Research conducted in the MAPS project is comparative, cross-disciplinary and utilises both qualitative and quantitative methods. We aim to reveal how a socially just educational environment could be constructed, so that all pupils are provided with ample possibilities for learning from their individual starting points and socialised, without stigmatisation, into the society in which they live.

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A joint effort between educational sciences, sociology and urban studies

The aim of a holistic understanding of inclusion in education requires a cross-disciplinary approach. Thus the MAPS project brings together expertise from educational sciences, sociology and urban studies.

The MAPS project is situated within critical research tradition of inclusive education, focusing on how social and institutional processes exclude and marginalise certain pupils and include or advantage others. Such a stance encourages to zoom in on distributions of various forms of capital, highlighting the importance of wider social and political contexts which affect schools. This approach also criticises the ideas of treating students’ disadvantage mainly as medical problems and teaching as an easily standardised practice free of culture and context.

The research tradition of inclusive education and educational sciences is complemented with sociological theory and analytical strategy inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, where schools are considered as middle-class favouring institutions where the habitus of native, white pupils most likely matches the applied discourse, linguistic features and the cultures, conduct, and character of the school. In this view, the pupils that do not match these requirements are often seen as ‘problematic’ or ‘pupils with special needs’. Finally, we draw from urban studies to gain insight on the school as part of its surrounding context.

A mixed methods approach

We ask how different policies and processes of inclusion are embedded and applied in mixed primary schools in the capital areas of Finland, Iceland and the Netherlands, and what their social and pedagogical implications in schools are. Our main hypothesis is that to grasp the contingent nature of different manifestations of inclusive education in different local contexts, simultaneous investigation of macro-, meso- and micro-levels is required. Thus MAPS will investigate educational policies, local and school-level grouping as well as classroom cultures.

The holistic approach applies to the methodological choices as well; methods used in MAPS range from policy analyses on the macro level to thorough ethnographic field-work on the micro level, to understand inclusive education in its entirety. These analyses construct a consistent and cumulative research framework, which bridges together policy-oriented and practice-oriented research. In the final stages of MAPS we intend to construct a comparative understanding between the three individual countries.

Scientific contributions and practical implications

As a cross-disciplinary project, MAPS will contribute widely to existing research literature dealing with social justice in education. We will take part in discussions of policies and practices of ethnic and social mixing at the pre-primary and primary levels, mixed ability-grouping and learning outcomes, positioning and labelling practices in schools, as well as teachers’ pedagogical solutions in diverse educational environments. As more or less inclusive educational experiences are inextricably linked to other scientific areas, such as urban planning, housing, and public health, we also hope to contribute to a number of interrelated academic debates and policy discussions all too often ignored in studies focused on educational inclusion.

Finally, we hope to offer locally, nationally and transnationally comparative findings that will generate actionable insights into how populations are structured, how individual pupils are categorised, how they are treated and instructed, and what sort of temporary or more durable (visions of) divisions the pupils themselves construct during their school days. A central aim will be to understand the structure and logic of different (urban) educational spaces, which allow us go beyond often superficial studies operating within the paradigm of ‘what works’.

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