Studies show Finnish boys to hold the most negative attitudes towards non-white immigrants out of 38 white countries, says academic, who criticises schools for not doing more to get youngsters involved in democracy and openly discuss social and religious issues.
An associate professor from the University of Jyväskylä has warned that levels of racial intolerance among Finnish boys have been rising since the turn of the millennium.
Speaking on youth attitudes at the Central Finland Future Forum conference, Sakari Suutarinen said that an international comparison found that Finnish boys held the most intolerant views towards immigrants out of 38 countries studied.
”School attainment tests show that over recent decades critical attitudes towards immigrants are growing in Finland among young boys, and that the same group has negative attitudes towards all other ethnic groups,” Suutarinen said.
He added that anti-immigrant feeling among young people has hardened since the turn of the millennium.
Suutarinen went on to call on both immigrant communities as well as the majority population to act against growing divisions within society.
”It’s entirely right to demand from our Muslim population that they sit up and take notice of possible youth radicalisation, for instance. Muslim society must take steps to stop people leaving for war, and must take responsibility for spreading peace. The same also applies of course to the majority population,” he said.
Suutarinen criticised schools for not doing more to encourage understanding between different sections of the population. “I believe it is a real shame that for instance Muslims and Christians are divided into separate religious studies classes at school. It’s extremely rare to find this in a western country,” he said.
He called on schools to do more to encourage understanding, and give young people an outlet to discuss and explore their views on difficult social issues.
”One solution is to go back to speaking about these issues in school. When we don’t have a school democracy where on earth can young people go to talk and form common ideas and take part in a democratic process?”
He added: “There’s a vast difference with other Nordic countries, where they have school councils. In Finland they are being driven down. Fortunately we are still obliged by law to have student bodies, but their remits are significantly more limited.”
Suutarinen also pointed to research which claims that increasing young people in Finland say they are disposed to take part in antisocial behaviour.
In studies of school attainment, Suutarinen said around 10 percent of young people have described themselves as being “ready to take part in illegal activity”. Over two percent said they are critical towards immigrants and towards their rights. This represents a sharp increase since the year 2000, Suutarinen said.
He said that youth attitudes do not necessarily lead to illegal behaviour, but that they risk being inflamed should the right social or economic circumstances emerge.
”For example if the situation in one area deteriorates then a large group of young people could very quickly find themselves turning to antisocial behaviour,” he warned.