Oiva, Maternity Boxes and the Snow-filled Sound of Silence.

 

Snowy silent scene Finland

‘Wow, you’re off to Finland….you’ll find it hard to come back, you know’. And the Sussex colleague who expressed these sentiments was absolutely right. We were welcomed and wrapped within a collegial warmth and glow, experienced intensely against the backdrop of a darkness of approaching winter; the falling of new snow; subdued candle-light; and the muffled sounds of quiet and silence in this vast lake-filled, evergreen tree-adorned expanse of Scandinavia.

Perpetua Kirby and I had been invited to Jyvaskyla by CIRCY-affiliated members at the university to contribute to a Department of Education project, funded by the Finnish government. The aim of ‘OIVA’ is to enhance the skills of education professionals and students with regard to the promotion of the equality of children and parents within multi-professional settings of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in the city, which is an area in central, eastern Finland, about three hours by train from Helsinki. The particular focus to which Perpetua and I had been asked to contribute was on young children’s democratic citizenship, ideas of participation and the realization of their rights. To this end, we honed and reduced themes and key ideas of two papers[1] on which we had been working to enable the making of two, short, ten-minute films, under the careful guidance of Ville and Tomi, whose unenviable job it is to now edit and produce the final versions. Perpetua and I will have access to these films for our own teaching on courses on which we teach at Sussex. From summer 2020, we will also be able to make the films more widely accessible via Transform-in Education.

As this was our first visit to Finland, we were eager to learn as much as we could about the context of the work of the university’s multidisciplinary Centre for Child and Family Studies, under the auspices of professors, Eija Sevón and Maarit Alasuutari. To this end, we spent time presenting to Finnish colleagues about aspects of the varied undertakings of CIRCY, whilst also listening to what they had to say about the work of their own research centre. Inevitably, this led to comparing contemporaneous societal values and attitudes to children and families in England and Finland, particularly with regard to issues of equity and access to services. As we go to the polls to vote in a general election in the UK, where alternative beliefs and ideas of public entitlements to education, care, welfare, and community are presented to us by political parties, we are struck by the consistency of a Finnish vision of democracy and state welfarism as presented to us. This was encapsulated in the pride with which one colleague, about to take her own maternity leave, spoke of the Maternity Box that provides most of what is needed for a baby’s first year (about which you can read more on this BBC site). Now in its 75th year, it is, apparently, an established and cherished part of a Finnish rite of passage towards parenthood, uniting generations of families, and expressing a sentiment of universal valuing of new life.

Finnish Maternity Box

We left with the sense of excitement of having made new friends and looking forward to extending and continuing research and collaboration possibilities in the year ahead with our Finnish colleagues and in welcoming them to Sussex with the same generosity they showed us.

 

OIVA logo CIRCY blog

[1] One is now published as Modelling Transformative Education, FORUM, 61(1), 89-103. 2019, http://www.wwwords.co.uk/forum/content/pdfs/61/issue61_1.asp. The other, Taking Part, Joining In and Being Heard? Ethnographic explorations of children’s participation in three UK primary schools in J. Todres and S. King (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Children Rights Law, Oxford: OUP, will  be published in February 2020.

Rebecca Webb


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