Islamic Religious Education in Finland

Tuula Sakaranaho and Inkeri Rissanen

State-Church Relations and the Muslim

Communities in Finland

State and Church in Finland

Finland is a Nordic welfare state promoting the equality of its members before the law. This principle of equality is also a guiding principle in relation to religious rights and their implementation in Finnish society (see Constitution of Finland, 1999; Uskonnonvapauslaki, 2003).1 However, as a result of globalisation and growing immigration to Finland, Finnish society has undergone rapid social change during which it had to come to terms with growing ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity, of which the rapid growth in numbers of Muslims since the 1990s is one visible example (Sakaranaho, 2018).

Finland’s church-state system is an exception in Europe in the sense that it recognises two national churches: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Orthodox Church of Finland. However, in accordance with the Freedom of Religion Act (Uskonnonvapauslaki, 2003), under certain conditions other religious communities can also organise as registered religious communities. According to the current law, a minimum of 20 people is needed in order to start a registered religious community (uskonnollinen yhdyskuntd), and Muslims have successfully followed this route.

In similar fashion to some other European countries, such as France and Belgium, the Finnish state has found it difficult to find a body that could represent Muslims in Finland. In order to solve this problem, the Ministry of Education and Culture financed in 2006 the foundation of the Islamic Council of Finland (ICF), constituted of some of the largest Islamic communities other than the Tatars. However, the Council ran into internal difficulties which resulted in many of the Islamic communities leaving. The Ministry has also withdrawn its financial support due to problems in the Council in handling money (Martikainen, 2019).

The Muslim Communities in Finland

No official figures are available for the number of Muslims in Finland. According to the Pew Research Center (2017), 2.7% of the Finnish population is Muslim, but this figure seems somewhat overestimated. In the Yearbook of Muslims in Europe, it is estimated that, in 2020, there were around 110,000-120,000 Muslims in Finland, organised in 46 registered Islamic communities (which according to the law more or less enjoy the same rights as the Lutheran and Orthodox Church of Finland), as well as 87 registered Islamic associations. Ethnically, linguistically, and socially, Finnish Muslims constitute a very heterogeneous population (Konttori and Pauha, forthcoming).

The Muslim population in Finland goes back over 100 years from when, at the end of the 19th century, Tatar Muslims from Russia started to settle in Finland which, at that time (1809-1917), was a grand duchy under the rule of the Russian emperor. When Finland gained its independence in 1917, the Tatars were granted citizenship and founded the first registered Islamic religious communities in the country, first in Helsinki (1925) and later in Tampere (1943) (Sakaranaho, 2006; Konttori and Pauha, forthcoming). It was only in 1987 that a third registered Finnish Islamic community was founded by Muslims who had immigrated to Finland since the 1960s. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the number of Islamic communities and associations has rapidly grown on a par with the growing number of Muslims coming from the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The vast majority of Muslims in Finland are Sunni with a Somalian background, and the number of Shi’a Muslims is estimated at about 10% of the total Muslim population. In addition, an estimated number of about 5,000 Muslims in Finland are converts.

Religion and Education in Finland: General Overview

The Finnish education model stipulates “one school for all” (Zilliacus, Paulsrud and Holm, 2017). Hence, in Finland, basic education is provided within a single institution (MEC and FNAE, 2017). The Finnish government opted in the 1970s for a general system of comprehensive education that aims to educate all Finnish children in a uniform and equal manner. Thus, basic education is compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 16, in addition to one year of preschool education at the age of 6 (FNAE, 2018a). Permissions to start non-governmental or private schools are not easily granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and over 95% of children are educated in (governmental) primary and secondary schools (Holm and Louden, 2010), which are administered by local municipalities (Ubani and Tirri, 2013; Sakaranaho, 2019a).2 During recent decades, there have been some attempts to start a

Muslim primary school, but the application has fallen short with respect to premises, competent teachers, and general financing.

The comprehensive school system notwithstanding, the Act on the Integration of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers (1999) defines integration as “the personal development of immigrants, aimed at participation in working life and society while preserving their own language and culture”.3 Thus, the Finnish government acknowledges the right of members belonging to different ethnic groups to maintain and develop their own language and culture. This provision has clear practical consequences for Finnish schools and in the metropolitan area of Helsinki in particular, where several languages and religions - Islam included - are taught as a part of the curriculum of governmental schools.4

The Place of Islam Within National Life and Education

Finnish attitudes towards Islam are exceptionally negative. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 62% of Finnish people see Islam as incompatible with Finnish culture and values, and only 35% personally know a Muslim (Pew Research Center, 2018, 66, 79). The numbers indicate that Islam is still considered alien to Finnish society (cf. Konttori and Pauha, forthcoming). This discourse on Islam as different from Finnish national identity is also reflected in the experiences of young Finnish Muslims, who distinguish between Islam and Finnishness and even associate strengthening one’s identity as a Finn with losing one’s Muslimness. These experiences of otherness are upheld by the continuing significance of “civil Lutheranism” (i.e., low levels of Lutheran practice but high rates of church membership as well as intertwined public presentations of Lutheranism and Finnishness) in Finnish culture (Pauha, 2018; see also the chapter on Denmark in this volume).

In a similar way, the governance of religious diversity in educational settings is often marked by so-called secular Lutheran normativity (Rissanen, Ubani and Sakaranaho, 2020). Furthermore, public discussion often frames young Muslims as a social problem and brings up the threat of radicalisation, even though in Finland only one incident with suspected motives linked to Islamist terrorism3 has occurred (Pauha, 2018, 2; Konttori and Pauha, forthcoming). Not surprisingly, the securitisation discourses around Muslims are also current in public discussions on Islamic religious education (IRE), which is seen as a means to prevent radicalisation (Rissanen, 2019; Sakaranaho, 2019b).

Religious Education and Islamic Religious

Education in Finland: The Current Situation

Finland follows a rather exceptional model of religious education (RE). Members of registered religious communities have the right to “education in accordance with their own religion” (see Basic Education Act

1998, Section 13, Amendment 454/2003); Lukiolaki, 2018, 455, §16). However, RE should not include religious practice (Sakaranaho, 2013; see also Seppo, 2003, 182-184). RE is a knowledge-based subject steered by the general pedagogical aims of governmental schools rather than by the interests of religious communities. According to the current National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (NCCBE, 2014, 134), the “instruction of religion supports the pupil’s growth into becoming a responsible member of his or her community and a democratic society as well as becoming a global citizen”. These civic aims of RE are pursued through teaching about one’s own as well as other religions and supporting the development of dialogue and other relevant skills.

The main parameters of RE in Finland are outlined in the Basic Education Act (1998), which states that “[t]he provider of basic education shall provide RE in accordance with the religion of the majority of pupils”, which in practice is Lutheran RE. In addition, municipalities are obliged to organise RE for pupils or students belonging to the Orthodox Church if their number is three in the area of a municipality. For members of other registered religious communities (and thus also for Muslims), municipalities are obliged to organise RE in the respective religion if there are at least three pupils or students in the area of a municipality belonging to that particular religious community, and if the parents of these pupils - or students themselves in the case of upper-secondary school - so request. In addition to RE, municipalities are also obliged to organise education in ethics1(elamankatsomustietd) for those pupils who are not members of any religious community. The minimum number of pupils is three (Sakaranaho, 2013). Since around 80% of Finnish people are members of the Lutheran Church, in practice Lutheran RE predominates in Finnish schools. This course is followed by Ethics (6%) and Islam (2.2%) (see Table 7.1). RE or Ethics is taught one hour per week during basic education, except for one year of elementary education (the grade level can be chosen by local municipalities) when there are two weekly hours.

IRE was first introduced in governmental schools in the middle of the 1980s in Helsinki. Before that, Muslim students participated in

Table 7.1 Pupils’ religion subject choices in basic education in 2018

Subject choices in grades 1-6

Subject choices in grades 7—9

Evangelical Lutheran

86.1%

89.1%

Orthodox

1.6%

1.5%

Islam

2.5%

2.2%

Ethics

8.5%

6.0%

Other religions

0.5%

0.5%

Opting out

0.8%

0.6%

Total

100.0%

100.0 %

Source: Vipunen - Education Statistics Finland, 2019

Lutheran RE or were exempted from RE. When the overall number of Muslims began to grow rapidly after the middle of the 1990s, IRE was also organised in cities other than Helsinki (Sakaranaho, 2006, 352). Accordingly, the organisation of IRE has become a pressing issue for many municipalities and schools.

Islamic Religious Education: Curricula, Textbooks, Teacher Training, and Inspection

Curricula

In order to start RE, a religion must have a national curriculum issued by the Finnish National Agency of Education (FNAE). Drafting a new basic curriculum for RE is a long process involving representatives of the FNAE, municipalities, schools, and different religious communities. The most recent basic RE curricula (2014, 2019) were drafted in collaboration with FNAE and teachers representing different religions, Islam included. In order to draft these curricula, a working group, composed of RE teachers and including two IRE teachers, was established. Although different religious communities and networks have the opportunity to comment on the draft of the curriculum via internet service provided by the FNAE,' the role of religious communities in drafting a curriculum of religion and taking part in its teaching has diminished in recent decades. At present there are several curricula dedicated to education in Christianity (e.g., Lutheranism; Orthodox Christianity; Catholicism) but only one for Islam. Thus, Muslims learn in school about “general Islam”, which should thus be suitable for both Sunni and Shi’a as well as for other Muslim communities (NCCBE, 2014; Onniselka, 2011, 131-134; Sakaranaho, 2019b).

The starting point for developing curricula for minority religions is the NCCBE in general and its general aims of RE in particular. The most recent NCCBE (2014) emphasises the rich cultural heritage of Finland, which has evolved through the interaction of different cultures and aims at encouraging the growth of cultural identity in interaction with others. In line with this principle, the overall aim of RE is to provide a comprehensive education on different religions and worldviews. The justification for this kind of RE is the need to bring up young people who, as members of a pluralist society, should be able to make independent value judgements, exhibit social responsibility, and participate in cultural interaction. Pupils and students should have a good command of “cultural literacy” concerning religions and should understand the importance of religion for individuals, societies, and cultures (FNAE, 2018b; Sakaranaho, 2019a, 23-26).

Thus, the aims of global citizenship and of developing pupils towards being responsible citizens in democratic societies have also steered the

Islamic Religious Education in Finland 117 development of a curriculum for Islam. Following the other RE curricula, the curriculum for Islam has three content areas in NCCBE 2014: (1) the pupil’s relationship with his or her religion, (2) the world of religions, and (3) the good life. The Qur’an and “traditions” are central concepts under the first content area, and the curriculum mentions that it is of importance to choose age-appropriate stories and teachings from the Islamic tradition. In the first three grades, the pupils (aged between 6 and 9) should be introduced to Islam “from the viewpoint of their families”, and gradually the gaze will be shifted to Islam in Finland, in Europe, and eventually, all over the world. The influence of Islam on culture, arts, and the sciences is also covered. In the three last grades of comprehensive school (i.e., grades 4-6, pupils aged 10 to 12), the history and interpretations of the Qur’an and traditions are learnt about. Already during the first two grades, the diversity of Islam “is reflected on”, and for grades 7-9 (pupils aged 13 to 15) the curriculum lists more concretely “the diversity of Islam, its main movements, modern-day Islamic movements, and political Islam”, as well as religious tolerance and coexistence as key contents (NCCBE, 2014, 232, 427, 705).

The second content area, “the world of religions”, starts by looking at the religions and worldviews the pupils meet in their school and in the community. In grades 3-6, they study about Christianity and Judaism, and in grades 7-9 they also learn about other major religions as well as about “irreligión as a worldview”. Under the third content area, the “good life”, respect for life, human worth, and children’s rights are mentioned as topics in the first grades. As in the curricula of other religions, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is mentioned in IRE for all grades. In addition, the third content area focuses on different aspects of the good life “according to Islam” as well as on ethical questions or life questions that “arise in their own lives”. Environmental responsibility, dialogue between religions, and the significance of religions in building peace in society are among the key topics in this content area (NCCBE, 2014, 232, 427, 705).

In upper secondary schools, the national core curriculum (NCCGUSS, 2015) has six courses for RE with different topics, two of which are compulsory and the rest optional, which means they are not organised in every school. In the curriculum for Islam, the first compulsory course focuses on religion as a phenomenon and on Abrahamic religions. Nonreligious worldviews and secularism are also mentioned. The second compulsory course is titled Worldwide Islam and aims to give an overview of Islam from a historical, societal, theological, and cultural perspective. A particular aim seems to be to help students to understand the phenomenon of Islam in the contemporary world. The course aims to develop students’ understanding of the impact of minority and majority positions on the interpretation of religion, as well as their competence to analyse and evaluate contemporary discussions related to Islam. Theobligatory courses are the same in the curricula of all religions: they concentrate on religions in the world, religions in Finland, the role of religion in science, art, and popular culture, and religion in the media (NCCGUSS, 2015, 212-213). In addition to the basic national core curricula for the various kinds of RE, municipalities are obliged to draft their local curricula, which are in principle supposed to be in line with the national ones but are a little more detailed and can reflect the local conditions of particular municipalities. In practice, however, this is not always the case. For instance, some local curricula have not followed the Basic Curriculum of Islam issued by the National Board of Education (Onniselká, 2011, 133-134). The municipalities can decide for themselves whether each school drafts its own curriculum or whether a common curriculum is drafted for the local area. The education provider (local municipality) is responsible for accepting the local curricula.

Textbooks

Due to the significant number of pupils, textbooks for Lutheran RE are produced by commercial publishers. For Orthodox, Catholic, and Islamic RE, textbooks have been produced and published by the FNAE. The first textbook for basic IRE was published in 2009 by FNAE, but it is sold out and is out of use (Lehtinen, Egal and Telaranata, 2009). It was followed by a book series entitled Salam, first published by FNAE in 2011. The series includes textbooks, workbooks, and material for teachers for grades 1-6. Textbooks for grades 7-9 were published in 2020. The series has a “Finnish cultural orientation” in that the stories and images in the books are drawn from a traditional Finnish environment. When the book series was launched, it received some media attention; its orientation was interpreted as a state’s effort to promote (a sanitised) form of Finnish Islam and Finnish Muslim identity, which was both criticised and praised.

Teacher Training

In order to be a qualified RE teacher in Finland, one needs to have a master’s degree in a relevant subject at university level, a sufficient amount of study in teacher education, and a good command of the Finnish or Swedish language (both of which are official languages in Finland).8 In order to qualify as an RE teacher, moreover, a certain number of credits in the religion needs to be included in the master’s degree or studied as additional studies.

In order to equip teachers of Islam with formal qualifications, in 2007 the University of Helsinki started with teacher education programmes in IRE, first at the Faculty of Arts as part of studies in Islamic studies and the study of religions and, since 2019, also at the Faculty of Theology as part of studies in Islamic theology. The current curriculum and teaching for IRE teacher training is provided in collaboration with Islamic studies (Faculty of Arts) and Islamic theology (Faculty of Theology). Hence, IRE teachers can graduate as a master of arts or in theology.

The textbooks used in the education of IRE teachers cover courses on preliminary Arabic language, the primary sources of Islam, and core literature produced by different authors on the history of Islam and the current situation of Muslims in the world. The main emphasis is on the scientific study of Islam. With respect to the scientific approach, the emphasis on “Western Islamic studies” has recently been criticised by members of the Union of Teachers of Islam in Finland9 (Onniselka, 2011, 137).

Taking into consideration the fact that teacher training in IRE has been available already for over a decade, it has managed to attract only a few students. This is surprising because, according to a survey conducted among IRE teachers in 2004, most expressed interest in training that would qualify them as competent RE teachers. Even though there may be many reasons for the low enrolment of teachers with an immigrant background in Islamic teacher training programmes, one can mention the following challenges related to teacher training in general and to the practicalities of teaching Islam in Finnish schools in particular (Sakaranaho, 2006, 2019b; Onniselka, 2011):

  • • In order to qualify as an IRE teacher, a person needs to have a master’s degree, with studies in Islam and pedagogics. Teachers of IRE come from different countries, and their level of education varies greatly, and only very few have a Finnish university degree.
  • • One must have the highest level of proficiency in the Finnish lan

guage, which is documented by taking a matriculation exam or a О о 7

language test organised by the FNAE. However, even for a teacher who has received a master’s degree in Finland, the language test can be a huge barrier.

  • • Since any given school offers only one or two hours of RE per week, teachers of Islamic (and other minority forms of) RE are compelled to work at many schools in order to work a full-time schedule. In some cases, teachers of Islam may have 15 schools on their list. Consequently, they often have no school as a base, and they are not always informed in time about changes in teaching hours, for example.
  • • The pupils teachers of Islam encounter in their work are extremely heterogeneous. As is the case with Muslims in Finland in general, Muslim pupils represent different ethnicities and speak many different languages. Often the only language in common between teachers and their pupils is Finnish, which is also officially the main language used in class. Pupils from different countries also vary due to their religious upbringing and with respect to the amount of knowledge they might have about Islam.
  • • Despite the heterogeneity of Muslim pupils, they often attend the same Islam class. There are often few pupils in any particular grade, so pupils of different ages often attend the same IRE class. Consequently, teachers have to align their teaching to address the needs of pupils with different levels of competence. Thus, it is hard for a teacher to follow the IRE curriculum with its detailed aims for each grade.
  • • Due to a scarcity of textbooks and a lack of teachers’ guides in IRE, the teachers until very recently have had to provide their own material and to find their own way of presenting it.

In addition to the above-mentioned challenges, a change in one of the provisions of the Freedom of Religion Act (Uskonnonvapauslaki, 2003) has added to the competition for teaching positions among IRE teachers. Previously an RE teacher had to be a member of the registered religious community whose religion (s)he was teaching but, in 2003, this provision was abolished (Perusopetuslain muutoksen vaikutukset uskonnon ja elamankatsomustiedon opetukseen sekii koulun toimintaan, 2006). As a consequence, a person can teach any religion as well as Ethics, provided that (s)he has the relevant qualifications to do so. According to this line of thought, training and qualification as a teacher guarantee a teacher’s ability to teach religious traditions other than one’s own. This is, of course, congruent with the policy of separating RE in schools from that of religious communities. In recent years, more and more non-Muslim teachers have qualified as IRE teachers and, due to their formal qualifications, they are often strong candidates for IRE teaching positions. Obviously, some Muslim parents have expressed concern about non-Muslim teachers not having enough knowledge and understanding of Islam but, for better or worse, they have no legal grounds for their complaints (Onniselka, 2011; see also Rissanen and Sai, 2018, 8-9; Sakaranaho, 2019b).

All in all, there is an interesting discrepancy in the current system, where teachers of RE are not expected to be members of a religious community (and can, hence, teach any religion) while at the same time pupils attending their teaching are divided in terms of their membership in a religious community. Moreover, the requirements in teacher training clearly reflect the model of a teacher who has gone through the Finnish school system and speaks Finnish (or Swedish) fluently. In practice, this is the case only for all Lutheran RE teachers and for most teachers of Orthodox and Catholic RE, as well as for teachers of Ethics. Hence, in spite of the official discourse on linguistic and religious rights by members of the Finnish legal system, in practice the current system does not seem to show much understanding for cultural and linguistic diversity and for the situation of recent immigrants.

Inspection

In the field of education, municipalities are autonomous. They can decide rather independently how they organise schooling and how they use funding in their area (FNAE, 2018a). As such, municipalities also manage basic and upper-secondary education by overseeing school compliance in their daily practice with the national guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), as well as those of the FNAE. In addition to governmental schools, municipalities are also in charge of overseeing the management of private schools. Municipalities also play a pivotal role in the management of religious diversity in their area. Especially in large cities, municipalities are active in offering guidelines concerning religious issues; by organising in-service training for school principals, teachers, and other personnel, and by maintaining open or closed web portals, for instance. Since these guidelines are locally based, they can vary from one place to another. Consequently, there are considerable variations between municipalities in the implementation of RE. In addition, there may be variations in teaching RE due to the autonomy of Finnish teachers; they are trusted as highly educated professionals and have much freedom in choosing the methods and contents of teaching. IRE teachers, too, have this high degree of autonomy in their work, although some of them experience this as a lack of support for and interest in their work (Rissanen, 2019; Ubani, 2018; Sakaranaho, 2019a).

Islamic Religious Education in State Schools: Evaluation of the Present Situation

IRE in Finland has been studied mainly through case studies. According to studies by Rissanen (2014; a, 2018), many IRE teachers in Finland perceive their main task to be to support their pupils’ identity and value negotiations in order to convince them of the compatibility of Finnish citizenship and Muslim identity. They seem to have a strong sense of agency in promoting the integration of Islam and Muslims into Finnish society, both through IRE and through their role in school communities as “cul-tural brokers” who mediate school-family relations. Some IRE teachers promote a conception of one “true Islam” purged of cultural distortions in their teaching. They favour the teaching of “general Islam” in schools as a way of promoting the commonality of Finnish Muslims. However, some parents and students have questioned the teachers’ ability to represent the diversity of Islam in an impartial manner (Rissanen, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c).

Studies on student perspectives have found that many Muslim students value IRE and regard IRE as an important space for identity development (Kimanen, 2016; Rissanen, 2014b). In addition, both IRE teachers and pupils seem to regard IRE as an act of recognition by the state of Muslim identities (Rissanen, 2014a; Sakaranaho, 2019b). However, teachers may have mixed sentiments concerning the separation of students into different groups in RE; on the one hand, they can be proud of their own instruction group and interested in learning more about Islam but, on the other hand, they also have an urge not to be seen as different (Zilliacus and Hohn, 2013).

There is no research-based knowledge on Muslim parents’ experiences and wishes concerning IRE in schools. According to IRE teachers, the number of parents who are suspicious of IRE has diminished after having received proper information concerning the aims and contents of Finnish RE and getting to know the teacher (Rissanen, 2014a, 2018). Still, some Muslim parents choose to send their children to study Ethics instead of IRE. Furthermore, due to the difficulty of finding qualified IRE teachers, the quality of teaching can vary significantly, so the experiences of Muslim families concerning IRE can be very different.

Improving Islamic Religious Education:

Recent Trends and Initiatives

Finnish RE repeatedly raises intensive public debates, and it is often argued that the current model is outdated. In several Finnish cities, schools have established try-outs, wherein different forms of RE are integrated (see, for example, Ahs, Poulter and Kallioniemi, 2019). The current model is most strongly defended by representatives of minority religions and their teachers, and the discussions on RE often revolve around minority rights. Furthermore, although the general aims in the national core curriculum are the same for all religions, minorities often give the identity-supporting functions of RE (socialisation into one’s own tradition) a more central role. This contrasts with majority (Lutheran) RE where the aims of developing a comprehensive knowledge based on religions and worldviews (transmitting knowledge about different traditions) is given greater emphasis (Rissanen, 2019). It is clear that minority students’ identity and value negotiations are different from those of the majority, and that, for instance, Muslim students regard it important to discuss their life questions together with IRE teachers and other Muslim students who share their everyday life (Rissanen, 2014b). However, in addition to the minorities’ need for identity support, they too need a comprehensive education on the role of worldviews and religions in a manner similar to the majority students. The opportunity to discuss religions and worldviews in an interfaith classroom is one of the most commonly mentioned benefits of those who would favour developing an integrative RE subject for all (see Ahs, Poulter and Kallioniemi, 2019).

The demographic differences in different parts of Finland should also be taken into account in discussions about RE. For instance, shifting into an interfaith model of RE would only change the classroom

Islamic Religious Education in Finland 123 population in large cities, where the number of separate RE classes is currently increasing. In many parts of the country, however, the classroom composition would not change very much at all because most students are enrolled in Lutheran RE. Furthermore, it is likely that the subject would be taught by the qualified - most often Lutheran - RE teachers, and this means that the role of minority RE teachers as cultural brokers in school communities would be lost. Therefore, it is easy to see why religious minorities feel they would be the ones who lose in this change.

In the case of IRE, however, the issues mentioned above - varying quality of IRE, problems related to teaching “general Islam”, and difficulties in IRE teacher training - are challenges that need to be addressed. At the moment, more and more qualified non-Muslims are entering the IRE field, which indicates that the identity-supporting functions of IRE based on the teachers’ role as cultural broker and role model are diminishing. However, even though RE can be regarded as a particularly sensitive subject, which requires many pedagogical skills as well as - some say - impartiality on the part of teachers, the discussions on RE and IRE most often focus on the approach in RE, rather than on teachers and teacher training.

Altogether, the future development of IRE in Finland is very much dependent on the general development of Finnish RE. Expectations for RE are manifold and vary between different interest groups. However, RE, with its rather limited time resources, cannot be everything for everyone. From the perspective of cultural and religious rights of different groups, the current model seems to work rather well, even though it could recognise intra-religious diversity better and give equal opportunities for families to choose what form of RE to study. One option for improvement could be a partially integrated model, in which a part of the contents would be studied in an interfaith classroom and another part separately. That would encourage taking into account the different needs of minority and majority groups. Besides, giving students knowledge about their “own” traditions would also benefit the common discussions. Most likely for IRE teachers, however, this would mean even fewer teaching hours in one school, and so this option wotdd not ease the current (practical) difficulties associated with (DRE.

Endnotes

  • 1. The Finnish Constitution was revised at the end of 1990s (for the "unofficial” translation in English, see the Constitution of Finland, 1999), and the Freedom of Religion Act was revised in 2003 (available only in Finnish, Uskonnonvapauslaki, 2003). For an unofficial translation see Freedom of Religion Act (2003). See also Sakaranaho, 2006, 135-162.
  • 2. Private schools in Finland are state recognised schools which get their funding mainly from the state or from local municipalities, follow the national curriculum, and cannot charge any school fees from pupils. Atpresent, there are around 80 private schools, of which some are Christian, some following Steiner and Freinet pedagogy, and one Jewish school. There have been some attempts to start a Muslim primary school in Helsinki, but due to several deficiencies in the applications they have fallen through. The Tatar community had a primary school for around 20 years (1948-1969) but it was closed down due to a lack of pupils and some related language disputes.
  • 3. See Section Chapter 1, Section 2: Definitions (362/ 2005).
  • 4. For the recommendations by the National Board of Education on teaching different languages in school, see NCCBE, 2004.
  • 5. The incident was a knife attack by a Moroccan-born asylum seeker in 2017 in which two people were killed and eight injured.
  • 6. The union of teachers of this subject use the English translation "Life Stance Education” (https://et-opetus.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/et-esite-2011-en-fi.pdf). Since the Basic Education Act and the National Board of Education use the term "Ethics”, we will follow their terminology (see Basic Education Act 1998, SectionlS; NCCBE, 2004, 213-219).
  • 7. Personal communication with Kali Mikkola, counsellor of education in FNAE.
  • 8. For historical reasons, Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Among Finns, around 90% speak Finnish and around 5% speak Swedish as their native language.
  • 9. The Union of Teachers of Islam in Finland was registered in 2011.

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