“Everything is well in Finland.”

Based on a group discussion on the 12.9. lecture on social class and related readings. Our group is Liisa Arponen, Tytti Luuri, Anniina Tan and Jenni Matilainen (writer of this first post).


“We don’t have social class differences. Or at least we don’t have major issues with social class differences.”

“Our welfare system works like a charm.”

“The same possibilities are offered to everyone regardless of their social background.”

The social discussion that we are used to in Finland often sounds like this, although these examples are quite strongly stereotyped. We had a group discussion on the topic of social class and its effects on learning after the lesson on the 12th of September. When we read Rothstein’s article “The Achievement Gap: A Broader Picture” (2004) we all thought that the phenomena of differences in social class and problems they cause to learning weren’t really similar to those we have experienced here in Finland. Instead, it was quite clear to us that the article was written about problems in the US. We seldom think about health problems playing a significant role in children’s learning in Finland. Here we have a healthcare system that makes sure children receive help if needed. Children in Finland don’t have to be distracted in school by impaired vision or untreated asthma and they are able to concentrate more on learning. As Rothstein argues, homelessness or unsure housing cause stress in many levels, which can hinder children’s learning in school. Homelessness isn’t really a big problem in Finland either, so it may sound that all is well and every child gets equal learning possibilities here.

Yes, it’s true that our healthcare system takes care of children’s impaired vision or asthma, and that children have homes to go to after school. When these big and more noticeable problems aren’t common in a society, does it make us blind to the existing signs of inequality in our own country? And more importantly, if we think we don’t have these kinds of problems with social differences in learning, can the problems we have escalate in silence until they become big and noticeable? Although our children don’t have to be in school hungry or they probably don’t have to think about where they’ll sleep at night, they have big differences in their backgrounds, their families and cultural and social capital. As Rothstein points out, these issues influence learning, too. The way a child is brought up can have a significant effect on the way he/she learns.

We discussed that in Finland the inequality in school isn’t necessarily caused by differences in families’ income, but more by the differences in children’s cultural capital. Some children have families that are committed to taking them to hobbies, theatre, library or travel abroad with them. They read to their children and ask questions to guide them to self-reflect when solving problems. These families build up their children’s cultural and social capital from the early years, but for others this is not the case. Families’ ability to provide these experiences to their children varies due to different values and attitudes their parents have and due to economic or time resources.

It’s interesting that the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about supporting the growth of child’s cultural and social capital, is the financial resources needed. We discussed in the group that although some of the activities, traveling for example, require money, there are lot of things you can do with your children that don’t cost a dime and still add to their cultural and social capital. Also there are upper-class families that have the financial resources but lack the time because of long hours at work. Children with higher income families don’t necessarily have better possibilities to learn and to succeed in school. The more important aspect is the social support that the parents and family can provide for the child in terms of learning and school. This is an issue that can’t be solved in schools.

We were wondering, what kind of actions could be taken in a society to alleviate the differences in learning that are caused by children’s differences in cultural and social capital? Could Internet and social media be helpful in meeting these challenges? Please, share your thoughts.

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