Harmful if schools become to homogenous

Harmful if schools become too homogenous
Skaðlegt ef skólar verða of einsleitir - á vefsíðu Háskóla Íslands

“When we look back two decades, there are various indications that inequality has increased in primary schools in Iceland. This unfortunate development needs to be taken seriously and acted upon quickly, “says Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir, associate professor of sociology of education at the University of Iceland. Berglind Rós has long researched social justice in education with an emphasis on the synergistic effects of class, origin, gender and specific educational needs on the quality of schooling. She is a member of multinational research groups in the field of comparative education and currently directs the Icelandic part of a pan-European study called MAPS (Mixed Classes and Pedagogical Solutions).

The MAPS project is an extensive comparative study of class and cultural schooling in Reykjavík, Helsinki and Amsterdam. The main goal of the project is to analyze the situation, develop pedagogical solutions and strategic ideas for urban planning that nurture the diversity of the neighborhood and school community, strengthen cohesion and offer appropriate support in education.

“Cities in Northern Europe, as in the United States and the United Kingdom, are facing increasing social and cultural segregation in their school and neighborhood communities. Differentiation by class and origin has always been present to some extent. On the other hand, it will be harmful if it reaches the level that in some schools the vast majority of students are struggling with demanding financial and social conditions, while in others their children who have a high educational, cultural and financial wealth are clustered together, “says Berglind further, and adds that schools with a high proportion of students in demanding situations find it more difficult to meet study requirements and perform worse on standardized exams, which encourages even further differentiation.

There has been little or no discussion of segregation in the Icelandic primary and secondary school system, and the myth that Iceland is a classless society seems quite tenacious. Auður Magndís Auðardóttir, a doctoral student at the University of Iceland, is one of those involved in the research. She has recently mapped the composition of students in school districts in the capital area based on class, origin and other important demographic information. “In the project, we are looking at the class in a broader context than has previously been done in this country, and we use data from Statistics Iceland for this purpose. When we look at the data, we see that the distinction between school districts is much clearer now than it was twenty years ago. In fact, the neighborhoods are becoming more and more diverse, although many of them are certainly still mixed, especially in the international context of big cities where the boundaries between neighborhoods are often very categorical. There are schools here in Reykjavík where about half of the children come from wealthy homes and then others where the vast majority of children live in demanding financial and social conditions, “says Auður.

“We can act now, but if nothing is done, we will be left with two nations in the country,” Berglind explains in the end, emphasizing that it is not enough to analyze data. “How we process these results and what actions we take is crucial. The conference on Wednesday is precisely intended to start a conversation between scholars, politicians, experts and educational staff. “

In addition to Berglind and Auður, Anna Kristín Sigurðardóttir, professor of educational institutions and Elizabeth Lay, doctoral student at the University of Iceland, take part in the project. The project’s research team comprises a total of fourteen researchers from three countries.

The first results of the study will be presented on May 8 at a conference in Reykjavík City Hall. The conference starts at 2 pm and is open to everyone.

The project is funded by NordForsk for three years.

The first results of the MAPS project will be presented on 8 May at a conference at Reykjavík City Hall. Pictured are from left: Auður Magndís Auðardóttir, PhD student at the University of Iceland and Berglind Rós Magnúsdóttir, Associate Professor of Sociology of Education and team leader of the Icelandic part of the MAPS project.

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