We sought answers to how urban schools in Helsinki, Amsterdam and Reykjavík tackle challenges brought on by segregation with the idea of inclusive education. The project was situated in the research unit Social Studies in Urban Education (SURE). MAPS was funded by NordForsk for a three-year period in 2018–2020.
MAPS has addressed the scarce understanding of inclusive (pre-)primary education through comparative research into the educational and social policies and practices associated with the mixing of socially, ethnically, and aptitude-wise diverse educational environments in Finland, Iceland and the Netherlands. We addressed these issues along the original aims of the project on macro, meso and micro levels of analysis, concentrating especially on urban segregation and its impact on inclusive education. In short, what the findings indicate is that a broader conceptual understanding of inclusion is required both in academic and public discussions in these national contexts, and more sensitivity and resourcing are required for socially mixed schools in the frame of growing segregation in urban areas.
In general terms, we found out that in the Finnish, Icelandic and Dutch academic literature, inclusive educational research has been dominated by the academic field of ‘special education’. This narrow conceptualisation contrasts with the holistic understanding of inclusive education, which includes at least social class, gender and race/ethnicity. Moving forward requires discussions, at the levels of both political decision-making and schooling arrangements, to shift from pathologising ‘integrated’ pupils to considering the broader societal structures of inequalities leading pupils into these positions (Wolff, Huilla, Tzaninis, Magnúsdottir, Lappalainen, Paulle, Seppänen & Kosunen, 2021).
Acceptance and commitment to diversity are crucial for the successful implementation of inclusion, and updating the skillsets of teachers, building stronger cooperation between various stakeholders and pushing for a cultural change in the school world are concrete examples of ways to strengthen the development of inclusion (Klemola, 2020). Greater emphasis must be given to the experiences of school staff and the demands of pupils and parents in the execution of support practices, as well as time and resources to execute support. If the support is executed through exclusive practices, it should be considered carefully and avoid turning pupils into “paperwork”. Thereby the relevant resourcing of schools with mixed pupil composition is crucial. (Huilla & Juvonen, 2021). To support schools in accepting and commitment to inclusion in education, the role of public discourse is relevant. In Finland, the media maintains a discourse that stigmatizes pupils in need of support practices. The holistic understanding and implementation of inclusive education is difficult, if in the public discourse inclusion is demonized. (Pitkänen, Huilla, Lappalainen, Juvonen & Kosunen 2021.)
A strong connection between the neighbourhood and school reputation, and its link to segregation, demonstrates how even egalitarian educational systems such as Finland and Iceland are not protected against vicious circles of educational segregation in disadvantaged neighbourhoods (Bernelius, Huilla & Ramos Lobato, 2021; Magnúsdóttir, Auðardóttir & Stefánsson, 2020) and how less egalitarian and more differentiated systems such as the Netherlands produce even more segregated schooling. This illustrates the unintended effects policy interventions and school choice dynamics can have for residential choice and segregation, as well as the possibilities for schools and school reputations to play important roles in breaking circles of deprivation (Bernelius, Huilla & Ramos Lobato, 2021). This should be acknowledged if the goal is to support the Nordic idea of "one school for all" (Huilla & Kosunen, 2020).
In dealing with educational inequalities, it is important to target residential segregation simultaneously. Promoters of social mixing policies at the neighbourhood level should be equally aware of their consequences for school choice practices. Successful governance of school segregation requires integrated analysis into possible causes and solutions across institutional levels and between mechanisms at the urban level (Boterman & Ramos Lobato, 2021; Auðardóttir & Kosunen, 2020).
Auður Magndís Auðardóttir, Venla Bernelius, Willem Boterman, Heidi Huilla, Sara Juvonen, Sonja Kosunen, Sirpa Lappalainen, Elizabeth Lay, Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir, Bowen Paulle, Piia Seppänen, Kolbeinn Hólmar Stefánsson, Yannis Tzaninis, Charlotte Wolff