As part of of the pedagogical focus of the Museum of Impossible Forms  New Narratives Summer School program that MeR attended, Emmanuel Acquah,  Assistant Professor in Minority Studies at the Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies of the Åbo Akademi University, gave an eye opening lecture where he asked if the Finnish education miracle included immigrant learners.

Finland has recently been rated top in the PISA test results and has since received world-wide  praise, admiration and good press. In addition, the Finnish curriculum also claims to be equitable , however, Acquah argues that this is not so as the Finnish curriculum fails students with immigrant backgrounds.  His research points to problem areas concerning representation which primarily focuses on whiteness and teachers lack sufficient guidelines as to how to teach in a multicultural classroom.  Consequently placing decoding demands on immigrant learners that are not expected of native Finnish learners nor considered by the curriculum. Hence the demand for a “new narrative” with regards to immigrant learners within the Finnish curriculum becomes apparent.

Emmanuel Acquah presenting at the Museum of Impossible Forms on the topic of the Miracle of the Finnish Education system and it’s exculsion of immigrant learners. Image by Anaïs Duong-Pedica. Accessed from https://twitter.com/anaisdpedica/media













After looking more closely at the PISA test results and the realities affecting immigrant learners in Finland, Acquah was able to identify three notable areas. Firstly, there is a widening gap of academic results between native speakers and immigrant students. Secondly, there is an over representation of immigrants in special education classes or programs and lastly, the drop-out rate is higher amongst immigrant groups. As a result, He conducted further research into the reasons behind these findings and performed a curriculum analysis by looking at who was creating and who was represented in the curriculum.

Most who work with education in the North may claim that language is the main barrier to immigrant learning experiences and a closer look at the Finnish National Core Curriculum verifies this which according to Acquah dedicates three- five pages to the issue of language and immigration education. However, it makes no mention of the impact of cultural difference on learning which he argues is the main culprit behind the lower academic results amongst Finnish immigrant learners.

Acquah observes that there is mention of the concept of culture in the curriculum  however, no explicit descriptions or guidelines as to how teachers should or could effectively teach in a multicultural classroom. This is of course significant as learning and teaching methods differ from culture to culture.

For example if  a student originates from a country where rote learning is the methodology applied to mathematics tuition, being confronted with word sums found in the Finnish mathematics curriculum (even if pupil have mastered Finnish ), places extra cognitive demands on the immigrant learner in comparison to the native Finnish learner.

Hence, it cultural differences/ exclusion that cause the most problems for immigrant learners which supersedes the role of language but does not exclude it. Doctoring this would require representative support media in line with the curriculum (eg. text books) and competent teachers who are able to adapt their lessons and teaching methods to the multicultural/ multilingual classroom.

Studies conducted into teacher attitudes and self-made adaptations toward cultural differences inside the classroom such as whether they allow students to use their native language during lessons resulted in Acquah receiving a mixed range of responses. This only underlined the need for a comprehensive and standardised curriculum based approach to teaching in multicultural environments centred around a bag of tools that aid with cultural differences.

Currently Acquah is developing a game to be used in everyday life and in the classroom by immigrant learners, the details of which are not to be revealed as of yet. He is also part of a ongoing international project concerned with teaching methods in multilingual classes- OPETAN.

If you would like to get in contact withEmmanuel Acquah you are welcome to contact him at emmanuel.acquah@abo.fi; tel: +358404804825.

Find out more about Emmanuel Acquah’s published research:

 See Full list of publications and current projects