Encountering Diversity in Education EDEN

The place of religion in the public space, such as schools, is a very topical issue of an international debate. Children’s and young people’s contexts of growing up are becoming increasingly diverse and multifaceted in terms of the values and worldviews present in their everyday settings. Although cultural diversity in school has been studied from various perspectives, the diversity of worldviews is very often disregarded in this field, and there is very little research knowledge on this area. Still, the influence of pluralism is critical in causing complex negotiations on the often contrasting values and expectations between the individual’s home(s), peer group(s), the school/kindergarten and other everyday social settings. The pressure of ‘fitting in’ among peers, the fear of exclusion and bullying on one hand, and the values, worldviews and memberships of the individual and their family background on the other, often cause difficult negotiations for the children and youth. These negotiations taking place across their everyday social settings have been scarcely examined, and the aim of this Encountering Diversity in Education EDEN research project is to contribute into filling this gap. Our project examines how the children and youth of different ages and backgrounds respond to and negotiate diversity and pluralism in their everyday settings, how their cultural and worldview identities are constructed in relation to their socialization at home and the social contexts of their attended school or day care, and what kind of roles do worldviews and ‘cultures’ play in the children and youth’s lives and their immediate environment. More precisely, together with our partner project Cultural and religious diversity in primary school (CARDIPS) in Sweden and Estonia, our aim is to use the pupils’ experience of diversity in school as a point of departure to:

  1. Describe the bearing of structural factors on that experience; to
  2. Describe the effect of variation in age and family tradition; to
  3. Compare differences in three countries; and to
  4. Develop tools for teaching about diversity in intercultural teacher education.

Our mixed method data includes the perspectives 3rd, 6th and 9th grade pupils (ages 9, 12, 15). Further data gathering is being prepared from the age group of 18 year olds in the upper secondary school level. In gathering the comprehensive school data (n=1300), we constructed the survey questionnaire and the succeeding qualitative interviews (n=40) partly by utilizing some previously tested measures developed by The Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU) as well as some of those in the Religion in Education: A contribution to Dialogue or a factor of Conflict in transforming societies of European Countries REDCo project presenting data from eight European countries. This will enable us to locate our findings into a wider international context.

The EDEN research group is coordinated by Adjunct Professor Arniika Kuusisto (PI) at the University of Helsinki, Department of Teacher Education (Arniika Kuusisto – Research Database TUHAT). The other project team includes Professor Arto Kallioniemi, as well as the Doctoral Students Saija Benjamin, Marjaana Kavonius, Marja-Kaarina Marttila, Ilari Kärki, and Pia-Maria Niemi who are working on their PhD theses in affiliation with the project. The project is completed in close co-operation with our international partners in the CARDIPS project: at Södertörn University, Sweden, Professor Jörgen Straarup, Adjunct Professor Jenny Berglund, and Doctoral Student Fredrik Hahnke; and at the University of Tarto, Estonia, Adjunct Professor Olga Schihalejev. Other important co-operation partners include the WRERU at the University of Warwick, UK, where Kuusisto, Kallioniemi, Berglund and Schihalejev are Visiting Scholars, as well as the international REDCo2 -project.