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Old stereotypes live on in school books

In primary school textbooks Africans are portrayed as loincloth clad bongo players, Cubans are happy and sociable and Germans are hard-working. Such stereotypes in textbooks demand vigilance from teachers.

Image: Marko Melto / Yle

Primary school textbooks have limited space and complicated ideas need concise explanations. Eeva Rinne, a doctoral researcher from Tampere University, says that due to such constraints many textbooks take the easy way out, all too often resorting to stereotypes.

Rinne pores over a secondary school domestic science textbook, explaining the illustrations:

”In Africa people are playing bongo drums and maybe wearing loincloths. Finland is embodied by Christmas elves.  This is interesting… this Australian. He has a loincloth and traditional instruments, but he’s western-looking,” she says.

Invisible Russia and the land of Santa

Rinne analysed a variety of textbooks, including tomes from geography, history and social studies departments. One thing that she noticed was that Russia was often portrayed as a threat.

“In geography books Russia is almost invisible in terms of Finland. Russia is not necessarily mentioned at all as Finland’s neighbouring country,” Rinne points out.

Nokia’s Emäkoski school’s history and social sciences teacher Kaj Raiskio says he is familiar with the weaknesses of textbooks.

"The different professions can be very stereotypical and, for example, Stalin is portrayed cautiously and Hitler is demonized,” Raiskio says.

He says that textbooks are used in teaching quite little.

“A school book is a tool,” he says. “If the teacher notices such attitudes then they can highlight them with students to widen the perspective on opposing sources,” he says.