The sense of school connectedness is important for young people’s well-being – but do schools in Finland succeed in providing a fair social environment for all?
Schools in Finland generally deal with bullying better than schools in many other European countries – but does this apply to all student groups? Research shows that immigrant youth are more likely to experience bullying and ethnic discrimination than native youth.
A recent study by researchers at Åbo Akademi University examines the social inequality gap between the native and immigrant youth in Ostrobothnia. The researchers investigate bullying and ethnic discrimination, and how these affected young people’s sense feeling of connectedness to school.
“Immigrants make up 8.5 percent of Finland’s population, and this figure is growing rapidly. Almost every native kid has one or a few immigrant peers in their class today. Still, prejudice against immigrants persists. There is very little research on young immigrants and bullying. So we wanted to examine whether all young people are treated equally by their peers and teachers at school”, says Isik Ulubas, a PhD student in developmental psychology at Åbo Akademi.
The study shows that immigrant students are three times more likely to be bullied and discriminated against by peers and teachers compared to natives. As a result, they do not feel at home at school, but are also found to be three times more aggressive toward their peers.
School connectedness is very essential for teenage years, the researchers emphasise. School connectedness refers to the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included and supported by others in the social environment of school.
Previous research has shown that when they feel accepted by their peers and teachers, their sense of school connectedness increases. They are less likely to drop out of school and, most importantly, are less violent. On the other hand, children who are constantly victimized are at risk of growing into adults with less education, less money and more health problems than the rest of the population.
”This is a serious problem from an equality perspective. We call for more research and better cooperation between researchers, teachers and policy makers to improve the current situation. Every child, regardless of their origin, has the right to a socially equal and fair school environment,” says Isik Ulubas.
The study conducted in 2019 involved 1 827 upper secondary and upper secondary school students in both Finnish- and Swedish-speaking schools in the Ostrobothnia region, Finland.
Ulubas, I. Z., Björkqvist, K., & Söderberg, P. (2021). Perceived Ethnic Discrimination and School Connectedness among Adolescents in Finland: Role of Family Background and Sex. Journal of Educational, Health, and Community Psychology, 10 (2), 318 ‒ 339.
Ulubas, I. Z., Björkqvist, K. (2019, October 22-24). Perceived ethnic discrimination (PED), aggression and school connectedness among the adolescents in Finland [Oral presentation]. ISRA Special Regional Meeting, Jerusalem, Israel.