I attended an exclusive meeting on the 22nd of May at the residency of the Finnish Ambassador in London, His Excellency Mr. Pekka Huthanen, to discuss the relationship between multiculturalism and the education system. The analysis was made in a comparative perspective between Finland and the United Kingdom. This event had been made possible thanks to the collaboration of the European Multicultural Foundation, the Confederation of Indian Organisations, and the Finnish embassy in London.
The list of the panellists included Her Excellency Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, a Senior adviser of the Finnish Ministry of Education, Anna Mikander, a Finnish academic from the Institute of migration of Turku University, Sirkka Komulainen and the Chairman of European Multicultural Foundation, Mr Tara Mukherjee. In addition some of the Global Diplomatic Team took part to the debate, alongside different practitioners, academics and representatives from the global civil society.
Her Excellency Madame Tarja Halonen opened the session by analysing the new global challenges faced by our societies, asking for dynamic policies in the field of education. Among those, globalization appears to her as the most important one; redefining the equation with which policy makers need to cope, and asking for some new adequate and ingenious responses. In fact, according to the Finnish President, the societies are increasingly facing two types of migrations, one symbolized by a continuous rural exodus, and the other defined by the international migrations.
In that dynamic, where the world is “becoming a village” according to Her Excellency, the states need to adapt themselves to these new situations and produce new ways of integrating different people while ensuring they can keep and develop their own cultural diversity. In fact, the President has shown her conviction that this phenomenon should be encouraged because of the high potential that individuals owning more than one language and culture represent for their countries.
Following this instructive talk about the benefits of multiculturalism for societies, Anna Mikander shared with the audience the recipe of the Finnish success regarding its ability to drive what is considered as the best European education system.
Thus, some of the features explaining the quality of the education system in Finland and its method vis-à-vis issues related to students coming from a Finnish ethnic minority background and/or a non-Finnish culture have been explained. It has appeared that the Finnish strategy is articulated along two lines, respectively the reduction of social inequalities, and an attempt to decrease as much as possible the barriers to education for non-Finnish or minority groups students, this through different tools such as ad hoc individual school monitoring and education of the students parents.
Later, after the very interesting case study exposed by Sirkka Komulainen aiming to assess a potential link between areas populated of immigrants and the outflow of Finnish born families from these areas, correlation which proved to be negative, the audience and the panellists took a lunch break together, where Karelian pies, a typical Finnish dish, were served and appreciated by the participants of the conference-debate.
The rest of the event was organized in a more interactive way, where individuals were free to share their point of view, remarks and questions to the experts present that day. An analysis considering the United Kingdom situation came out several times and emphasised the scepticism vis-à-vis the current coalition government policy, which is seeking to privatize education, and which is more and more sympathetic to the idea of letting community groups organizing themselves the education of their children. Thus, according to a considerable amount of stakeholders present in the audience, this situation is susceptible to led place to a communitarian situation, where the society is divided, and where a continuous mutual suspicion is produced bringing to a real social “anomie”.
After a very interesting talk concerning the situation of the Roms in the European Union by Mirabela Margelu, representative of the France-based association “La voix des Roms”, his Excellency Tara Mukherjee, Chairman of the European Multicultural Foundation, gave a speech concluding a brilliant and productive day. In that dynamic, he repeated his faith in the possibility of constructing a real multicultural society in the United Kingdom, with less social inequalities, real hinderer of social cohesion and respect for differences according to him.