The social costs and benefits of school choice in Sweden and Finland are presented in a new American book

A fruitful collaboration between JustEd team 1 and 2 has resulted in a book chapter in the newly published book ‘Education, Equity, Economy: Crafting a New Intersection’.

Janne Varjo and Mira Kalalahti

Janne Varjo and Mira Kalalahti

JustEd team members Janne Varjo, Mira Kalalahti and Lisbeth Lundahl has written the chapter ‘Recognizing and Controlling the Social Cost of school Choice’.

“It’s a book edited by Americans, and we didn’t really know what to expect. Normally, we write for European or Nordic audiences. It was nice to find out that the Americans bought our message, and they were very interested in hearing about our Nordic model,” says Janne Varjo.

Lisbeth Lundahl

Lisbeth Lundahl

Janne is a university lecturer and Mira a post-doctoral  researcher at the Research Unit focusing on the Sociology and Politics of Education (KUPOLI) at the University of Helsinki and members of JustEd team 1, whereas Lisbeth Lundahl is professor at the Teacher Education Faculty at Umeå University and leader of team 2.

Interest in the Nordic education policy models

“I was a bit surprised that the editors were interested in the Nordic education policy models in global context. We have always hesitated to focus on this so called Nordic model, and wondered whether  it is important outside Europe, but it is. It is something people want to hear about,” says Mira.

Although there were a geographical distance between the three writers, the process of co-writing the chapter went smoothly. However, one big misunderstanding occurred with the American editors George W. Noblit and William T. Pink:

“The concept of positive discrimination was something the Americans didn’t understand at all. We had to explain it thoroughly, since discrimination is against the constitution of the USA. In the Nordic context it is quite normal with positive discrimination,” says Janne.

The social benefits and costs of school choice

“The core issue is in our chapter is to understand what the social benefits and costs of school choice are, and that’s why we are comparing the metropolitan region in Finland and Sweden. We wanted to understand what the social costs are in Sweden, and if they are similar in Finland. We also examine what the social benefits are of school choice,” says Mira.

The key findings are that the social benefits are not so much discussed in Finland, but the social costs are emphasized, at least at the municipal level in society.

“The basic idea is that we can see that there are both positive and negative aspects of school choice. What is considered positive is more emphasized in Sweden, while the negative sides, such as the segregation, are much more emphasized in Finland. Finland is much more concerned and cautious about the possible side effects of school choice. Of course the reality in Finland and Sweden are different, Finland having a strictly governed comprehensive system, while Sweden has a more marketised system with free schools,” says Janne.

book“Benefits and costs are also social. They are something that concerns the whole society. Of course there are private costs and benefits, but that’s a different thing. In that sense, we tried to emphasize some aspects of school choice which is not that common, or visible, in mainstream economics of education,” he adds.

The book aims to introduce the readers to an alternative nexus of education, equity and economy, pointing to economies and educations that promote a less stratified and exploitive world. It is the first volume in a new book series.

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About the Author

About the Author: Journalist currently working as Communications Specialist at the Nordic Centre of Excellence "Justice through Education in the Nordic countries" and in NordForsk's programme "Education for Tomorrow". .


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