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Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes in Finnish Schools


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Since the release of the results from PISA 2000, Finland has been lauded as a high-performing, high-equity country. This success has been attributed in part to an egalitarian 9-year comprehensive school created by dramatic de-tracking reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, recent international assessments show this picture may be changing. Not only has Finland’s average performance fallen in recent cycles of PISA, but inequality in achievement appears to be increasing. In this chapter, we examine long-term trends in socioeconomic achievement gaps using data from 18 international assessments conducted between 1964 and 2015. We find that SES achievement gaps declined after de-tracking reforms but have increased more recently. These results are robust to two alternate methods of computing achievement gaps and do not appear to be an artifact of dramatic changes in Finland’s SES distribution over the time period studied. We suggest possible explanations for this rising inequality.
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Book Title Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes
Series Title
Chapter Title Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes in Finnish Schools
Copyright Year 2019
Copyright HolderName Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.
Corresponding Author Family Name Salmela-Aro
Given Name Katariina
Organization University of Helsinki
Address Helsinki, Finland
Author Family Name Chmielewski
Given Name Anna K.
Organization University of Toronto
Address Toronto, Canada
Abstract Since the release of the results from PISA 2000, Finland has been lauded as a high-performing, high-equity
country. This success has been attributed in part to an egalitarian 9-year comprehensive school created by
dramatic de-tracking reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, recent international assessments
show this picture may be changing. Not only has Finland’s average performance fallen in recent cycles of
PISA, but inequality in achievement appears to be increasing. In this chapter, we examine long-term trends
in socioeconomic achievement gaps using data from 18 international assessments conducted between 1964
and 2015. We find that SES achievement gaps declined after de-tracking reforms but have increased more
recently. These results are robust to two alternate methods of computing achievement gaps and do not
appear to be an artifact of dramatic changes in Finland’s SES distribution over the time period studied. We
suggest possible explanations for this rising inequality.
(separated by '-')
Student achievement - Socioeconomic status - Inequality - Finland
1Chapter 9
2Socioeconomic Inequality and Student
3Outcomes in Finnish Schools
4Katariina Salmela-Aro and Anna K. Chmielewski
5Abstract Since the release of the results from PISA 2000, Finland has been lauded
6as a high-performing, high-equity country. This success has been attributed in part
7to an egalitarian 9-year comprehensive school created by dramatic de-tracking
8reforms in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, recent international assess-
9ments show this picture may be changing. Not only has Finlands average per-
10 formance fallen in recent cycles of PISA, but inequality in achievement appears to
11 be increasing. In this chapter, we examine long-term trends in socioeconomic
12 achievement gaps using data from 18 international assessments conducted between
13 1964 and 2015. We nd that SES achievement gaps declined after de-tracking
14 reforms but have increased more recently. These results are robust to two alternate
15 methods of computing achievement gaps and do not appear to be an artifact of
16 dramatic changes in Finlands SES distribution over the time period studied. We
17 suggest possible explanations for this rising inequality.
18 Keywords Student achievement Socioeconomic status Inequality Finland
20 9.1 Introduction
21 In the present chapter, we focus on socioeconomic inequality and student outcomes
22 in Finland. Finnish students have been very successful in the Program for
23 International Student Assessment (PISA, see Fig. 9.1). In 2000, 2003, and 2006,
24 Finlands academic performance in reading, mathematics, and science was ranked
25 at or near number one among all participating Organisation for Economic
26 Co-operation and Development countries (Välijärvi et al., 2007). This exceptionally
27 high attainment of Finnish students in PISA in 2000, 2003, and 2006 in all three
K. Salmela-Aro (&)
University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
e-mail: katariina.salmela-aro@helsinki.
A. K. Chmielewski
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
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©Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019
L. Volante et al. (eds.), Socioeconomic Inequality
and Student Outcomes, Education Policy & Social Inequality 4,
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28 literacy domains has inuenced as continuous international interest towards the
29 Finnish educational system (Välijärvi et al., 2007). Finland was the top overall
30 performing country among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
31 Development countries in 2000 and 2003 PISA studies. Finland was the only
32 country that was able to improve performance (Välijärvi, Kupari, Linnakylä,
33 Reinikainen, & Arffman, 2003). In the 2006 PISA survey, Finland maintained its
34 high performance in all assessed areas of student achievement. In the context of
35 science, the main focus of the PISA 2006 survey, Finnish students outperformed
36 their peers in all 56 countries. Moreover, in the 2009 PISA study, Finland was again
37 the best performing Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
38 country. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
39 Development (2010), Finland is one of the worlds leaders in the academic per-
40 formance of its secondary school students, a position it has held for the past decade.
41 This top performance is also remarkably consistent across schools. Finnish schools
42 seem to serve all students well, regardless of family background, socioeconomic
43 status, or ability(p. 117). Until the publication of the rst PISA results in
44 December 2001, education in Finland did not have a high international reputation.
45 Finnish results on previous international assessments had been average, or even
46 lower than average. Even the Finns themselves thought their education system was
47 nothing special. Thus, this international interest was something new for Finnish
48 education.
49 However, during recent years there has been a decline in the Finnish students
50 achievements in PISA. While Finnish students have continued to perform very well
51 in PISA in recent years, there is a trend of decreasing scores. In 2009, 2012, and
52 2015, though still near the top, Finlands scores began to decrease slightly (see
53 Fig. 9.1). What about the role of socioeconomic background for academic
54 achievement? In this chapter, we will examine the trends in academic achievement
55 and socioeconomic background. First, we introduce and present the structure of the
Fig. 9.1 Finnish scaled scores since the initial administration of PISA
2 K. Salmela-Aro and A. K. Chmielewski
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56 Finnish compulsory school system, and its governance and administrative processes
57 used to develop and rene educational policies. Second, we present key charac-
58 teristics of the student population followed by the educational outcomes of low-SES
59 children and educational policy in Finland. Finally, we discuss the most recent
60 challenges in Finnish education.
61 9.2 Structure of the Finnish Education System
62 The Finnish educational system aims at achieving equal opportunity with
63 high-quality performance. The main objective of Finnish education policy is to offer
64 all citizens equal opportunities to receive education. The structure of the education
65 system reects this main principle.
66 Finland has two ofcial languages, Finnish and Swedish. About 5% of students
67 in basic and upper secondary education attend a school where Swedish is the
68 language of instruction. Both language groups have their own institutions at all
69 educational levels, also at the higher education level. Local authorities are also
70 required to organize education in the Sami language in Sami-speaking areas of
71 Lapland. During recent years, there has been an increase of migrants to Finland,
72 particularly in the metropolitan area of Helsinki. Local authorities organize
73 preparatory education for migrants to enable them to enter basic or upper secondary
74 education.
75 Pre-primary education is compulsory for children of the age of 6. Pre-primary
76 education is provided both in kindergartens and in schools. In pre-primary edu-
77 cation, children acquire basic skills, but learning is primarily through play.
78 Compulsory basic education starts in the year when a child turns 7 and lasts
79 9 years. Basic education comprises elementary (grades 16) and lower secondary
80 (79) level education. Upper secondary school comprises grades 1012. In grades
81 16 the pupils are mainly taught by one classroom teacher and in grades 79 mostly
82 by specialized teachers for each subject.
83 After completing compulsory basic education after grade 9, young Finns can
84 choose their educational track for the rst timewhether to opt for general upper
85 secondary education (academic track, high school) or vocational upper secondary
86 education (vocational track). Student selection is mainly based on their grades in
87 their basic education certicate. This choice is usually split quite evenly, with half
88 of the school population matriculating to general upper secondary school, and the
89 other half attending vocational school. Upper secondary education takes 34 years.
90 Completion of upper secondary educationeither general or vocationalgives
91 students eligibility to continue to higher education.
92 The Finnish educational system is highly permeable. There are no dead-ends
93 preventing progression to higher levels of education. The focus in education is on
94 learning rather than testing. There are no national tests for students in basic edu-
95 cation in Finland. Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective
96 subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum. In Finland, the
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97 main types of student assessments are continuous assessment during the course of
98 studies and the nal assessment. Also, the grades in the basic education certicate
99 given at the end of year 9 are assigned by teachers. On the basis of this assessment,
100 students are selected for further studies. The only national examination, the
101 matriculation examination, is held at the end of general upper secondary education.
102 Commonly, admission to higher education is based on studentsresults in the
103 matriculation examination and/or entrance tests. At the moment, a new reform will
104 give the matriculation examination more importance in the admission to higher
105 education.
106 The high level of equity in the Finnish educational system can be explained by
107 the same 9-year comprehensive education for all, which was launched in 1972 in
108 the whole country and previously in 1968 in some parts of Finland (Simola, 2005).
109 The Finnish educational system was highly stratied before these great reforms in
110 the 1970s (Sahlberg, 2011). There was a visible achievement gap among young
111 adults at the start of comprehensive school in the early 1970s due to very different
112 educational orientations associated with the old parallel system (Simola, 2005).
113 Thus, the most important goal of comprehensive school reform was to strengthen
114 educational and social equality. The old structure of education that served Finlands
115 class-bound, rural society well for decades could no longer meet the new demands
116 of a changing population and time. Finland really needed a system that could
117 deliver an equally rigorous education whether a student came from the rural or an
118 urban neighborhood. Every child thus deserved a good basic education regardless
119 of socioeconomic background, family income, social status, or place of residence
120 (Simola, 2005). When comprehensive school reform began in the early 1970s, its
121 basic goal was to guarantee all children the equal opportunity to a 9-year basic
122 education regardless of their parentssocioeconomic status (SES) and give up pupil
123 tracking completely. Comprehensive school reform was very successful and it
124 achieved all of its goals regarding the structure and accessibility of education before
125 the end of the 1980s (Aho, Pitkanen, & Sahlberg, 2006).
126 Most education and training are publicly funded in Finland. There are few
127 private schools, so the overwhelming majority of students attend common public
128 comprehensive schools. Prior to the comprehensive education reform in 1972,
129 about 30% of Finnish lower secondary school students attended private schools
130 (authorsown calculation from FISS 1970 data). During the reform, most of these
131 schools changed into public schools. There are no tuition fees at any level of
132 education. An exception is the tuition fees for non-EU and non-EEA students in
133 higher education, effective from autumn 2016. Most higher education institutions
134 introduced such tuition fees in 2017. In basic education, school materials, school
135 meals, and transportation to school are also provided free of charge. In upper
136 secondary education, students pay for their books and transport, but currently there
137 is a reform in progress to provide them also free of charge. In addition, there is a
138 well-developed system of study grants and loans. Financial aid can be awarded for
139 full-time study in upper secondary education and in higher education.
140 Governance has been based on the principle of decentralization since the early
141 1990s (Sahlberg, 2011). However, before the 1990s governance was very
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142 centralized. Broad core curricular guidelines are published for the basic and upper
143 secondary school systems, but the local education providers (i.e., the municipalities)
144 are typically responsible for the local design of the curriculum. Education providers
145 are responsible for practical teaching arrangements as well as the effectiveness and
146 quality of the education provided. Local authorities also determine how much
147 autonomy is passed on to schools. For example, budget management, acquisitions,
148 and recruitment are often the responsibility of the schools. Universities and uni-
149 versities of applied sciences (UAS) enjoy extensive autonomy. The operations of
150 both UAS and universities are built on the freedom of education and research. They
151 organize their own administration, decide on student admission, and design the
152 contents of degree programs.
153 In the Finnish educational system, sociocultural factorssuch as social capital,
154 ethnic homogeneity, and the high professional status of teachersplay key roles
155 when transferability of education policies is considered (Rinne, 2000). Teachers in
156 Finland are well-respected, considered experts of their profession, and issues of
157 classroom management and organization are less noticeable than in some other
158 countries. Teachers have pedagogical autonomy. The Finnish educational system
159 operates in collaboration with its Ministry of Education and Culture, municipalities,
160 and schools. It calls upon all of these entities to be part of the process, with teachers
161 having key roles. The national education administration is organized at two levels.
162 Education policy is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the
163 Finnish National Agency for Education is responsible for the implementation of
164 policy aims. It works with the Ministry to develop educational objectives, content, and
165 methods for education at all levels. Local administration is the responsibility of local
166 authorities. Municipalities make the decisions of allocating of funding, local curricula,
167 and they have autonomy to delegate decision-making power to the schools.
168 Finland as a country has suffered through major famines, unprecedented immi-
169 gration, and foreign invasion (Sahlberg, 2011). As a consequence, Finland has had a
170 difcult history and only achieved its independence 100 years ago in 1917. Many
171 leaders of the Finnish revolution were teachers and viewed as heroes. These early
172 teacher leaders became identied with the importance of learning and its ability to
173 allow for autonomous self-reective choice. With limited natural resources,
174 Finlands major resource is its population, its human capital which has survived
175 these conditions, faced challenges with an inscrutable sense of sisu”—determina-
176 tion and persistence that denes a national distinctive identity (Salmela-Aro, 2017).
177 9.3 Key Characteristics of the Student Population
178 According to the most recent data available, Finland had a relatively socioeco-
179 nomically advantaged population, compared to other Organisation for Economic
180 Co-operation and Development countries. In PISA 2015 and the Trends in
181 International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 fourth grade, only
182 about 2% of students met the denition of low-SES used in this volume (i.e.,
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183 low-parental education; their most educated parent had ISCED 2 or less), while
184 nearly 50% of students in TIMSS and 60% of students in PISA had high SES
185 (parental education of ISCED 5A or more). Thus, as dened by parental education,
186 Finland is among the highest-SES countries considered in this volume. As men-
187 tioned at the beginning of the chapter, the very high levels of educational attainment
188 are a recent change in Finland, reecting rapid industrialization of the country in the
189 twentieth century. In the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) 1964, over
190 90% of Finnish students reported that their most educated parent had ISCED 2 or
191 less. Even as recently as TIMSS 1999 and PISA 2000, over 20% of Finnish stu-
192 dents reported low-parental education.
193 Among low-SES students in Finland in PISA 2015, 22% were from immigrant
194 backgrounds (13% rst generation and 9% second generation). This is an over-
195 representation of students from immigrant backgrounds in the low-SES group, in a
196 country where immigrants constitute only about 4% of the student population
197 overall. As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, the traditionally low levels of
198 immigration in Finland have increased markedly in recent years. In TIMSS 1999
199 and PISA 2000, less than 2% of students reported a rst- or second-generation
200 immigrant background. By 2015, the share of students with an immigrant back-
201 ground approximately doubled to nearly 4% of students in PISA 2015, and over 5%
202 of students in the slightly younger 4th-grade cohort of TIMSS 2015. In addition to
203 increasing levels of immigration, the immigrant student population in Finland has
204 also become relatively more socioeconomically disadvantaged (Motti-Stefanidi &
205 Salmela-Aro, 2018; Salmela-Aro, Read, & Rimpelä,2018). In TIMSS 1999 and
206 PISA 2000, students from immigrant backgrounds actually had slightly more
207 educated parents than non-immigrant students. While over 20% of non-immigrant
208 students had parents with less than ISCED 2, the share was a couple of percentage
209 points lower for immigrant students. By 2015, both immigrant and non-immigrant
210 parents had become more educated, but immigrant parents had not kept pace with
211 the rapid educational upgrading of the native-born Finnish population. In PISA
212 2015 and TIMSS 2015 fourth grade, less than 2% of non-immigrant students had
213 low-parental education compared to about 10% of immigrant students.
214 Among low-SES students in Finland in PISA 2012 (the most recent year
215 available), 36% reported living in single-parent families. This is an overrepresen-
216 tation of single-parent backgrounds among low-SES students, given that only about
217 16% of students overall come from single-parent families in Finland. The share of
218 single-parent families in Finland is somewhat high by international standards.
219 Although the rate of single-parent households did not change markedly in Finland
220 between PISA 2000 and 2012, the overrepresentation of single-parent households
221 among low-SES students increased substantially in this period, along with the
222 dramatic decline in the share of low-SES students. By 2012, the degree of over-
223 representation of single-parent households among low-SES students in Finland was
224 among the highest of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
225 countries.
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226 9.4 Educational Outcomes of Low-SES Children
227 The main aim of the present chapter was to examine trends in socioeconomic
228 inequality of student outcomes in Finland. In particular, we focus on SES
229 achievement gaps, dened as disparities in academic achievement between students
230 from low- and high-parental education backgrounds. In order to investigate
231 long-term trends covering the period of comprehensive school reforms up to the
232 present, we draw on data from 18 international large-scale assessments of math,
233 science, and/or reading: the First and Second International Mathematics Studies
234 (FIMS 1960 and SIMS 1980), the First and Second International Science Studies
235 (FISS 1970 and SISS 1984), the rst international reading comprehension study
236 (FIRCS 1970), the Reading Literacy Study (RLS 1991), three cycles of TIMSS
237 (1999, 2011, and 2015), one cycle of the Progress in Reading Literacy Study
238 (PIRLS 2011), and six cycles of PISA (20002015). Although the different math,
239 science, and reading assessments were not designed to be fully comparable, we
240 standardize achievement by computing z-scores in each subject within the Finnish
241 sample of each study, and then pool all subjects and studies into one analysis. We
242 take this approach to maximize data coverage. In addition, as we have shown in
243 previous research that trends in SES achievement gaps estimated from different
244 studies designed to measure trends (PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS) tend to be similar to
245 one another and to trends estimated from pooled data (Chmielewski, 2017).
246 We use parental education as our primary measure of family SES, taking the
247 higher value when both parentseducation is available. Parental education was
248 generally reported in 6-8 categories, such as (1) None, (2) Primary/ISCED 1,
249 (3) Lower secondary/ISCED 2, (4) Vocational upper secondary/ISCED 3B or C,
250 (5) Academic upper secondary/ISCED 3A, (6) Postsecondary vocational certicate/
251 ISCED 4, (7) Short or applied college degree/ISCED 5B, and (8) Bachelors
252 degree/ISCED 5A or more.
253 We impute missing parental education data in each study using multiple
254 imputations by iterative chained equations and creating ve imputed datasets for
255 each study. We use two different methods to compute parental education
256 achievement gaps. First, we follow the method of other chapters in this volume and
257 compute gaps between students with low-parental education (ISCED 2 or less) and
258 all other students. However, due to the rapid educational upgrading of the Finnish
259 population during the twentieth century, any long-term trends in SES gaps in
260 outcomes are likely to be confounded by changes in the distribution of the parental
261 education variable used as a measure of SES. Therefore, our second (and preferred)
262 method computes achievement gaps between the study-specic 90th and 10th
263 percentiles of parental education (90/10 SES achievement gaps), following
264 Reardons(2011) method for income achievement gaps. We also compute gaps
265 between the top and middle (90th and 50th percentiles) of the parental education
266 distribution and between the middle and bottom (50th and 10th percentiles) of the
267 parental education distribution. In order to compute 90/10, 90/50, and 50/10
268 achievement gaps, we retain the maximum available categories of parental
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269 education in each year and each study. For both types of SES achievement gaps, we
270 adjust each gap for the estimated reliability of studentsor parentsreports of
271 parental education, as well as for each test. We compute bootstrap standard errors
272 for each gap. (See Chmielewski (2017) for more methodological details.)
273 Figure 9.2 displays results from the rst SES achievement gap method, the
274 highlow-parental education category difference. Each data point represents this
275 difference in the Finnish subsample of the international assessment indicated,
276 meaning that higher values correspond to greater socioeconomic inequality in
277 achievement. The gaps are plotted against the birth year of sampled students, which
278 ranges from approximately 1950, corresponding to 14-year-old students tested in
279 FIMS 1964, to approximately 2005, corresponding to 10-year-old students tested in
280 TIMSS 2015. The dark gray line is a quadratic t line estimated from all data points
281 in the gure, and the light gray line is a linear t line estimated from only the
282 cohorts born in or after 1984. Both t lines are weighted by the estimated inverse
283 sampling error variance of each gap. Figure 9.2 shows a pronounced U-shaped
284 trend in SES achievement gaps across the Finnish 19502005 cohort birth years.
285 SES achievement gaps declined to a low point in approximately the 1984 birth
286 cohort (corresponding to the PISA 2000 sample) and then increased from 1984 to
287 2005 birth cohort.
288 However, the estimated trend in Fig. 9.2 is confounded by dramatic changes in
289 the distribution of the parental education of children born over this 55-year period
Average Difference in Standardized Test Scores
Between High and Low Parental Education Students
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Cohort Birth Year
Trend in High-Low Parent Education Achievement Gaps,
Finland, 1950-2005 Cohorts
Fig. 9.2 .
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290 in Finland. Over time, as the high-parental education group expands, it becomes
291 less positively selected and its achievement is expected to decline. Likewise, as the
292 low-parental education group shrinks and becomes more negatively selected, its
293 achievement is expected to decline as well. Thus, the achievement gaps in Fig. 9.2
294 may not capture well the overall level of socioeconomic inequality in achievement,
295 as these selection effects drive highlow-parental education gaps higher in early and
296 recent birth cohorts when the high- and low-parental education groups are very
297 unequal in size and drive gaps lower in middle cohorts when the high and low
298 groups are more evenly distributed.
299 The second method for computing SES achievement gaps avoids this issue by
300 computing gaps between the cohort-specic 90th and 10th percentiles of the par-
301 ental education distribution. This percentile-based approach relies on the assump-
302 tion that SES is a positional good, and that having highly educated parents confers
303 mainly relative rather than absolute advantages to childrens academic achievement.
304 In the FIMS 1964 Finnish sample, the 90th percentile of parental education falls at
305 only 9 years of education, the 50th percentile at 6 years of education, and the 10th
306 percentile at 4 years of education. In the TIMSS 2015 fourth-grade Finnish sample,
307 the 90th percentile of parental education falls at graduate degree (beyond ISCED
308 5A rst degree), the 50th percentile at ISCED 5B, and the 10th percentile at
309 ISCED 3. In the PISA 2015 Finnish sample, the parental education gap is poorly
310 estimated because both the 90th and 50th percentiles fall at ISCED 5A. Therefore,
311 we also examine trends in SES achievement gaps for two other measures of SES
312 parental occupation and number of books in the household, which have more
313 evenly distributed categoriesto check the robustness of the parental education gap
314 trend results.
315 Figure 9.3 displays the results of the 90/10 SES achievement gap analysis. Here
316 each data point is the estimated gap between students at the 90th and 10th per-
317 centiles of parental education in a given study. Again, the two t lines are derived
318 from weighted least squares regressions with quadratic and linear cohort terms.
319 Figure 9.3 shows that the U-shaped trend in Fig. 9.2 is not entirely an artifact of
320 the changing distribution of parental education. Using a method that captures
321 inequality in achievement across the entire SES distribution, we nd that gaps in
322 early birth cohorts do not decline as expected but in fact increase. This indicates
323 that, at that time, there were large differences in achievement not only between the
324 group whose parents had more than ISCED 2 and the rest but also among all the
325 lower levels of parental education below ISCED 2. As expected, gaps in middle
326 cohorts are larger in Fig. 9.3,reecting that the more even distribution across the
327 two SES groups in Fig. 9.2 does not fully capture inequality in achievement across
328 the entire SES distribution. Also as expected, gaps in the most recent cohorts are
329 smaller in Fig. 9.3, due to the extreme negative selection at work on the
330 low-parental education group in these cohorts in Fig. 9.2. However, after all these
331 changes, the quadratic trend seen in Fig. 9.2, though less extreme, is still visible in
332 Fig. 9.3. A squared term for cohort birth year is signicantly different from zero in
333 the weighted least squares regression. As in Fig. 9.2, SES achievement gaps are
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334 smallest in the 1984 birth cohort, and the increase in gaps thereafter, though less
335 extreme than in Fig. 9.2, is also still present. A linear term for cohort birth year is
336 signicantly different from zero in a weighted least squares regression for gaps from
337 the 1984 cohort and later. Trends in 90/10 achievement gaps for two alternative
338 measures of SES, parental occupation and books in the household, also displayed
339 very similar U-shaped patterns, with a decline until the 1984 cohort and increase
340 thereafter (results not shown).
341 A further advantage of the percentile method is the ability to compute 90/50 and
342 50/10 parental education gaps. Figure 9.4 displays these results. The dark gray
343 region represents the gap between the 90th and 50th percentiles of parental edu-
344 cation, and the light gray region represents the gap between the 50th and 10th
345 percentiles of parental education. It is apparent from Fig. 9.4 that there has been a
346 marked change in 90/50 and 50/10 gaps across the 19502005 birth cohorts. In the
347 1950 cohort, the 90/10 gap was dominated by the gap between the top and middle
348 of the parental education distribution; there was hardly any achievement difference
349 between the 50th and 10th percentiles of parental education. By the 2005 cohort,
350 the 90/10 gap was roughly evenly split between the top and bottom of the distri-
351 bution. Therefore, the large decline in the 90/10 gap between the 1950 and 1984
352 birth cohorts seen in Fig. 9.3 was entirely due to an even more dramatic decline in
353 the achievement gap between the top and middle of the parental education
Average Difference in Standardized Test Scores
Between 90th & 10th Percentile Families
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Cohort Birth Year
Trend in 90/10 Parent Education Achievement Gaps,
Finland, 1950-2005 Cohorts
Fig. 9.3 Trend in 90/10 parent education achievement gaps, Finland, 19502005 cohorts
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354 distribution. This decline was somewhat offset by a steady increase in the gap
355 between the middle and bottom of the parental education distribution. Since the
356 1984 birth cohort, the 50/10 gap has continued to increase, while the decline in the
357 90/50 gap leveled off and even increased slightly in recent years. As mentioned
358 above, the 90/50 gap may be underestimated in recent years of PISA due to the
359 large number of observations in the ISCED 5A category. However, results are very
360 similar when removing PISA 2009-2015 from the trend. 90/50 and 50/10 trend
361 results for gaps based on parental occupation and household books are also similar
362 (results not shown).
363 These results suggest that major Finnish educational reforms creating compre-
364 hensive lower secondary schools in the 1960s and 1970s may have reduced SES
365 achievement gaps for subsequent cohorts, particularly gaps between the top and
366 middle of the SES distribution. The timing of the reform would lead us to expect a
367 decline in achievement gaps between the 1956 birth cohort (corresponding to FISS
368 1970) and the 1966 birth cohort (corresponding to SIMS 1980). That the declines
369 continue for two more decades after these cohorts may indicate a prolonged
370 implementation process and/or the effects of other equity-promoting reforms apart
371 from de-tracking. That the reduction in gaps was concentrated between the top and
372 middle of the distribution suggests that primarily only high-SES students benetted
373 from the old academic track schools, while middle- and low-SES students did not
Average Difference in Standardized Test Scores
Between 90th & 10th Percentile Families
1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Cohort Birth Year
90/50 Parent Education Gap
50/10 Parent Education Gap
Trends in 90/50 and 50/10 Parent Education Achievement Gaps,
Finland, 1950-2005 Cohorts
Fig. 9.4 Trends in 90/50 and 50/10 parent education achievement gaps, Finland, 19502005,
9 Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes 11
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374 have access. The results for recent years suggest, however, that the equitable effects
375 of the comprehensive school may not have been sustained in the long term, namely,
376 that the Finnish educational environment has grown more unequal since the 1984
377 birth cohort (corresponding to PISA 2000). Increases in SES gaps have occurred
378 primarily between the middle and bottom of the SES distribution. However, the gap
379 between the top and middle of the distribution remains substantial, constituting
380 about half of the total 90/10 SES gap.
381 9.5 Educational Policy
382 Finnish educational policies can be characterized by sustainable and stable rather
383 than conicting reforms and fundamental shifts in political directions. Rather than
384 revolutions, the Finnish educational system has experienced a gradual evolution.
385 Providing equal opportunities for all citizens to high-quality education and
386 training is a long-term objective of the Finnish education policy. The keywords in
387 Finnish education policy are quality, efciency, equity, and recently also interna-
388 tionalization (Lonka et al., 2015; Salmela-Aro & Trautwein, 2013; Wang, Chow,
389 Hofkens, & Salmela-Aro, 2015). The basic right to education and culture is
390 recorded in the constitution. The policy is built on the principles of lifelong learning
391 and tuition-free education. Education is seen as a key to competitiveness and
392 well-being of the society (Lonka et al., 2015).
393 There is a widespread consensus on the main pillars of education policy, and the
394 policy is characterized by cooperation and continuity. Tripartite partnership among
395 government, trade unions, and employer organizations is an integrated part of
396 policymaking. Participation and consultation of a wide range of different stake-
397 holders play a central role in educational reform. Teacherswith the Trade Union
398 of Education as their representativeare key players in the development of edu-
399 cation. The main objectives and broad lines of the policy are dened at the central
400 level, but the implementation of these is the responsibility of the local level.
401 According to a recent international UN survey, Finnish people are the happiest
402 population in the world (United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions
403 Network, 2018), but they too are facing some of the same problems as other countries.
404 The homogenous population in Finland is beginning to show some signs of the
405 problems associated with integrating a diverse new immigrant population. And while
406 the country as a whole holds its teachers in high regard and places a high degree of
407 social trust in their expertise to provide all of their children with an excellent educa-
408 tion, the teachers themselves are increasingly showing signs of burnoutwhich in
409 Finland is shown by increased stress, absenteeism, and feelings of inability to work
410 (Pietarinen, Pyhältö, Soini, & Salmela-Aro, 2013; Salmela-Aro, 2017).
12 K. Salmela-Aro and A. K. Chmielewski
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411 9.6 Recent Challenges in the Finnish Education
412 Recently, in the interest of advancing technology, entrepreneurial activity, and
413 environmental sustainability, the Finns began devising core aims and objectives for
414 their elementary and lower secondary schools, and created the Finnish National
415 Core Curriculum for Upper Secondary School, effective in 2010 onwards. The
416 Finnish national core curriculum highlights the need for students to actively acquire
417 and apply science knowledge and twenty-rst century or generic competencies
418 (attitudes, knowledge, and skills), with an emphasis on the use of technology in
419 learning both in and out of school. The Finnish curriculum and models of learning
420 and instruction emphasize the design and use of science and engineering practices
421 in order to support students in learning science, prepare them for understanding the
422 actual work of scientists, and make science careers more interesting to them. In
423 Finland, decisions about which scientic practices and curriculum content should
424 be enacted in classrooms are made with the deep involvement of professional
425 teachers, who have subject area expertise and empirical science research
426 experience.
427 Finnish students have traditionally performed very well in PISA, but in recent
428 years there is a trend of decreasing scores. In 2000, 2003, and 2006, Finlands
429 academic performance in reading, mathematics, and science was ranked at or near
430 number one among all participating Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
431 Development countries. In 2009, 2012, and 2015, though still near the top,
432 Finlands scores began to decrease slightly. A recent concern in Finland is that the
433 country has the largest gap in PISA achievement between native-born and immi-
434 grant students (Motti-Stefanidi & Salmela-Aro, 2018; Salmela-Aro et al., 2018).
435 In Finnish comprehensive schools, there has historically been a rule of neigh-
436 borhood school attendance (Söderström & Uusitalo, 2005). Thus, children enter the
437 closest school in the area they live in. However, parental choice of schools outside
438 of the assigned catchment area boundary was introduced in the Basic Education Act
439 of 1998 (Seppänen, 2003) as a part of a larger school reform promoting freedom,
440 decentralization, and choice in education (Seppänen, 2003). Studies in Finland
441 show the inuence of the distinctive school choices made by the upper social class
442 (Kosunen & Seppänen, 2015). Since 1998, school choice has increased in popu-
443 larity, as have schools with a special subject emphasis (e.g., science, arts, or sports)
444 and selective admission by aptitude tests. Recent research shows that school
445 enrollment in a major metropolitan area in Finland is more socioeconomically
446 segregated than would be predicted based on assigned catchment areas, suggesting
447 that school choice increases socioeconomic segregation (Bernelius & Vaattovaara,
448 2016; Kivirauma, Klemeä, & Rinne, 2006; Kosunen, Bernelius, Seppanen, &
449 Porkka, 2016). The study paths from different socioeconomic backgrounds are now
450 becoming diversied, meaning that students from different socioeconomic back-
451 ground tend to make different choices and end up in different study paths in relation
452 to the selectiveness at comprehensive school (Kosunen, 2014; Seppänen, Kalalahti,
453 Rinne, & Simola, 2015). In addition, peers seem to share a similar SES, educational
9 Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes 13
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454 aspirations, and educational pathways (Kiuru et al., 2012; see also Tynkkynen,
455 Tolvanen, & Salmela-Aro, 2012; Tynkkynen, Vuori, & Salmela-Aro, 2012).
456 All of these recent policy developments, as well as our results in this chapter
457 showing increasing SES achievement gaps in recent cohorts, indicate that Finlands
458 international reputation as an extremely egalitarian system is in peril. Finnish
459 education policymakers must take seriously this increasing inequality and seek to
460 address it in future reform efforts.
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548 Findings from Finnish adolescents. Learning and Instruction, 35, 5765.
549 1016/j.learninstruc.2014.11.004.
9 Socioeconomic Inequality and Student Outcomes 15
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... A typical narrative portrayed a young protagonist with a high sense of value of the self, coming from a family with high levels of cultural and social capital (cf. Bourdieu, 1986;Salmela-Aro & Chmielewski, 2019). However, even students from more diverse backgrounds and with different motives produced such narratives (Kalalahti et al., 2017;Peltola, 2016). ...
Full-text available
In this article, we analyse the narratives of Finnish young people regarding their educational choices for upper secondary education in a theoretical framework inspired by Bourdieu’s forms of capital and Skeggs’ concept of the classed value of self. Our data consist of interviews with 66 ninth-graders, produced in the Youth in Time research project. In the narratives, we identified six frames of choice between general upper secondary and vocational education and outside formal education. We also recognized that there was hesitation and various strategies that young people utilized in making their educational choices, based on their social and cultural capitals. Young people become aware of their value in the educational market through this process of making their choice. Their educational choices are complex and intertwined with gender, social class, social relations, racialization and locality.
... Finnish PISA results have been falling since 2006, especially in mathematics. Male students and minorities are over-represented at the lower end of the results [22,23] see Fig. 1, and the gap between native and immigrant students is the largest [24]. Too open and unstructured learning environments provide no support. ...
Through an increased focus on computing and computational con- cepts in the school curriculum the Nordic and Baltic countries are preparing to equip themselves to explore the opportunities that Industry 4.0 and beyond can offer. Realising this vision has inevitable consequences for the curriculum in compulsory schooling (preschool to year 9) as new scaffolding for the devel- opment of new competencies is needed, and adapting to technological change involves also integrating Computational Thinking topics and skills, as well as elements of programming and digital literacy into existing curricula. The Nordic countries (Finland and Sweden) have chosen not to create a new school subject, advocating the integration of these skills and competencies into existing subjects such as Arts and Crafts, Language, Mathematics and Technology. In contrast, the Baltic countries emphasise introduction of a subject called Informatics in which programming and Computational Thinking skills and competencies are intended to be developed. This paper provides an analysis of approaches taken to scaffolding access to Computational Thinking in the Nordic and Baltic countries.
... Facing declining performance in international benchmarking and increasing inequality have led to intensified search for reasons and remedies (cf. Ouakrim-Soivio et al., 2018;Sahlberg, 2015;Sahlgren, 2015;Salmela-Aro and Chmielewski, 2019). In the end, the evidence provided by country-specific studies speaks more for hypothesis H2 than for hypothesis H1. ...
This study seeks to explore the effect of tools of school governance advanced by the global reform agenda (1) on student performance and (2) on reducing the effect of sociodemographic variables on this performance. To do so, we compare two Nordic welfare states with an egalitarian tradition: Sweden and Finland. The Swedish school system has undergone comprehensive market-based and accountability-driven reforms beginning in the early 1990s. The Finnish school system is still based on the professional trusteeship of teachers, but has moderately implemented reforms of decentralization, enhancing school autonomy and opportunities of school or curriculum choice beginning in the late 1990s. Our analysis comprises of two steps. In the first step, a literature review of the reforms and their effects in Sweden and Finland is carried out. In the second step, regression analyses are conducted using data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of 2000, 2009, and 2015. The results show an increasing influence of sociodemographic factors and growing inequality and no effect of governance tools as recommended by the global reform agenda in both countries over time, but more so and earlier in Sweden than in Finland.
In the Nordic countries as elsewhere, class reproduction for the middle classes has become riskier even in comprehensive educational systems based on mass education and meritocracy. This study focuses on general upper-secondary school students in their final year of study: (a) their choices of and experiences within the high-ranking upper-secondary schools in Reykjavík and Helsinki and (b) their future aspiration in terms of higher education. This is a comparative qualitative case study focusing on student interviews (n = 20) in four schools and based on Bourdieu’s conceptual framework. In these two cities with relatively modest social class structure, the students did not experience much of a disjuncture between habitus and field. Educational choices were shaped and restricted by the inherited capital of their families, peers and/or friends, especially in Iceland, while in Finland that was mainly visible when confronted with HE choices. In both countries, these students were strongly directed towards status disciplines in universities. There is an obvious class (re)production mechanism driving their HE choices shaped by the institutional habitus of their upper-secondary schools. The actual admission to the ‘right’ universities and disciplines requires certain capitals and habitus formation that is further nuanced in the general upper-secondary schools of these selected few.KeywordsUpper-secondary educationElite educationAcademic trackHigher educationEducational choicesBourdieuHabitusSocial class
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In this study, we estimate the effects of the scale-up of Norway’s universal ECEC program — expanding access to 1- and 2-year olds starting in the early 2000s—on standardized math and achievement tests in 5th grade (age 10) using a population-based survey sample (Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study, MoBa, n = 102,352), linked with national administrative records of child achievement test scores. These data support using fixed-effects regressions and instrumental variable regressions to make inferences about the causal impact of ECEC scale-up on middle childhood achievement. We find the scale-up of ECEC starting in the second year of life improved test scores, especially for children from families with low levels of parental education, thereby reducing the achievement gap between children ofparents with the highest and lowest education by up to 50%.
The present analysis examined the relationship between PISA results and their influence on policy development within a select group of European nations which included Estonia, Italy, France, and Finland. These countries reflect four distinct outcomes in relation to PISA results: (1) high achievement and high equity (Estonia); (2) stagnant performance (Italy); (3) low achievement and low equity (France); and (4) a negative equity trend (Finland). The discussion argues these outcomes can be associated with cases of policy inertia, avoidance, and refraction.
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We study a decade of achievement gaps 5th through 10th grade by parental income and education in Norway using administrative population data. Norway is a wealthy and egalitarian country with a homogeneous educational system, yet achievement gaps between students at the 90th and 10th percentiles of parental income and education are large (0.55-0.93 and 0.86-1.15 standard deviations, respectively), increasing by grade level. Gaps are equivalent to approximately 2-3 years of schooling, potentially providing an upper bound for the equalization that can be achieved through an educational system. Income achievement gaps increased by about 10% of a standard deviation over the 11-year time period, whereas education achievement gaps remained stable. This suggests that the choice of SES measure may explain why researchers disagree on trends in achievement gaps.
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Despite the growing body of research on the transition from school to work, an important aspect of young people’s social realities in this phase has been largely overlooked: their peers. This study investigates to what extent peer networks in late adolescence, and particularly peers’ appraisals of their own career goals, are related to young people’s subjective early transition outcomes in a Finnish sample ( N = 322) between the ages 17 and 20. The results show that having peers who positively appraise their goals as attainable is associated with more positive transition outcomes as young people more often reported having reached a (temporarily) satisfactory transition outcome which they intended to maintain unchanged. Negative peer appraisals showed no associations with transition outcomes. The present study offers an important step toward a comprehensive understanding of the social lives of young people in career transitions and provides new directions for research and counseling.
Education reforms around the world have been powerfully shaped by the rise of the neoliberal political, economic and cultural agendas. Neoliberal policies (re)produce certain types of institutional processes such as managerialism, performativity, and competition. These elements are mediated in varied ways by national ideologies, societal needs and educational goals. The logic of the market has also been an indelible feature of neoliberalism and this has undermined the possibilities and potentialities for equity in the distribution of the resources of schooling. Within the global neoliberal paradigm of international testing, Singapore and Finland have been appraised as top performing and therefore successful education systems in the world. Their stellar performance in these tests have led scholars and policy-makers alike in different parts of the world to attempt to extrapolate the lessons that could be learnt from the two systems. Yet these two education systems are noticeably different and have certainly taken distinct paths to attain their current status. Both have embraced neoliberalism in different forms. This paper sets out to explicate the crucial need for the building of a culture of trust to counteract the adverse effects of overdependence on accountability measures within the pervasive neoliberal framework of the Singapore education system.
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The “socioeconomic achievement gap”—the disparity in academic achievement between students from high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds—is well-known in the sociology of education. The SES achievement gap has been documented across a wide range of countries. Yet in most countries, we do not know whether the SES achievement gap has been changing over time. This study combines 30 international large-scale assessments over 50 years, representing 100 countries and about 5.8 million students. SES achievement gaps are computed between the 90th and 10th percentiles of three available measures of family SES: parents’ education, parents’ occupation, and the number of books in the home. Results indicate that, for each of the three SES variables examined, achievement gaps increased in a majority of sample countries. Yet there is substantial cross-national variation in the size of increases in SES achievement gaps. The largest increases are observed in countries with rapidly increasing school enrollments, implying that expanding access reveals educational inequality that was previously hidden outside the school system. However, gaps also increased in many countries with consistently high enrollments, suggesting that cognitive skills are an increasingly important dimension of educational stratification worldwide.
The aim of this longitudinal study among 9,223 students from 7th to 9th grade (age 13-16) was to assess whether immigration status and gender are associated with the level and change (slope) in school burnout among lower secondary school students in the Helsinki metropolitan area. 97% of the variation in school burnout was attributable to individual factors. Both the intercept (2.3, p < 0.001) and slope (0.5, p < 0.001) of school burnout were statistically significant. The slope showed increasing school burnout from grades 7 to 9. School burnout increased more in girls than in boys. Initially apparent higher school burnout among students who had immigrated to Finland within the last five years compared to Finnish native students was largely accounted for by sociodemographic and school-related factors. However, there was a persistent gender by immigration status difference in the fully adjusted model: recently (<5 years ago) immigrated boys experienced a larger increase in school burnout, especially due to increased cynicism, than recently immigrated girls.
We explore the interconnections of pupil admission and school choice with the socioeconomic composition of schools in the city of Espoo, Finland. We analyze pupil enrollment from residential areas, and compare the schools’ expected and actual socioeconomic profiles using GIS software (MapInfo). Social-diversification mechanisms within urban comprehensive schooling emerged: Distinctive choices of language and selective classes are made predominantly by pupils from residential blocks with higher socioeconomic profiles. The role of urban segregation in school choice seems to be stronger than predicted. As mechanisms of educational distinction accompanied with grouping policies, choice leads to socioeconomic segregation across and within schools.
School burnout is defined as exhaustion, cynicism and inadequacy as a student, and engagement can be conceptualized as study-related vigor, absorption and dedication. School burnout is increasing, particularly among students on an academic track, while at the end of elementary school almost half of the students no longer find school meaningful. School burnout and engagement were investigated by applying the demand-resource and stage-environment models. The results show that high school demands lead to burnout, while personal and school resources lead to school engagement. Burnout from school-context can also spillover to later depression, drop out and internet addiction, and engagement to overall satisfaction with life and success in educational pathways. In line with the stage-environment fit theory, educational transitions play a role in changes in school burnout trajectories. Adoption of a person-oriented approach revealed several different burnout-engagement profiles, including a profile in which students are at the same time both exhausted and engaged. The social context of peers, immigrant status, parents and teachers also play an important role in engagement and burnout.
Finland has been known for its excellent PISA results in educational outcomes throughout the last decade. The country has boasted a rare combination of high overall level, as well as uniquely good outcomes of the bottom performers. However, the latest PISA results and the recent socio-spatial developments within the Finnish cities challenge this nationally celebrated balance in schools and urban social structure. Until now, research evidence has demonstrated that in the Finnish context with a powerful, universalist welfare state and a highly educated, homogenous population, differentiation increases mainly by the growth of an elite. Our analysis of large datasets from schools and neighbourhoods in Helsinki suggests that this development has been overturned in the local level: segregation has begun to increase and appears to operate through the trends of middle-class avoidance and the decline of the underprivileged groups in urban schools and neighbourhoods.
We examine parental choice in the context of lower secondary schools in urban Finland by means of qualitative content analysis of interviews conducted with upper-class parents (n=33). The analysis concentrates on the social construction of selective school choice within a public education system. The families in question were willing and able to choose their selective classes in schools in which intake is based on aptitude tests. This practice was justified on meritocratic grounds and was therefore not considered a class practice in the parental discourse. We argue that the capacity of upper-class families to transform economic capital into embodied cultural capital becomes an asset in the competition over study positions. The process includes the transfer of trump cards acquired in the field of culture – such as via music or sports, with their acknowledged interconnectedness with social position – to the field of public comprehensive education, despite the fact that social background should not define the allocation of pupils to schools in Finland. The role of the transmission of capital in this process is misrecognised, despite the fact that the result is social exclusion.
This special issue of European Psychologist focuses on issues related to school success in the European context. It includes five reviews and meta-analyses covering Northern (Finland), Southern (Greece), and central Western Europe (Germany and Austria) as well as from the USA and Australia. The papers collected here provide valuable insights and impulses for both the scientific community and for those working in an applied field in the school context. Three papers in this special issue cover intervention programs. The remaining two papers cover timely topics in research on school engagement from a European perspective. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)