After completing the standardised and highly lauded Finnish comprehensive school (peruskoulu) young people embark on different educational paths. Even though the Finnish comprehensive school is based on equality, children with an immigrant background find it difficult to integrate into the school system with Finnish pupils and even to gain access to any upper-secondary education. They are more likely to drop out of school than Finnish pupils.
The choice of education at the upper-secondary stage is a bigger concern for young immigrants than it is for native Finns, indicates a study conducted by Mira Kalalahti, Janne Varjo and Markku Jahnukainen.
Kalalahti found that the young people with an immigrant background are in a conflicted situation: their attitude towards education is positive, but they face more difficulties with learning and studies.
"The young immigrants have high ambitions in terms of work, but they are more hesitant to choose their path at the upper-secondary stage than native Finnish pupils. They could not always recognise their own skills or reconcile their high professional ambitions with the educational paths that would lead to them,” says Kalalahti.
Kalalahti assumes that it is because of the hitherto small number of immigrants that young immigrants are finding it more complicated to transfer to upper-secondary education in Finland than in many other countries.
Rising demands and risks
According to Kalalahti, the decisions are guided by a professional orientation, school experiences and resources. These days young people do not make a single decision to go to upper-secondary and academic education or to vocational training at a set point in their lives, as there are many possible transitions and paths.
“Young people must take more risks as they move towards adulthood. There are also an increasing number of young people who are in limbo: they do not study and they do not work.”
It can also be more difficult to make these important choices if the pupil has poor language skills, comes from a radically different culture, or has little parental support. Immigrant parents sometimes struggle to support their children in their studies, while the children oscillate between their own wishes, guidance counselling and familial expectations.
However, immigrants are not a single homogenous group – they represent cultures and lifestyles from a wide range of countries. A different school system, parental expectations, the language barrier and problems with study guidance require resources, flexibility and long-term efforts, focused on the transitional points in young people’s lives. Guidance should be available in a way that respects and recognises the ethnic and cultural minorities the young people represent.
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Mira Kalalahti, Janne Varjo and Markku Jahnukainen wrote the article Immigrant-origin youth and the indecisiveness of choice for upper secondary education in Finland, which was recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Youth Studies.