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While new opportunities – such as distance learning and increasing flexibility at work – are created, at the same time new groups are being excluded from these opportunities. The theme of this DialogWeb issue is exclusion and inclusion. As some of the articles demonstrate, however, it is obviously possible to build a bridge of mutual understanding no matter who has been left out.

There are individual differences between immigrants’ learning paces because of their very different backgrounds and study experience, Finnish teacher Hanna Orblin points out. Some immigrants do not speak Finnish with anyone else but their Finnish teacher, since their free time is spent in other ethnic environments. Olga Nerman from Russia feels that she does not know Finnish culture well enough to become part of the Finnish community. She completed a qualification in cleaning and got a job, but because of harassment, opted to train as an interpreter instead.

The muslim study association Ibn Rushd in Sweden seeks to bridge the gap between Swedish everyday reality and the cultural traditions of other continents. It is important to strengthen immigrants’ cultural identities. In order to participate in Swedish society, they also need to know how things work in Sweden.

In Norway, many of the Roma who adhere to the traditional nomadic lifestyle are functional illiterates. An adult education project is helping them to learn basic skills and to promote the visibility of their people and culture in a modern context. 

In another project in the Åland islands, disabled people learn authentic work tasks at workplaces with the support of a supervisor. The project shows that, although it is a long process, finding employment is possible.

Prisoners at Litla-Hraun prison in Iceland sing in a choir. Singing creates a sense of togetherness and joy, and performances are important goals to prepare for. Education has an important role. As well as being a meaningful occupation, it gives inmates better chances of employment or continued education after their release.

According to author Lars Olsen, the growing cultural and social obstacles in the Danish educational system must be removed. The children of immigrants and single parents with low education levels, unlike the children of highly-educated parents, lack the basic competencies needed to take responsibility for their learning.

The results of a project called EQUAL WHOLE show that in the poorest parts of Estonia the majority of parents – who belong to four different sub-cultures – felt that they had insufficient parenting skills. Frequent conflicts at home had a negative effect on work, so there was a clear need for parenting skills training in these areas. 

This issue of DialogWeb provides a selection of examples of the prejudices and limitations faced in education and at work by the special groups mentioned above. Don’t forget to read our articles about projects that give these groups new opportunities for participation as well as changing the way that other stakeholders view them.