How to prevent social exclusion in schools?

In Finland you sometimes hear someone saying that our modern school system first and foremost serves the educational needs of girls. And boys are somehow treated worse. It’s then explained that because the school system is better tailored for girls, boys get frustrated with school and underperform. Whatever the case may be, in general girls seem to be performing better in school than boys (according to University of Helsinki’s study, only in Finnish). In the study it’s concluded that girls in average have a more positive attitude towards learning.

Additionally, one could argue that the school system’s ‘mistreat’ of boys is one of factors leading to their exclusion from the society in the longer run. One is considered to be socially excluded when you’re neither working, training, studying — or basically doing things, which are seen as productive in the society (while being both physically and mentally able). Also an acronym, NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is commonly used in this context.

Furthermore, according to Eurostat’s publication released on August 2016, the share of socially excluded young people in Finland aged from 20-24 was 15.7 %, up from 11.6 % in 2006. Finland scores unfavorably high among Nordic countries with having the biggest share of socially excluded people (Denmark and Sweden closest both at 9.3 %). Overall, social exclusion seems to be increasing in Europe. Financial crises have surely had an impact, but there could be other factors involved as well. In Italy it increased from 21.6 % in 2006 to 31.1 % in 2016 and respectively from 10.6 % to 15.0 % in United Kingdom. In total, during 10 years it has grown in 18 of 28 EU member states. And based on the study made by OECD, higher share of socially excluded are in fact boys/men in Finland.

However it’s not only limited to boys. Whether it’s based for instance on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and so on, social exclusion appears to be an expanding phenomena and one place to look for reasons is the school system. Let’s investigate how ‘ideal’ equality should be pursued in teaching.

First of all, we should acknowledge that people are different in many unique ways. Some are more talented than others. But everyone should be able to learn and a teacher should encourage everyone. Yet during teaching we shouldn’t specifically favor anyone and at least we should not show it. Pupils should still receive praises and blame accordingly, but there’s a thin red line between praising and favoring as there is with blaming and discounting. I recently read a newspaper article in which pupils were interviewed about their school life and one person was saying how their teacher favors someone, underrates others and how bad it made the particular person feel. People are now and then quick to draw conclusions and some young people might perceive favoring in different ways — perhaps be more sensitive about it. Teachers who aren’t aware of this might verbally or nonverbally show their favoritism and at the same time discourage others. Encouragement is always extremely important, but the key is how often and in which ways should it appear.

Secondly, social exclusion might be a by-product of pupils not feeling they can influence teaching and school surroundings. In my opinion, the basic dilemmas in schools are a) pupils don’t care enough about the subjects taught and don’t feel the relevancy and b) pupils don’t feel they have enough influence what is taught and how. I argue that these dilemmas are also, as time goes by, affecting the development of social exclusion. It’s easier to feel you’re an outsider when you don’t care or when nobody cares about you. That’s why we need to give pupils more influence in schools as well as create possibilities for giving feedback that actually has an impact. I’ll inspect inclusive teaching methods in the next post.

Of course the problem isn’t solvable solely in schools. Naturally families and friends also affect in varying degrees to a person’s growth. But ideally when schools, families and friends work in parallel, social exclusion could be prevented.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic. Please share, if you have more ideas about preventing social exclusion or anything else concerning teaching.

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