Social Inclusion in Finnish Vocational School


Social inclusion is a difficult concept to grasp as it surely can be objectively defined. Subjectively, it can be harder to say if someone feels socially included, even if the surrounding or the environment is constructed to be socially inclusive. Nevertheless – Social inclusion, is affirmative action to change the circumstances and habits that lead to social exclusion. The World Bank Group defines social inclusion as the process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society. (The World Bank Group 2019.)

A socially inclusive school can be seen as one where the students feel valued, their differences – and differences-of-opinion – are respected, and their basic needs are met so they can dignifiedly take part in their schools curriculum and events. Question is, are vocational school students as respected member of the community outside school environment? Are they more likely to be socially excluded than high school students?

Vocational School

What does it mean to study in a vocational school in Finland? Sure, vocational school offers teaching and practical experience in skilled trades – a profession – but the schools reputation isn’t all that great. People are often defined by their gender, race and among other things, their profession. Whats your name? What do you do for a living? These are two common questions you get when you’re introducing yourself. Your gender is usually assumed, so people tend not to ask that question – otherwise it surely would be asked. People tend to have pre-existing assumptions about the people they meet, based on their profession – a stereotype – which also labels people socially. Citizens that are socially labeled are more likely pushed towards fringes of society – and risk to be excluded socially.

Reputation and History

Vocational school students are often labeled as non-driven, as for high school students are labeled more driven on their way towards success and higher education. In average Joe’s mind, there’s a social divide between these two different educational institutes. (Duunitori 2018.) Specially men are more likely to choose vocational school (Kaukonen 2009). Puberty is also very turbulent period in teenagers life and makes it harder for them to plan life, their motivation is usually elsewhere or they both change daily. (Schein 2004). This may be more of an issue for boys, who’s puberty usually start couple of years later than girl’s. (Siimes 2004). Time to choose between high school or vocational school does come – for many – at a difficult time and this decision affects – for the most part – everything.

For the last five years or so, this has started to swift in a more equal educational possibilities as vocational schooling doesn’t close out any higher schooling opportunities as it more-or-less did a decade ago. Yet – It is debatable if vocational schooled students are as prepared for a higher education (Karhunen 2017). – as vocational school education is very different – more practice and apprenticeship – compared to high school education – which is more theoretic and academic and therefore, more closer to higher education type of schooling. High school students are also more likely to continue their studies in universities or universities of applied sciences (Naiset ja miehet Suomessa 2016).

Historically these two institutions in Finland (and in many other countries) have produced labor force for very different and segregated businesses. High school students for higher education based careers as eg. educators, doctors, lawyers etc. Vocational school students were (and in some aspects, are still) harnessed to fill low-income jobs that are more connected to the changes of economies volatile conditions and demands (Opetushallitus n.d.)– Therefore people are more likely to lose their jobs if the market economy is going down the drain. Getting fired for reasons you don’t control is a tremendous blow to citizens self-esteem and adds to their mistrust of society’s agents – lowering the bar to social exclusion, that a lack of job can lead to.

Vocational school REFORM

Finnish vocational school is undergoing a reform, which has allowed students a more flexible and adjustable admission dates and curriculums. This means that there is a continuous and on-going application for the students. Basically this means that every three weeks, a small group of students might start their journey towards a new profession. This reform tries to combat the challenges and risks of social exclusion that lack of education can lead to. Education has needed to accommodate to the student’s needs and it was long due it did so. The reform is yet specially difficult for younger students who are not as self-guided as the more senior students.

Quality measurements also needs to be considered and connect to these efforts to expand admission. Education is not enough just for the sake of having some papers to show your employer, but it needs to be quality education, to be of some real value in life and higher education- and business market, respectfully. Quality education needs to be for benefit of the students and guarantee the same tools for the future higher education as high schools. Equal second grade education for equal possibilities of postgraduate education.

Future challenges

Social exclusion -by the society- starts very early on in people lives. In many cases, it is passed on to the children from their parents. Education effects the next generation and its benefits are linked positively in peoples health and income. Parents higher level of education also increases their children’s possibilities in succeeding in life. (Karhunen 2017.) People tend not to choose-to-be excluded from the society, but its structures are man made, so they are very much flawed and mirrors its moral values. The world is – luckily – changing, and so are its values. Much needs to be done, starting from early childhood education as preventions measures.

Regardless – vocational school education needs to be more scrutinized and upgraded for benefit of the people and not for the benefit of the economy and its need for workforce. The employment and workforce market needs to be more financially involved in making the vocational education affordable for everyone, as it surely takes advantage of non-paid internships and filling their gaps and needs of workforce. Employment and workforce market should also demand a standard and quality education of the students so it can trust its employees to have the tools for a higher education if the employees want so – or if their employer need them to – later on.


I think that vocational school needs a broader reform that it had. Social inclusion needs to be thought as a culture that has its own symbols and meanings. Education and workforce gender based segregation also starts get more visible at this point – young men tend to choose vocational school – over 60 per cent of highschool students are women and 45 per cent men – And high school education is more likely to lead in higher education. (Tilastokeskus 2017; Karhunen 2017; Kaukonen 2009; Heiskanen, Korvajärvi and Rantalaiho 2008). This – early-education-segregation stagnates the progression of more equally divided education, jobs and pay. (Kuusi, Jakku-Sihvonen 2009; Laine, Napari 2008; Hynninen, Juutilainen 2006.) Specially men -but also women- should be more encouraged to choose an education that is not historically thought of being in their alleyway (Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö 2010; Kuusi, Jakku-Sihvonen, Koramo 2009).

Social exclusion is a problem among young men – specially among those who are without secondary education and those who have a low level of education. Women are more likely to swift to ”mens” jobs and accepted to do so, socially (Laine, Napari 2008). Women and men – for the most part – don’t compete for the same jobs, because of their different level of education (Heiskanen, Korvajärvi and Rantalaiho 2008). This is certainly a great thing, but men are still more likely to educate themselves in jobs that are less likely to exist in the future– jobs that the Finnish economy has lost over 600 thousand (from 900 thousand) since 1990 – low level education jobs e.g industry, construction and maintenance and employ only little over 300 thousand people. These jobs are also more tied to economies business cycle and therefore unemployment is more likely – at the same time, these jobs are also have become more competed. (Myrskylä 2012; Myrskylä 2013.) This issue in education inequality needs to be addressed so that equality might be attained (Hynninen, Juutilainen 2006).


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