“Education is filled with cultural conceptions that need to be challenged,” says Sirpa Lappalainen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Eastern Finland.
Normativities must be dismantled in education, too
Appointed as Professor of Sociology from this August, Sirpa Lappalainen’s research examines various social and cultural processes in education at different educational levels. A common theme in all her studies is an interest in issues of equality and inequality in education. Her doctoral dissertation examined preschool practices from the perspective of Finnishness, focusing in particular on how preschools encounter children who do not have transgenerational roots in Finland.
“For example, far-reaching conclusions on how families would view certain issues were drawn based on their religion or ethnic origin. There are many aspects to people, and we should be careful about ideas of representation that see people primarily as representatives of their group. For instance, the majority of Finns still belongs to the Lutheran Church. However, we understand that people’s relationship with the church as an institution varies, and the church has a different role in different people’s lives. Yet, this is not necessarily remembered when conclusions are drawn on, for example, those belonging to other religious communities.”
Appreciation for general studies in vocational education should be increased
Persistent cultural conceptions that are problematic in terms of equality also exist in vocational education. When examining young people studying social services and health care, Lappalainen found that those doing well in the general subjects and written assignments also tended to do well in their practical training. This observation shatters the traditional idea that we, as learners, are either doers or thinkers.
“It was tough for these young people to have their self-concept of being manually skilled challenged. We should not think in such a dichotomic and exclusive way. I am, indeed, calling for the restoration of the value of general studies also in vocational education. These studies should not be seen as secondary, because if we do, way may end up excluding young people from civic participation, for example.”
New study into what kind of a picture universities paint of the ideal student
Lappalainen is launching a research project in which universities are examined from the perspective of students who do not conform to the assumption of a white, mainstream, middle-class, physically and mentally able-bodied young person.
“The objective is to examine how universities as institutions pave the way for students to academic labour market citizenship.”
The study is currently examining university strategies and education policy documents. The researchers are particularly interested in the picture painted of universities by their strategies and education policy documents: who do they appeal to, who do they take into account, and what kind of assumptions of the ideal student do they contain.
Dismantling of normativities creates a safe space for diversity
Lappalainen stresses the importance of dismantling different normativities and creating a safe space for diversity. Normative practices involve, for example, taking certain abilities, knowledge and skills or characteristics for granted, while things that do not conform to the norm are seen as somehow problematic or in need of adjustment.
According to Lappalainen, the current perception of Finland as a model country for equality often prevents us from seeing not only structural inequalities, but also various more subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion. To people experiencing them, they are extremely unpleasant: they shape their relationship with their community as well as their self-concept, and also limit their opportunities.
- Professor of Sociology, University of Eastern Finland, 1 August 2022–
- Title of Docent in Social Research in Education, University of Helsinki, 2009
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Helsinki, 2006
- Associate Professor, University of Eastern Finland, 2018–2022
- University Researcher, University of Helsinki, 2018–2019
- University Lecturer, University of Helsinki, 2014–2018
- University Researcher, University of Helsinki, 2013
- Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Helsinki, 2007–2013
Photos available for download:
For further information, please contact:
- Professor Sirpa Lappalainen, tel. +358 50 572 0271, sirpa.lappalainen (at) uef.fi, UEF Connect