to make this country successful  in this century, one of the matters it must stop doing is blaming and scapegoating migrants and members of the visible minority community and doing too little to challenge intolerance.

Migrants aren’t the only ones being integrated into Finnish society. Finns too are integrating to a society that is ever-culturally diverse.

Here’s an important question: The law states clearly that we’re supposed to integrate people instead of assimilate them. Are we doing enough to promote two-way integration or is the rule one-way assimilation?

I believe that one of the magic words to raise Pisa scores of New Finns is respect and inclusion. How do the lack of these latter two important factors promote disenfranchisement and disempowerment? How do they impact studying and test scores at school?

Social exclusion costs a lot of money to the tax payer. That’s why we must find effective solutions to empower migrants and minorities to do everything possible to make them a part of our society.

Since Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world, it’s clear that we have the will and the means to find a solution to why New Finns not migrants lag behind in Pisa results.

Results of the findings will be published this summer at the latest, according to Aamulehti, which cites STT.




  1. JusticeDemon

    The diversity of terminology applied in this discussion is now verging on absurdity. This STT newsfeed item refers to “immigrants” and “the population proper”, “children of immigrant background” and the “significance of ethnic background”. Your commentary then refers to “migrants”, “cultural diversity”, “visible minorities”, “new Finns” and “minorities”.

    These expressions reflect a variety of concerns, and they cannot all be used coherently in the same dialogue.

    I hope the final analysis will take greater care in defining and specifying its subject matter.

  2. PS voter

    Have you considered the possibility that the ideological push for multiculturalism instead of assimilation, is harming instead of helping the children with immigrant background?

    For example, in Southern Ostrobothnia there used to be Roma population which gradually assimilated to the rest of the population in that area by intermarriage. Nowadays you cannot really seperate Roma and non-Roma in that area, as their genes are so mixed in the descendants who have prospered. However, those Roma that have kept their culture and not allowed it to develop into more suitable form to current day society, have hight rates of serious social problems. And many of those problems aren’t caused by discrimination, but by themselves as many parts of their culture are not compatible with modern society (eg. taking children out of school and blood feud/vendetta).

    Let’s not repeat the same problems with other ethnic minorities who have difficulties in adapting to modern western society by encouraging them to keep parts of their culture that don’t really fit to this society.

    I would like to bring up as an example Somalis, as I have seen some news about them that are relevant to this issue. For example, Somali-Finnish Saed Guled, who is a project coordinator for International Organization for Migration, has said the following (in a book called “Maahanmuuttajien matka suomalaiseen yhteiskuntaan”):

    “Ymmärtämättömyys suomalaisesta koulutus- ja työllisyyspoliittisesta järjestelmästä sekä tulevaisuuden suunnittelun taitojen puute vaikeuttavat somalien työllistymistä. Useimmat somalinuoret elävät ns. päivä kerrallaan -asenteella, sillä tulevaisuuden suunnittelua ei pidetä merkityksellisenä somalialaisessa kulttuurissa. Tämä asenne juontaa juurensa somalien alkuperään; he olivat alun perin paimentolaiskansaa, joilla oli tapana liikkua ja toimia spontaanisti. Somaleilla on usein vaikeuksia visioida mielessään seuraavat, hyvään tulevaisuuteen johtavat toimenpiteet eivätkä he välttämättä osaa vakavasti suunnitella tulevaisuutta ja pohtia sitä, mitä heistä tulee tai mitä he voisivat opiskella. Tästä syystä voi johtua se, että monet heistä eivät menesty koulussa, sillä opetussuunnitelma ei sovi yhteen heidän todellisuuskäsitystensä kanssa. Lisäksi oppilailta jää osa koulusta käymättä heidän perheidensä muuttaessa maasta toiseen paremman elämän toivossa tai lapsia sopeutettaessa omaksumaan somalialaisen ja muslimikulttuurin tapoja.”

    To me, it sounds that at least part of the problem is keeping too much of the Somali culture instead of adopting Finnish customs, like planning for the future. I think that we Finns should encourage persons with immigrant background towards Finnish customs instead of encouraging or even demanding that the children have to follow the culture of their parents. I have heard that many immigrant children with a Muslim background would like to become medical doctors or engineers. However, many if not most of them don’t understand that well how much work you have to do and seriously concentrate on your studies, if you want to become a medical doctor or engineer instead of just daydreaming and ending up with a bleak future.

    However, I have seen somewhat mixed messages about this issue. Although there aren’t that many Somalis who are studying or have graduated in Finnish universities, I have seen recently at least one news, which said that a lot of Somali parents are encouraging their children to study and emphasizing the importance of studying. To me, that sounds quite promising. However, the extremely low level of education of quite many Somali parents is a problem, as the parents may not be able to help their children with homework etc. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find that news again. Unfortunatelly, I was able to find a news which said that some Somali parents are sending their children to Somalia as they feel that their children have become too westernized.

    Abdi Aynte, who is Al Jazeera reporter who has been born in Somalia, has said that Somali parents in Finland should bring up their their children primarily as Finns and only secudarily as Somalis.

    We should also put higher expectation to students with immigrant background. Naima Farah, a Somali-Finnish student feels that teachers don’t put enough pressure to students with an immigrant background (Maahanmuuttaja kokee, ettei opettaja vaadi tarpeeksi, 9.3.2014, Aamulehti): “Jos suomalainen lapsi saa arvosanan 7, opettaja kannustaa sanomalla, että oppilas olisi voinut pärjätä paremmin. Kun seiskan saa maahanmuuttaja, opettaja kiittää ja onnittelee.”

    • Enrique Tessieri

      PS Voter, the question I have for you is why should anyone be like you? Why are you the norm and what makes you the norm? You claim that all you need to be a Finn, whatever that means, is interbreed and throw away who you are. Isn’t that the case today? If you’re gay why don’t you adapt and become a heterosexual? Just adapt to the norm…
      What you mean by “allowing people to practice their culture” means, in my opinion in many cases, allowing them to be marginal so I don’t have to deal with their issues. If they are marginal I win the power game. Moreover, you’re avoiding to tackle big issues in our society like discrimination and racism.
      Matters on the adaption front don’t work in such a simple way as you claim. I have a right to realize myself on my terms in society. That’s my constitutional right in Finland.
      If we based our adaption model on your suggestion, think of what impact it would have on our Nordic welfare values and the idea of social justice. Isn’t that the model, the one you suggested, was used in countries like Nazi Germany? The only difference with the latter is that we won’t send you to a concentration camp but after you force a group to amalgamate and look like us after many generations, throw away your culture, after you look and sound like me (on my terms) and after I have done all these hostile things to destroy who you are, only then I will begin to respect you.

      Isn’t the above what’s been done all along throughout history?

      Shouldn’t we seek other more effective models starting with respect?

    • Mark

      PS Voter

      To me, it sounds that at least part of the problem is keeping too much of the Somali culture instead of adopting Finnish customs, like planning for the future.

      Several points you should consider. 1) many Somalis hope the security situation in Somalia will improve enough for them to consider returning – however, if their children have too little grasp of the parent culture, then this repatriation will be less likely. 2) Culture is not something that is strictly speaknig ‘adopted’. It’s not a dog, or a child. It’s a mix of customs, anniversaries, celebrations, shared stories and histories, language, food, music, art, poetry, literature and media. Do you speak about ‘adopting’ a liking for Eppu Normaali? Or about ‘adopting’ the custom of eating Mammi? Must they practice these customs for the rest of their lives, or just once or twice? Must they like them or just do it for appearance sake? More to the point, is there anyone telling Finns which customs they should like or not like? Is there someone telling you what ‘culture’ you should practice and that you must do it to prove you are Finnish? Of course not.

      Culture is largely about choice and taste, and these are individual matters. So why treat migrants differently when it comes to culture? When we talk about incompatible cultures, the key criterion is whether it is legal or not – if it is legal, then no-one should be telling you whether you can or cannot do it. Unless you are a fascist totalitarian state that manipulates politics by politicising culture AND trying to control it at the same time.

      Abdi Aynte, who is Al Jazeera reporter who has been born in Somalia, has said that Somali parents in Finland should bring up their their children primarily as Finns and only secudarily as Somalis.

      Well, that’s just fine. But I would question how a Somali parent is expected to bring their child up ‘as a Finn’, when they themselves do not feel Finnish. It’s a bit like asking a biologist to teach geography – what chances that the kids will get the right idea about geography? Children learn through the models, attitudes and behaviour of parents, or even through rebelling against those. The point being, it’s not entirely up to parents how their kids figure out their identities, and parents cannot themselves willingly ‘change’ anything but the most superficial of cultural cues. For example, does going to Sauna on a Saturday make you Finn? Of course not.

      The problem with this conversation as presented by you and many other PS folks is that it has so many false assumptions built into it.

      Naima Farah, a Somali-Finnish student feels that teachers don’t put enough pressure to students with an immigrant background

      This is a very typical response from a high achiever. Many high achievers succeed through a mixture of talent and hard work, and then assume that this recipe allies equally well to all others. Of course, if this was true, then all Finns would likewise be high achievers. Again, the oversimplications going on here do not help anybody. Education is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ paradigm, and indeed, it is that premise of diversity that makes the Finnish system reasonably good.

      As for the Pisa scores, these can easily be pulled downwards through having a less than native grasp of the language. Finnish is in many cases a second language. I’d love to see Finnish students measured in their Pisa scores based on their knowledge of Swedish! Finland’s ranking might be somewhat below what we’ve come to expect. Point is that many immigrants do extremely well taking into account their circumstances. Also, many of the additional educational burdens they face will not stop many of them from succeeding eventually, though it may take a little longer than for less burdened students, as one would expect.