Researcher Pia Koirikivi: “In a way you can think that school is a place where alternative views are brought forth”

Researcher Pia Koirikivi: “In a way you can think that school is a place where alternative views are brought forth”

Researcher Pia Koirikivi is part of an international research group “Growing up radical?” which focuses on the role of educational institutions in guiding young people’s worldview construction. On 25th October, the project team organises a symposium at Oxford with the theme “Identities and Resilience in Times of Enhanced Nationalisms: Perspectives from Finland and the UK”. In this interview Koirikivi tells about the background of the project and the preliminary results.

How did you come up with the idea for the research project?

“The Academy of Finland funded project is based on our previous research. We noticed that there was a lot of discussion about the role of education and its function in preventing violent extremism, hate speech and other similar phenomena. However, the educational perspectives were often missing from the key literature. Furthermore, these discussions do not usually include the youth’s voices, so we wanted to bring them forth.” 

What preliminary results do you have?

“We have gathered data from over three thousand students in upper secondary schools and vocational institutions from different parts in Finland regarding their values and attitudes. We also asked them about their views on how to prevent the formation of violent attitudes in school. We are still gathering and analysing the data.

So far we have found out that the youth think it’s important that the school is a place where different values and worldviews can be openly discussed. They think that school a genuinely identity-safe growing up context where students feel that the adults care about them and guide them towards various support networks, if needed.”

How does education impact the youth’s formation of values and worldview? 

“The meaning of school is hard to completely isolate from other parts in life, but as the youth spend a considerable share of their time in school and the related peer networks, its role in attitude formation is central. In a way you can think that school is a place where alternative views are brought forth openly and also critical views are brought up and discussed with respect. The value base of the Finnish curriculum sets of course certain framework for this, but the aim is to have genuinely open discussions.” 

Is this addressed in a different way in Finland and Britain?

“Yes, Finland and Britain have taken a somewhat different approach to the topic as regards education, although there are naturally also similarities. In Britain, the Prevent policy for countering terrorism and extremism in educational institutions guides the teachers to notify their students’ expressed views forward in instances where they raise concern. In Finland, the emphasis of prevention is based on the broad support to youths’ inclusion and wellbeing.” 

How can these matters be addressed in the teacher training?

“It’s important that different mechanism and both explicit and implicit power relations in education are brought forth in the teacher training. This way the future teachers will become more aware also of their own presuppositions as well as the broader structures related to equality or inequality. Things that cause inequality can stay simmering and get worse, which disturbs society’s cohesion. For example, different understandings of what’s “normal” and “deviant” impacts the educational practices. Without critical evaluation of these, educators may, even unwillingly, create perceptions that a certain way is the right way to be “one of us” and if you don’t fit into that you don’t belong.” 

What are you expecting from the Oxford seminar?

“I am sure our whole team is excited about the keynote speeches and the discussions that follow them. The keynote speeches are from various disciplinary perspectives, ranging from philosophy to developmental psychopathology, but they have in common that they address identity and the ways it’s constructed in and through education. Additionally, learning more about different methodical ways to approach the research theme brings much perspective into my own thinking. Of course also examination of the differences between Finland and Britain interests here.” 

Identities and Resilience in Times of Enhanced Nationalisms, Friday 25th October 11:30–19, 15 Norham Gardens, Oxford OX2 6PY, Oxford. Education Rooms G/H, followed by a reception at Harris Manchester College. The seminar is open and free of charge, however the number of seats is limited. Expressions of interest:

“Growing up radical?” -project is led by professor Arniika Kuusisto from Stockholm, Helsinki and Oxford Universities. Postdoctoral researchers Saija Benjamin and Pia Koirikivi from University of Helsinki work as full-time researchers in the project. The project team also includes assistant professor Liam Gearonin from University of Oxford.

Text: Jenni Ahtiainen Photo: Pia Koirikivi

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