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Education official calms confused debate about gender roles in schools

Beginning next year as part of their new curriculum, Finnish schools must compose an equality plan at least every three years. Some parents and politicians have been letting off steam over the report's recommendations on tackling gender biases.

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Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Gender equality is important to Finns, and starting in 2017 schools will have to set out how they propose to tackle gender inequality. The proposal has been controversial, however, and this week that flared up again after media reports on advice to teachers.

Starting next year, Finnish schools must compose an equality plan at least every three years as part of the new school curriculum. Such plans are required by the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men. To aid teachers and staff in promoting diversity, the Finnish National Board of Education released a report last year about different methods schools could use to tackle gender inequality.

The report suggests, for example, teachers discard the tradition of unnecessarily grouping children based on their gender, but instead proposes they use first names. Teachers are also encouraged to allow children to mix up traditional gender roles during playtime, and songs and stories should be experimented with reversed gender roles. 

The new curriculum emphasizes ”gender consciousness” instead of the problematic term ”gender neutrality” used in the previous curriculum from 2004.

Soini pipes up

The initial social media storm came after an article by Nyt.fi. The report was widely misconstrued in public discussion by concerned parents and politicians alike as suggesting schools stop calling boys ”boys” and girls ”girls” altogether.

Even Minister of Foreign Affairs Timo Soini, leader of the Finns Party, took time to comment in his personal blog, while MPs from the National Coalition and Centre parties also spoke out in favour of traditional gendered language.

”Boys shouldn’t be called boys and girls girls. Oh the times! Hello, are there any lights on upstairs?” writes minister Soini.

In a comment to Yle, Jorma Kauppinen of the National Board of Education stated that schools are not forced to impose anything on children or teachers.

”[The report] is not a new thing, but more of a toolkit for teachers to help them consider all the ways how equality could be achieved. This is purely a guide, not a demand,” Kauppinen said.

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