People & Research: Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido unveils the phenomenon of Finnish Education Export

The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested in current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here we will present their research. This time, we introduce Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido's research.

Finnish education gained global attention with the country’s top positions in OECD’s PISA rankings since 2001 and has become a benchmark worldwide. Finnish entrepreneurs foresaw this as a business opportunity to export Finnish education. Thereafter, education has turned out to be one of the key export industries of Finland. Helena Hinke Dobrochinski Candido’s research explores the phenomenon of Finnish education export, examining social responsibility towards importing countries and sustainability in the long run.

What are your research topics?

I am an Academy of Finland Post-Doctoral Researcher working in the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. In my main research project, entitled “Demystifying education export: analyzing the effects of Finnish education export from the perspective of the importer”, I develop a holistic understanding of the dynamics of education export, analyzing its social field, discursive formations, and the effects from the perspective of the ones who import Finnish education. This research builds upon an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, stemming from my transdisciplinary background and expertise. My project’s theoretical frame relies on business models and theories, knowledge and policy transfer, education governance, and development theories. In addition, my research aims to provide a Southern perspective to examine the affluence of the Global North, represented here by Finland, in the global educational agenda, thus, offering a decolonial contribution to research in the fields of education politics and comparative education. I employ a mixed-methods approach and focus on the case of Finnish exports to Brazil to deepen the understanding of the phenomenon under scrutiny. In addition to the research project on Finnish education export, I investigate the political effects of national and international large-scale assessments, indicators and rankings in education; and the intertwinement of public and private sectors in education, primarily through processes of privatization, marketization and datafication in education.

How does your research relate to issues of social justice and equality?

Being raised in a very unequal country, my research always takes into account the contextual factors influencing social phenomena and problematizes “inequalities” in education. On the one hand, my research unveils the power hierarchies in global education governance and the circulation of policies and practices considered to be the most “legitimate”, which are often produced in the Global North and follows the prevailing interests from dominant actors. On the other hand, I examine how such legitimate global ideas are enacted locally, whether they are accepted or rejected, and which contrasts, frictions, and contradictions they encounter. Within the phenomenon of Finnish education export, this can be illustrated through the export of the some of the most relevant values of the Finnish education system, such as equality and trust, which are transmitted through transactions in education business, and how they are incorporated by the importers of Finnish education. The central point is to understand how the ideas of social justice and equality from Finland merge with the ideas of social justice and equality from other contexts, and what types of outcomes the processes of Finnish education export produce concerning these topics, especially from the social responsibility and sustainability perspectives.

Tell something about your latest/​​​​​​current research?

My latest publication “Fabricating education through PISA? An analysis of the distinct participation of China in PISA“ investigates the political implications of the fact that only some of China’s wealthiest areas participate in OECD’s PISA rather than the entire country, differing from the way other countries take part in PISA. My co-authors and I identified a complex intertwinement between local agency and global scripts regarding Chinese involvement in PISA, which sustains the relationship between OECD and China, as well as reinforces Chinese education values and principles. According to our research, “China’s participation in PISA symbolizes the accumulation of certain types of ‘legitimate’ capital, the volume of which is relevant for obtaining power and competing in the globalized knowledge economy” (Candido et al., 2020:161). In an earlier article, “Datafication in schools: enactments of quality assurance and evaluation policies in Brazil”, I analyzed how large-scale assessments, indicators, rankings and other steering mechanisms connect data to quality in education, and how data permeate and change school environments, school actors’ imaginaries and their conduct. This research shows that data function as technology of government in schools. Data have been interpreted in different ways, resulting in actions coupling with or decoupling from policies.

We are currently concluding a document analysis on Finnish education export. Our analysis indicates that Finnish education export has triggered domestic and international changes in education governance, including the naturalization of market-oriented approaches to education, the incorporation of a new set of stakeholders to the education field, increased interaction of public and private sectors, and the development of new forms of colonialism through knowledge legitimation, circulation, and transfer.

What kind of discussions would you wish to initiate with your research?

My research advocates for more contextualization on discourses and practices of education (and education export, specifically). By contextualization I mean understanding both the context from which the education policies and practices are borrowed and exported, and the context which is lending and importing them. Such contexts may be located in domestic and local spaces as well as global, whereas contextualization also takes into account the temporal dimension of a given context. Contextualizing education policies and practices would reduce misunderstandings in each other’s contexts, avoid mismatches in values, goals, and interests, and contribute to a more fruitful exchange for both the exporters and importers. Additionally, a thorough contextualization can unveil the legitimate and taken-for-granted forms of knowledge that have been exported and imported, question the global distribution of power, the hegemonic ideas, and the political games in which education takes part. Exporting education is sometimes associated to exporting a perceived truth, in a context where the role of education is salvation and people tend to hope for miracles. My research offers a decolonial perspective to enable critical thinking and new directions for future practices in education. I wish the future of education is co-created under ethical, socially responsible, and sustainable practices.

Read more about Helena and her research in Researchgate.

Published 2.12.2020