Multicultural Education in Finland: Renewed Intercultural Competencies to the Rescue?

By Dervin, Fred; Paatela-Nieminen, Martina et al. | International Journal of Multicultural Education, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Multicultural Education in Finland: Renewed Intercultural Competencies to the Rescue?


Dervin, Fred, Paatela-Nieminen, Martina, Kuoppala, Kaisa, Riitaoja, Anna-Leena, International Journal of Multicultural Education


Policies on Multicultural Education in Finland Intercultural Competences Renewing the Competencies Perceptions of Intercultural Competencies Creating Glocal Meanings in Finnish Art Education Conclusion Notes References 

Finnish education is now known worldwide for its excellent results in most world education rankings such as Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Sahlberg, 2011). Having attracted worldwide attention, Finnish education has triggered "pedagogical tourism" in the country, where researchers from all over the world come to witness this "miracle." Yet very few specialists who visit Finland examine the state of multicultural education, even though Finland is increasingly a country of immigration (Talib et al., 2009). In this article we use the multifaceted notion of the multicultural but consider it as a synonym of another polysemic concept: the intercultural. The latter is often used interchangeably in global scholarship and in Finland. We agree with Holm and Zilliacus (2009) that, considering the polysemy of these notions, their dichotomization may just be "a thing of the past."

The field of multicultural education has a short history in Finnish educational sciences or teacher education compared to other countries. Furthermore there is no agreed-upon approach to multicultural education either in the Finnish academia or in schools. One concept that seems to have gained popularity in both research and teacher education is that of intercultural competence. This concept will be pivotal in this article as we explore the present and future of multicultural education in the Finnish context. Practically always used in the singular, we prefer to use its plural form (competencies) to develop a renewed understanding of the concept; the plural form, we believe, provides it with more legitimacy as intercultural competencies are unstable and unpredictable and tend to be a never-ending process.

In order to contribute to this special anniversary issue of IJME with its focus on the past, present, and future of multicultural education, first we review the discourse on intercultural competencies in Finland in terms of its present uses and perceptions. Then we examine the conceptualisations of intercultural competencies (what, how, and why) in relation to decision-makers', researchers', and student teachers' discourses on the concept. In so doing the effectiveness of the concept is discussed. We also make some prognosis for its future based on a short case study from art teacher education in which we examine how critical intertextuality in creativity allows student teachers to reflect on identity and diversity. The new conceptualisations of intercultural competencies presented in this article highlight the epistemological, political, and artistic aspects of the concept.

Policies on Multicultural Education in Finland

A first look at the Finnish context suggests some kind of failure of multicultural education, especially as educational policies on the multicultural relate exclusively to immigration and international cooperation. The idea that diversity is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Finnish context is widespread (Holm & Londen, 2010; Dervin, forthcoming); this ignores not only the ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities of the country but also the diversities contained in social class, gender, worldviews, and areas of living both among the majority and minorities. The ideas of a homogenous Finnish society and Finnishness are mainly illusions constructed through nation-building, and schooling has had a central role in this construction (Gordon et al., 2000, pp. 9-22).

Rasanen (2005) has noted that in the national core curriculum for basic education (Finnish National Board of Education [FNBE], 2004) there are different aims for the (ethnic) majority and (ethnic) minorities. The aims are also constructed as if the majority and minority groups were taught separately. …

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