Equal Opportunities Regulations Yield Results in Schools

In those Nordic countries where there are explicit formulations regarding gender equality in the schools’ policy documents, there also is to be found active egalitarianism. This is evidenced in a new Nordic report which has been produced by the Swedish National Agency for Education. The report also introduces various models for a successful implementation of equal opportunities in schools.

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The report  Sustainable Equal Opportunities at the Pre-school Level and in Schools in the Nordic Countries (Hållbart jämställdhetsarbete i förskolan och skolan i Norden) was launched at a conference organised by the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, NCM, in May 2013.

The report states that there is no unified model for equal opportunities at the pre-school level and in schools in the Nordic countries. Equal opportunities models vary greatly between the Nordic countries, a situation which is illustrated in the report.

‘It is the voices of the practitioners which are coming out loud and clear in the report – they offer a picture of what is being done in the Nordic countries,’ says Doctor Mia Heikkilä, who has written the report together with Lisa Andersson Tengnér and Ulrika Eklund. The report is based on 59 interviews with school staff, school administrations, and school politicians, as well as on information gathered during eleven visits to pre-school establishments and schools in all of the Nordic countries and autonomous areas.

Explicitness Leads to Positive Change

Mia Heikkilä, fil dr i pedagogik

Mia Heikkilä, fil dr i pedagogik

The report shows that it is evident that formulations about gender equality in both national and local policy documents related to schools play a significant role in how equal opportunities are applied in individual schools and pre-school establishments . The ways in which the Nordic countries have written equal opportunities into pre-schools and schools’ policy documents differ. Those countries where regulations for gender equality in the school’s policy documents are lacking also tend not to have any actively ongoing equal opportunities strategy.

‘If specifically gender-equal opportunities formulations have been written into the school’s policy documents a significant development can be seen to be brought about among the employees in that respect. This differs from those cases where equal opportunities are included at a more general level,’ Mia Heikkilä says.

In Denmark, the Faroes and Greenland there are no formulations in the curricula that specifically detail equal opportunities policies. The Danish curriculum contains formulations on democracy and equality (jämlikhet), but not about equality (jämställdhet) and gender.

The three Phases of Equal Opportunities Development

The report establishes that a school, municipality or region may find itself in one of three different phases when it comes to promoting change in the area of equal opportunities within a particular organisation. An understanding of these phases can be seen as a way of identifying the route to equal opportunities and where along that route a particular organisation is situated: what are the characteristics of an organisation that has only recently begun its equality work? What distinguishes a municipality that has been working with this issue for a long time?

These phases are termed ‘private’, ‘internal’ and ‘external’ respectively. The private phase is characterised by the fact that equal opportunities are perceived as being a private matter, both as far as individuals are concerned and when the principal of equal opportunities is being promoted by interested parties. The internal phase was the predominant one to be found in the current study. This is also the level at which a school management might feel that their equal opportunities development is well-founded, as it is visible to others. The last phase is called the external phase. This phase is characterised by equal opportunities strategy which is highly systematic, transparent and well-communicated.

‘An equal opportunities programme is properly an area of development for the school, rather than simply a method,’ says Mia Heikkilä. ‘Issues of epistemology and support for management, as well as clear objectives and organisation are crucial to success and sustained progress.’

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