An educational approach to integrating diverse cultures in Finland and South Korea


When I first came to Finland from Korea, I experienced a type of identity loss I had never felt before. I almost felt that, with my black eyes and hair, it was no longer possible for people to see me as a primary school teacher, a doctoral researcher, and a double master’s in education, but simply and automatically as “Other” or “Foreign”. I felt, as a natural reaction to seeing foreigners in any place, people pretended not to be interested, frequently glanced at, or stared at me steadily. In most cases, young children showed more honest and curious facial expressions.

This recognition of differences means that we, all humans, are basically on the same line to learn from each other, regardless of ethnicity, religion, and cultural background. Previously in my time as a primary school teacher in Korea, teaching in a culturally homogenous classroom, I had thought that multicultural education was not something relevant to my work or life. However, through my own experiences of “otherness,” I have become increasingly curious about multicultural education in both Finland and Korea. Both countries have a history of long trends of cultural homogeneity, and both tend to score highly in global educational rankings. So how does multicultural education operate in these two countries, how do practices and policies attempt to support students, and is there something both countries can learn from each other?

Multicultural / Intercultural education in Finland and Korea

In Finland, current trends in educational research have been moving away from ‘multiculturalism’ towards ‘interculturalism’ or ‘interculturality’, which emphasizes mutual understanding and communication (Layne & Dervin, 2016). Rather than merely learning about others’ cultures, it is the interactions between groups within schools and society that plays a crucial role. Throughout Northern European history, the term ‘multicultural’ often referred to non-Western and non-white people as an opposite group, immigrantness (Hummelstedt et al., 2021). However, the changes became the starter to establish the principle of security and non-discrimination in educational policies. For example, S2 students (students with Finnish as a second language)  are entitled to a language policy that supports Finnish language development alongside the development of an individual’s mother-tongue language (THL, 2023). The preparatory education for immigrant students with little knowledge of Finnish for one year aims to develop their language skills and provide other skills for studying (City of Helsinki, n.d.; Rask, 2023). In terms of supporting mother tongue, the local government offers education in one’s mother tongue with native speakers or professional teachers in educating foreigners (The Finnish National Agency for Education, EDUFI, 2017).

Despite this Finland still struggles with educational inequities. One might be surprised to hear it, as Finland’s education systems are often highly praised, but academic achievement gaps between Finnish students and first or second-generation immigrants in Finland remain wide particularly compared to other OECD countries (OECD, 2019). Moreover, immigrant students in lower-secondary schools are three to five times more likely to experience bullying (Hummelstedt et al. 2021). According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)’s biennial School Health Survey, gender and income differences, along with color and place of origin, are also associated with school violence. Specifically, the report noted that a lack of societal resources has a direct impact on experiences of racism, for instance, bullying can persist for years if teachers lack the time and resources to address issues and talk with students.

Korea is not without its struggles regarding multicultural education as well, despite its high global rankings in education (OECD, 2019). In Korea, we emphasize the term ‘Multicultural sensitivity education’ which refers to the attitude of openness to heterogeneous cultures and their owners (Lim et al, 2019). This is rooted in the national survey instrument, the Korean Multicultural Acceptability Inventory (KMAI) which covers adults (n=5000) and adolescents (n=5000) and consists of three sub-categories; diversity, relationships and generality, in the 3-Year Cycle Project since 2012 (MOGEF, 2012). The report plays a crucial role in multicultural education as well as integration plans and policies. However, having high multicultural acceptability scores in the survey does not meet the educational field in practice, which is much more nuanced in nature. Primarily the generality of ‘we must understand and respect cultures different from ours’ is emphasized, and this does not lead to individual willingness or action on how to create relationships, build discourse among different groups, or how to execute successful multicultural teaching practices (Seo & Yang, 2021).

Korea has maintained a single ethnic history for a relatively long time. Although we did not have independent and sequential exchanges with the world, ‘globalization’ in Korea is now a part of everyday life. 10 years ago, about 1.1% of all primary school students were multicultural students. Now, primary school students accounted for 4.2%, an increase of 1.5 times from 5 years ago and 3.3 times from 9 years ago. Yet, the use rate of daycare centers (or kindergartens) for infants and toddlers, which is a major predictor of academic achievement at school, is about 10% lower than the average for multicultural children, and low-income families often do not use institutions. In addition, the dropout rate of multicultural students is very high and often caused by difficulties in establishing relationships with friends or teachers and adapting to school life (KESS, 2022). The violence exposure rate of students with multicultural families was 8.2% as of 2018, which is relatively high considering the average rate among all students in the same year was 1.3%.


With the development of technology, transportation, and communication methods including smartphones and social media, multicultural classrooms, and societies are becoming more and more common. Therefore, if education does not provide a foundation for balanced perspectives of diverse cultures in school children and execute education in a way that strives for equity, current intercultural conflicts could even intensify as children grow up. Not addressing inequity and issues of social justice within education systems around the world will only serve to further perpetuate societal inequities and stratification. So, is there something Korea and Finland could learn from one another, and is it useful to compare these two education contexts?

As a teacher, I believe we need to support the healthy growth of students with immigrant backgrounds by supporting the learning of the local language and mother tongue languages, as this serves as a compass that helps students to find their own identity, as a person with a foreign background living in Finland. In this respect, I believe Korean education systems could learn something from Finland’s language policies. In turn, state-led standardized multicultural surveys can be useful in presenting a big picture of policymaking, and perhaps Finland in turn could find these useful. As an educational resource, students and teachers should be prepared to discuss topics such as social justice, non-discrimination action, social justice issues, and internationalization according to the level of students.

Ultimately, more research is needed on educational approaches to integrating diverse cultures into educational systems and societies and should be geared toward supporting teachers and creating more equitable outcomes for students. Both Finland and Korea have this to work on, but perhaps being open to exploring educational models from other countries can potentially provide useful insight and help illuminate these issues, not only in Finland and Korea but globally as well.

*Eunji Kim is a doctoral researcher currently at Tampere University researching teachers’ perspectives and roles in the effective implementation of mathematical communication in primary mathematics classroom with a comparative approach between Finland and Korea. She has posted several articles related to education issues on ERICK(Education Research & Innovation Center of Korea). ERICK ( is a non-profitable organization to enhance the quality of  Korean education (NPO). The articles were written in Korean, but it would be good to explore and understand common phenomena between Finland and Korea.



City of Helsinki. (n.d.). Oman äidinkielen opetus. Helsingin kaupunki. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from

Hummelstedt, I. P., Holm, G. I., Sahlström, F. J., & Zilliacus, H. A.-C. (2021). Diversity as the new normal and persistent constructions of the immigrant other – Discourses on multicultural education among teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education108, 1–10.

KESS. (2022). Brief statistics on Korean education-Multicultural Students. Korean Education Statistics Service. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from

Layne, H., & Dervin, F. (2016). Problematizing Finland’s pursuit of intercultural (kindergarten) teacher education. Multicultural Education Review8(2), 118–134.

Lim, S. I., Oh, Y. H., Cho, I. J., Lee, Y. M., & Lee, E. K. (2019). A Study on the Limits and Diversification of Multicultural Sensitivity Education in Elementary·Secondary School. The Journal of Cultural Exchange. Korean Association of International Culture Exchange.

Ministry of Gender Equality & Family (MOGEF, 2012). A study on multicultural acceptability in Korea.

OECD. (2019). Where all students can succeed (Pisa 2018 Results (Volume II).). OECD Publishing Paris.

Rask, S. (2023, February 14). Shadia Raskin Kolumni: Koulukeskustelussa UNOHTUU Keskiluokkaisten vanhempien vaikutus. Yle Uutiset. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from

Seo, J., & Yang, S. (2021). A Study on the Relationship of Multicultural Acceptability and Multicultural Education: Centered on Relationship. The Journal of Humanities and Social sciences 21. Asia Culture Academy of Incorporated Association.

The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI, 2017). Perusopetukseen valmistava opetus. Opetushallitus 4:2017.

THL. (2023, January 20). Integration and inclusion. Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from

Conceptual reflections in Finnish Educational Research Association of Education 2021

The 2021 FERA Conference was organized remotely 25-26.11.2021. GERIF organized a thematic group with a topic “Global education in advancing local and global wellbeing / Globaalikasvatus paikallisen ja maailmanlaajuisen hyvinvoinnin edistäjänä”. The group provided an opportunity for researchers in global education to present current research. Two sessions included six papers, all presented in English.

The first of the sessions was more concerned on perspectives about teachers’ role in advancing global education and the second more concerned on students’ perspectives. All six provided a different answer to the challenges of educating interdisciplinary subjects in different school systems and levels, from teacher education to vocational education. Possibly because of the challenges in different sites, many papers discussed what are the relevant concepts and perspectives through which we should approach global education. Interestingly, almost all of the papers included a reference to postcolonial theory, which therefore seems to be a common interest among global education researchers in Finland now.

This year we’ll see in Oulu! It seems, that the debate about the relevant concepts will continue there!

Please look through abstracts. They can all be accessed here  Abstracts.pdf


Have you checked out the new Bloomsbury handbook of global education and learning?

Among the many interesting contributions we would particularly like to mention the following chapters co-authored by some of the GERIF coordinators:

“Global education research in Finland”  Elina Lehtomäki (University of Oulu, Finland) and Antti Rajala (University of Helsinki, Finland)


“How do Higher Education Students Negotiate Global Responsibility in Education?” by Hanna Posti-Ahokas, Josephine Moate (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) and Elina Lehtomäki (University of Oulu, Finland)

Make sure the library at your institution has a copy!

More information:

ANGEL Conference 2020: Online meeting of the global education research community

August 2020

by Riikka Suhonen

On 10 June 2020, I received the anxiously anticipated e-mail from the University of Helsinki, starting with: “Welcome to study at the Faculty of Educational Sciences!” Just two days later, I was due for a presentation at an international academic conference on my PhD research topic for the first time. Although the task felt a bit daunting, it was also a great honour to be accepted among the presenters at the Academic Network on Global Education & Learning (ANGEL) Early Career Researchers Conference. Here, I would like to share some personal insights from the conference.

Pleasant conference surroundings.

The ANGEL conference was hosted by the University of Oulu in Finland, and organised fully online through Zoom due to the special circumstances of 2020. This was the first academic conference that I attended online, and after the initial minor hiccups, the experience was extremely positive – a great success for the organisers in Oulu!

Online mode probably increased the representativeness of participants from all over the world. Face-to-face conference participation can be difficult for researchers based outside the Global North due to the lack of financial support, long distances, and tedious visa processes. Hopefully online participation will become the new normal, and this way make conference opportunities more equal.

The central theme this year was to explore the conceptualisations of global education and learning, and how they guide our research.

The programme included keynote speakers, panels, and thematic sessions with 30 papers from overs 20 different countries. Keynotes, panels and abstracts are available online on the conference website. I would recommend watching the discussion on the conceptualisations of global education and learning. In this opening panel, Professor Thiago Gehre from the University of Brazil urged for a change on societal, personal and pedagogical levels, while Professor Fazal Rizvi from the University of Melbourne talked about cosmopolitanism as a form of learning where everyday contradictions and conflicts are being analysed.

As Dr. Karen Pashby is a co-author of a recent article “A meta-review of typologies of global citizenship education” (2020), I was particularly curious to hear her views. She stressed how we, as researchers, need to reflexively explore our own ethical responsibility, challenge ourselves and push the conceptual debate forward.

Since there were no possibilities to mingle face-to-face during breaks this time, it was immensely important to have breakout sessions in Zoom. In smaller groups, we had the chance to get to know each other; exchange information about research funding possibilities; and share our views on the topics raised by the keynote speakers.

On the second conference day, it was time for my own presentation in the thematic session “Critical typologies”, with the title “Constructing global citizenship in vocational education: critical analysis of the future competency needs of the working life”.

A Tweet by the Chair of the Critical Typologies session, Dr. Madeleine Le Bourdon.

It was both reassuring and challenging to give a presentation in a virtual conference room full of people well versed in the theoretical discussion on the various typologies of global citizenship education. Being in the starting phase of my research, it felt that I did not have much new thinking to offer. However, the theme of vocational education seemed to spur interest among the listeners, and I received many well-thought questions and tips during the session, and also afterwards via e-mail.

GERIF members were visibly involved in the conference. Professor Elina Lehtomäki hosted the conference;  Dr. Crystal Green and Heidi Henriksson were also among the presenters (see all abstracts); Dr. Antti Rajala chaired one thematic session; while other GERIF members attended as active listeners. 

Liam Wegimont, the Director of GENE (Global Education Network Europe) stressed the need to work with policymakers who are trying to cope with the current challenges.

Finally, I would like to thank all the conference organisers in Oulu (and beyond).

The ANGEL conference 2020 was an extremely valuable occasion to immerse oneself in the latest global education research. Although the community of researchers interested in global education and learning is growing, many researchers may feel a bit isolated in their own university or country. It is empowering to know that networks such as ANGEL (Academic Network on Global Education & Learning) internationally, or GERIF for Finland, exist. Beyond purely academic knowledge, conferences like these build something more: a sense of belonging to these research communities, and a feeling of having a common aim all over the world.

PS. To have a peek into what other conference participants experienced, you might want to check the conference hashtag on Twitter: #ANGELConference2020. At least I found quite a few new people to follow!

PPS. Three students from the Education and Social Research Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University also wrote about their learning in a nice blog post.

Text & photos:

Riikka Suhonen

Doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Educational Sciences

Doctoral Programme in School, Education, Society and Culture (SEDUCE)

University of Helsinki

How do children interpret encounters that happen during an international story exchange project?

February 2020

by Oona Piipponen

Most research on intercultural education, i.e. education that fosters the ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people from different cultural backgrounds, agrees that developing these skills, attitudes, sensitivities and competences is important in our globalising, increasingly interconnected world. However, it is not always clear to teachers in schools how intercultural education could be implemented effectively in practice. Our research project investigated a classroom-based initiative, focusing in particular on the participating children’s perspectives on intercultural encountering.

Many schools, especially in the higher grade levels, run a foreign exchange program with a foreign partner school. However, not all children in all schools can afford to take part in an international exchange where they can travel to meet the exchange partners in person. Yet experiences of encountering foreignness are important when growing up into a globalised world, because they help to develop the skill of taking the perspective of another. It is important to develop projects where children can learn to encounter strangers without having to leave their classrooms, so that intercultural encountering is not only an experience of the privileged classes.

The Study: An Intercultural Storycrafting Exchange

In our research study, we were particularly interested in understanding how children connect with other children when provided with a freer space to encounter the other. Children’s cultures of communication can be different to adults’ (Christensen, 2010). We decided to apply the Storycrafting method (Karlsson, 2014), which has been used over the years to promote children’s participation in matters which concern them.

An intercultural Storycrafting exchange project was developed to enable children (aged 10-11, n = 98) to encounter each other by sharing stories. The Storycrafting instruction says, “Tell me a story, any story you want. I will write it down exactly like you tell it. When the story is finished, I will read it aloud and you can make any changes or corrections.” Initially the teacher acted as a scribe for whole class stories, where children took turns adding to their shared tale. After they were familiar with the method, the children scribed for each other in pairs or small groups. The stories were sent to the partner class’s students, who responded with their own stories.

The researcher who was also working as a class teacher at the time collected ethnographic data that included the children’s stories, audio-recorded class discussions and comments, and background notes about the context in the classroom as well as the teachers’ email correspondence. All the data was analysed using thematic content analysis, and the themes were developed further to answer Goffman’s (1974) question in frame analysis: What is it that’s going on here?

The Findings: How Children Interpreted the Encounters

There were six ways that the children framed situations during the Storycrafting exchange.

Telling to entertain. Encountering was about having fun and telling humorous stories that were meant to entertain both one’s own classmates and the exchange partners.

Telling to challenge. Who dares to tell the riskiest story? These stories contained taboo subjects such as death, violence, illness, drunkenness and sexualised word choices. The stories may also challenge an authority figure, but this happened only in the “story world”.

Telling from real-life experiences. Sometimes the child interpreted the Storycrafting space as an opportunity to tell about people, things and events that are meaningful in their own lives, such as skateboarding, playing on the computer, pets, etc.

Telling from shared experience. Although the children knew the stories would be sent to a partner class, sometimes the teller wanted to tell a story that was shared with the scribe who was also a friend. The situation was framed as reaffirming their friendship through shared experiences.

The last two frames were related to how the children reacted to the partner class’s stories.

Responding defensively. When the children responded defensively, they tended to talk a lot about “us” and “them”, seeing the other class’s children more as exotic objects rather than equal partners. This frame was mostly identified during teacher-led class discussions, which led us to change the method towards a more participatory, less teacher-directed approach.

Responding sensitively. When the children responded sensitively, they entered into the story world and echoed a story’s theme in their own storytelling. They also showed an interest towards their exchange partners and asked questions where they tried to imagine the life of the other.

The study found that the teacher had a central role in enabling a participatory space to be formed that promotes reciprocal intercultural encounters. When the teacher resisted controlling the classroom talk too much and allowed children to bring their own interests and thoughts in their stories, the children’s talk also changed from focusing on the academic only and they could enjoy the stories and start forming a shared narrative culture. The shared narrative culture formed when the stories exchanged started influencing one another and the participants started taking more ownership of the Storycrafting exchange.

The intercultural Storycrafting exchange created a space for encountering a foreign exchange partner in a child-centred way. A participatory approach also seems to encourage the children to approach the exchange partners’ stories with curiosity and joy rather than stereotyping the other or focusing too strongly on comparing “us” to “them”. The project strengthened the children’s identities and class cultures. Despite not meeting their exchange partners face to face, many of the participating children appeared to feel fondness for them. Hopefully these experiences will help the children to engage in intercultural encounters in the future. This is something that we wish to investigate in upcoming research.

Oona Piipponen

Doctoral Student

University of Eastern Finland

oonamp (at)

Twitter: @OPiipponen

You can find the full research article behind this link:

Piipponen, O. & Karlsson, L. (2019) Children encountering each other through storytelling: Promoting intercultural learning in schools. The Journal of Educational Research, 112(5): 590–603. DOI: 10.1080/00220671.2019.1614514


Christensen, P. (2010) Ethnographic Encounters with Children. In: Hartas, D. (ed.) Educational Research and Inquiry: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. London: Continuum, pp. 145–158.

Goffman, E. (1974) Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Karlsson, L. (2014) Sadutus: Avain osallisuuden toimintakulttuuriin [Storycrafting: The key to a culture of participation] (3rd ed.). Jyväskylä, Finland: PS-Kustannus.

Changing spaces of education: notes on the FERA conference 2019

December 2019

by Heidi Henriksson

Having returned from the two-day conference at University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, I want to share some of my reflections particularly from the perspective of global education and the GERIF network. Global education was visible at the conference mainly in two ways. First, as a recently accepted Special Interest Group (SIG-group) within FERA, we had the opportunity to present the GERIF network and its collaboration with the international ANGEL-network. Secondly, we organized a thematic group on global education with altogether five interesting papers, presented below:

  • Kati Keski-Mäenpää, University of Oulu: “Sierra Leonean Teacher Educators Conducting Action Research: First Timers’ Perceptions”
  • Crystal Green, University of Jyväskylä & Susan Wiksten, University of California Los Angeles: “Teachers’ role in promoting social justice and equity in Finland, Japan and the US: “Comparative Secondary Analysis from TALIS 2018”
  • Emma Clarke, Aimee Quickfall & Shaun Thompson, Bishop Grossetese University: “Developing well-being in Initial Teacher Training”
  • Joffy Conolly, University of Oulu: “Parental conceptions of global-mindedness”
  • Oona Piipponen, University of Eastern Finland & Liisa Karlsson, University of Helsinki: “Designing a method of intercultural encountering in primary schools”

The abstracts for these presentations are found here:

The two keynote lectures were not explicitly connected to global education, yet they provided inspiration for this area of research as well. Senior lecturer Lucila Carvalho’s keynote “Space matters: framing learning entanglement in evolving landscapes” explored the connections between education and spatiality. One of the methods Carvalho presented entailed the use of a mobile application called CmyView, through which students can relate to each other’s perspectives on their urban surroundings. What I found particularly interesting was that this material was also shared to municipal decision-makers and companies, with the idea of involving student perspectives in urban planning. This method serves as a low-threshold example for engaging students in having a say about the spaces they inhabit – in a creative way and on their own terms.

The second keynote, by Professor Minna Huotilainen with the title: “How to apply brain research for planning of teaching and learning environments” opened up different world of research, which I nevertheless found very relatable to global education. Huotilainen emphasized the importance of music, exercise and hands-on approaches to learning. She also stressed the contemporary understanding of the brain as flexibility and mouldable, resisting deterministic views on our students’ capabilities. Overall, the lecture in many ways highlighted how the research findings can be used to increase equity in education by supporting the learning processes of different types of learners. This, I would argue, resonates with some of the pedagogical underpinnings of global education, such as participatory and student-centred learning. On a more general level, the lecture served as a reminder that learning is severely hindered if structural and/or personal challenges impede us from focusing, sorting and storing new knowledge. This is important for all of us to keep in mind; to remember to value the well-being of the communities around us.

Returning to the question of spaces, the overriding pragmatic thought I took home from the conference was how to create spaces that function as a counterweight to this hectic, dense and result-driven world – spaces that would enable a sense of belonging, participation and creativity.

Heidi Henriksson

Doctoral student in sociology

Åbo Akademi University