Research on Finnish Society (10:2017)

Cultural minorities in Finnish educational opportunity structures

Tuomas Zacheus, Mira Kalalahti & Janne Varjo
University of Turku, University of Helsinki

In many countries, there are differences in school performance between and within cultural minorities and the majority. For, instance, differences between the learning outcomes of immigrant-origin and Finnish- origin students are considerable, and the risk among young people of immigrant origin of becoming positioned outside education and work life is higher than that among young people of Finnish origin.
The aim of this paper is to develop a holistic approach to educational inequalities by offering two theoretical viewpoints concerning cultural minorities in particular. First, we introduce the idea of the opportunity structure, which clarifies why the education system does not offer the same opportunities to all minority groups. Second, we highlight the need to understand the cultural variety of minorities when explaining differences in educational attainment. Here we make the distinctions of cultural differences (primary and secondary) and minority status (autonomous, voluntary and involuntary minorities). Finally, we discuss the question of equal educational opportunities by reflecting on these two theoretical viewpoints.

Keywords: ethnic minorities, immigrants, school performance, John Ogbu, educational opportunity structure, Finland