The equality of education is eroding

Educational choices lead to inequality, although more intricately than before.

Differences in the income levels and ethnic makeup of city districts are widening, creating enormous disparities between schools.

“We’ve got entire school classes with pupils who have never been to a restaurant with their families or who live in high-rises where nearly all the adults are unemployed,” describes Venla Bernelius, researcher in urban geography at the University of Helsinki.

The number of weaker pupils and schools is on the rise. If opportunities were truly equal, learning results would not be systematically influenced by issues such as gender, neighbourhood and the socioeconomic or ethnic status of families.

Segregation continues

“The illusion of equal education should finally be put under a critical eye,” says Kristiina Brunila, assistant professor at the University of Helsinki.

“For decades, education policy has rejected the arguments put forth by research and equality efforts,” says Brunila. “Ethnicity, language, gender, social class, disability and sexuality are some of the differences upheld.”

Inequality that begins in childhood continues to the University steps. Children of highly educated parents are much more likely to be admitted to university.

“I’ve noticed at first hand how difficult it is for international students to function at the university,” Brunila states.

The Faculty of Behavioural Sciences is planning to launch an international Master’s Degree Programme focusing on diversity and social justice in upbringing and education.

Support for choosing a field of education

“Educational paths are diverging, but getting into university may no longer mark you as a winner,” says sociologist Atte Vieno. “Master’s graduates aren’t automatically looked up to, and even they may have patchy careers.”

Education offers opportunities for life, which encompass much more than just employment and income level. Early educational choices have an impact on our leisure time, family life, as well as our mental and physical health years later. Not only the level of education, but also the field makes a difference.

Vieno and his colleagues would like young people to receive strong support and research data to help them choose their education.

Bernelius and Vieno spoke at an event on 3 December 2014 marking the publication of an article collection on diverging educational paths (Erkanevat koulutuspolut) by the National Union of University Students in Finland.