Democracy as Othering Within Finnish Education

Democracy as Othering Within Finnish Education

Ashley Simpson (University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJBIDE.2018070106
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The word democracy is frequently uttered by academics, politicians, and, generally within society. Phrases such as ‘democratic education', ‘democracy education' and ‘(student) participation' are often referred to within national curricula, policy briefings, and, teacher education/training and resources. Little critical attention has been given to the word within the context of Finnish education. In recent years the educational system of Finland has been described as a ‘miracle' and commentators have noted its ‘successes.' This article offers a deeper gaze within Finnish education by looking at the ways democracy discourses are uttered by practitioners. For the purposes of this article the author analyses two in-depth conversation extracts, one was from a youth participation conference in Helsinki in 2015, the other is a conversation from a conference held in February 2016. This article focuses on the uses and functions of discourse to uncover cultural stereotyping and othering in terms of how democracy is discussed and expressed within the context of Finland.
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Introduction: Democracy In Finnish Education

The aim of this paper is to focus on the ways discourses about democracy and human rights within Finnish education are framed through nationalistic and/or ethnocentric ideologies. Finland has been ‘described’ as a country ‘that shows what equal opportunities look like’ (Sahlberg, 2012), and a country with ‘high levels of equality’ (Aylott, 2016). In a further example, Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi. (2012) note the importance of teachers as actors of democracy in Finland and stress strong social cohesion as a factor in Finland’s educational successes. The Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland has published on the need for Finland to do better in terms of inclusion and participation in its schools (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2008). Moreover, the Ministry has gone on to stress that Finland recognises the importance of curriculum development, literacy, and, teacher training for human rights education (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2011). In compulsory education, section 2 of the Basic Education Act in Finland states: ‘(2) Education shall promote civilisation and equality in society and pupils’ prerequisites for participating in education and otherwise developing themselves during their lives’ (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2016, p. 1). The translation and interpretation of what these words mean in practice is yet to be seen. Lappalainen & Lahelma (2015) argue that discourses on equality in Finland have generated a number of assumptions about what society should be like, in contrast to what Finnish society is like. Simola (2014) argues that within Finland a number of discursive formations over time have produced ‘myths’ around ‘educational clientelism’ and notions of ‘social democracy’. Indeed, some studies on Finnish education have indicated that Finnish schools do not encourage students to develop their own ‘political voice’ (Sandström, Einarson, Davies, & Asunta, 2010) in comparison to other countries. Finally, some commentators have indicated a potential ‘democratic crisis’ in sections of Finnish society (Andersson & Sjöblom, 2013). Seemingly, a number of questions remain surrounding the meanings and practices of democratic values within Finland.

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