Municipalities around Finland have called for sweeping reforms to the way schools teach religion.
Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE reported that currently the system divides students into study groups determined by faith; something that local officials claim is not merely impractical but is also a contradiction to the fundamental ideals of religious tolerance. Legislation stipulates that any municipality which contains at least three students of a particular denomination must provide religious instruction in that faith. This concept has been slammed by the multi-cultural city of Helsinki as being over ambitious. In smaller cities such as Ylojarvi, where the population is just 30,000, the strain on teaching resources is just as dramatic, as schools struggle to find teachers to lead classes for a handful of pupils.
The national religion of Finland is Evangelical Lutheranism but thousands of students across the land in comprehensive schools are taught differing religions. The challenge is ongoing, as immigration enhances cultural diversity leaving many municipalities struggling to provide adequate religious education for an expanding learner group.
Veli-Matti Kanerva, Director for Educational Services Development in Tampere advocates a move away from parallel religious study to learning general ethics. “It’s difficult to find qualified teachers for minority religions in Finland. The teachers we do finds lack a pedagogical background,” claimed Kanerva.
Kanerva suggests that multiculturalism can only be supported by general religious studies and that the incumbent system promotes segregation and intolerance. “How can we learn tolerance when groups are segregated? I’m against this practice because it’s a paradox,” he stated.