The notion of an equal world is as old as it is beautiful. The idea that equality can best be achieved through education and enlightenment is also an old one – and a good one. The Czech educator and bishop John Amos Comenius (who lived and worked for a long time at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden) declared as early as the 1600s: ”If we want universal education, where every person is given access to the sum of all human knowledge, then everyone must take the same route in order to enlighten and encourage each other. If everyone is to learn the same virtues – modesty, harmony and conscientiousness – people must not be segregated on the basis of status or social class”. With his demands for folk enlightenment Comenius lay the foundation for a school system that is based on the principle of equality and providing general education.
In the democratic Nordic countries we have come a long way on the road to equality, not least because of our comprehensive school and our excellent adult education system. Nordic legislation, too, seems exemplary. For instance, the Finnish constitution includes the following comments on educational rights: ”The public authorities shall, as provided in more detail by an Act, guarantee for everyone equal opportunity to receive other educational services in accordance with their ability and special needs, as well as the opportunity to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.”
There is an almost touching consensus in the Nordic countries about the need for equality in all sectors. But what is the reality? As the articles in this issue of DialogWeb demonstrate, much remains to be done before the goal of equality is achieved, before the word becomes flesh. According to one article, for example, Arabic (and other immigrant languages) is considered a low-status language in Denmark, despite an increasing demand for Arabic-speakers in different sectors of society. Cuts in state support to home language instruction in comprehensive schools have resulted in a situation where native Arabic-speakers who begin university studies in Arabic have to start from the basics. The Finnish Open University system, while unique in many ways, is nevertheless only accessible to those who can afford it and who have sufficient language skills. Moreover, the proportion of men and mature students is disproportionately small.
A Swedish study on the learning of disabled adults in Sweden shows that cuts in municipal adult education have led to a general reduction of study options, including educational opportunities for disabled adults. The report shows serious shortcomings in municipal monitoring, evaluation and long-term planning policies. Some municipalities go as far as to state that they cannot afford to invest in disabled students because it is too costly. Not a single municipality advocates an inclusive approach; on the contrary, segregation and creating separate groups seems to be the norm.
In other words, the struggle is far from over, and it would seem wisest to follow the advice of Anders Viotti, who became deaf in adulthood: stubbornness leads to equality.
Editor-in-Chief for this issue: Clara Henriksdotter, firstname.lastname@example.org