• Inka Ahonen and Alexandra Biris

How do We Make Anti-Racism Education Work?

Anti-racism education could be a solution for making Finnish schools safer and more empowering spaces for all students, not only non-Finnish and non-white students. But the question is: how should anti-racism education be implemented to be beneficial? Current research suggests three directives for anti-racism education in Finland.


Like many other countries around the world, Finnish society has experienced an increasing diversification of its population in recent years, with a wider range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds being represented than ever before. This also means that many Finnish schools have gained a more diverse student population. With this development, racist attitudes among staff and students alike have raised serious concerns. We acknowledge that more work needs to be done to explicitly address these concerns.


What is anti-racism education?

Anti-racist education could represent a possible solution to racism occurring in schools and beyond. Researchers Aminkeng Alemnaji and Boby Mafi define anti-racism education as policies “aimed at identifying and eliminating racism by challenging systems, policies, organisational structures, and attitudes into change through examining and redistributing power between racialised (often minority groups like immigrants) and ‘non-racialised’ majorities”.


Anti-racism education is sometimes believed to be synonymous to multi- or intercultural education. However, there are two important differences worth noting. Firstly, unlike multicultural education, which has received criticism for othering minority students by being aimed primarily at them, antiracism education focuses mainly on the attitudes, values, and behaviours of majority students. Secondly, anti-racism education does not only aim to identify inequalities between minority and majority students, but also to examine the uneven power relations which underline these inequalities.


In other words, at the core of anti-racism education is bringing questions of racialisation and racism to the forefront, as opposed to simply promoting the integration of minority students, and the tolerance of diversity among majority students.


The recent research that has emerged on the subject of anti-racism education provides a critical appraisal of current practices in Finnish education. These studies can give us an understanding of how anti-racism education should be put into practice for the benefits to reach students and teachers. Our review of the existing research revealed three directives for the future of anti-racism education in Finland: incorporating anti-racism education in the National Core Curriculum, train teachers in anti-racism education, and promoting students’ critical thinking. Each of these three directives are discussed further below.


Directive 1: Antiracism education and the Core Curriculum

Unfortunately, Finland has yet to develop a comprehensive anti-racism education framework to implement in schools. Instead, antiracism education in Finland is shaped and organized by several non-governmental organizations and campaigns, mainly in the form of workshops.


Firstly, the studies question the content of these workshops. NGO’s rely on external funding, which comes with serious limitations. Because these anti-racism workshops are provided by several different actors and funded by different operators, the ideological content may vary significantly. Research shows that even with good intentions, the lack of discussion, as well as some common methods used in these workshops, might in fact maintain racism and reinforce nationalism, instead of fighting against them.


Secondly, the research is critical about the scarcity and irregular occurrence of the workshops. These external, short interventions rely on teachers’ initiative to ask for anti-racist training and often the impulse comes when a student that is “different enough” arrives at the school. Furthermore, there are doubts about the effect of these short-term solutions on such a wide-spread societal problem as racism. The idea of these workshops is to stimulate students and teachers to reflect on privilege and structural racism, however, researchers question the benefits of such short-term interventions.


Researchers see the inclusion of anti-racism education as a way to remedy the concerns which have arisen with the current practices. Including anti-racist strategies in the National Core Curriculum would provide every student with continuous and consistent education on the power relations and discriminatory structures maintaining racism. It would also help to eliminate the taboo surrounding speaking about race and racism in Finland. As researchers Päivi Armila, Anni Rannikko and Tiina Sotkasiira argue: “A choice not to include antiracism in the curriculum is a conscious one, and it comes with consequences for both youth and adults.”


Directive 2: Teachers’ role in antiracism education

Including antiracism education in the National Core Curriculum would be a good start for creating antiracist strategies in Finnish schools. However, the challenge with most educational documents lies in the different ways teachers interpret and address the given goals in their classroom. In order to address racism, teachers need to be provided with training and knowledge about racism and antiracism education.


In some cases, teachers themselves perpetuate racist and discriminatory stereotypes, making it even more important for teacher education to include anti-racism. Armila, Rannikko and Sotkasiira recall that while leading an anti-racism workshop in a Finnish school, the teacher told his pupils that “anti-racist activism is part of the same dangerous plot as feminism, because these ideologies only promote the rights of oppressed, not the pro-human rights of everyone.” Therefore, it is crucial that teachers also engage in self-reflection and challenge their own notions of race and discrimination during their initial and continued training.


Overall, the reviewed literature suggests that every teacher at every level of education needs to have compulsory courses and continuous training on antiracism to provide them with tools and knowledge to address the issue of racism, by critically examining and confronting generalisations, stereotypes, bias, prejudice, and discrimination in society and in schools. Besides this, teachers need to understand the multiple definitions and aspects of racism in order to fight against them and to question these elements themselves, as well as together with students and colleagues.


Directive 3: Antiracism education promoting students’ critical understanding

Even if antiracism education were integrated into all phases of education, and teachers were adequately prepared to support students’ learning, it is not necessarily sufficient for antiracism education to be successfully implemented. The literature we reviewed argues that antiracism education will not achieve its aims if it does not help students question dominant discourses and norms. Researchers advocate for antiracism education in Finland to facilitate the critical understanding of students, in particular majority group students, of notions of a homogenous representation of Finnish identity and dominant norms as natural or normal.


Thus, the directive is to design antiracism education which pushes beyond simply presenting majority group students with multicultural perspectives or seeking to create compassion by telling the stories of non-Finnish individuals. Students should engage in activities and discussions which facilitates students’ critical understanding of the power relations which underpin racism and discrimination, their own positionality and privilege within these structures, and promote the co-creation of strategies to combat these injustices.

Interlinked directives

We have discussed these normative directives separately for the sake of analytical clarity. However, they should be taken as a bundle of directives which are closely interlinked and mutually reinforce each other. In other words, each directive is necessary, but not on its own sufficient for antiracism education in Finland to address the issues of racism and discrimination in and out of schools. For example, questioning and challenging norms is both time-consuming and difficult. Therefore, the presence of competent teachers to guide discussions over a longer period of time is essential for students to learn how to “know differently and to break down old prejudices in a safe environment”, as Armila, Rannikko, and Sotkasiira frame it.


We hope that future research will continue to be of value to the practical implementation of antiracism education. Antiracism education has the potential to address discriminatory structures, practices, and discourses, but only if conducted in a way that allows its benefits to be harnessed.

 

References

Alemanji, A. A., & Mafi, B. (2018). Antiracism education? A study of an antiracism workshop in Finland. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 62(2), 186-199.


Armila, P., Rannikko, A., & Sotkasiira, T. (2018). Invading Formal Education by Non-Formal Anti-Racist Campaigning. in Alemanji, A. A. (Ed.), Antiracism education in and out of schools (pp. 125-149). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.


Sommier & Roiha. (2018) Dealing with Culture in Schools: A Small-Step Approach Towards Anti-racism in Finland (2018) in Alemanji, A. A. (Ed.). (2018). Antiracism education in and out of schools (pp. 103-124). ProQuest Ebook Central