Structured Agency : Students' Scope of Action in the Transition Phase from Basic Education to Upper Secondary Education in Finland

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Title: Structured Agency : Students' Scope of Action in the Transition Phase from Basic Education to Upper Secondary Education in Finland
Author: Salovaara, Veronica
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Doctoral Programme in Social Sciences
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021-08-18
Language: en
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Abstract: This study examines students’ scope of action in the transition phase from basic education to further education and training. The focus in this research is on how inequality is reproduced in the transition phase from basic education to upper secondary education, as well as the role of family, school and other social networks in contesting inequality. The analysis shows the complexity on how students navigate in the transition phase from basic education to further education and training. A student’s scope of action in this study is understood as the scope in which students make their decisions and reflect on their options, whether it is a more agency reflected process, or a process steered by the capitalistic power mechanisms or habitus. Young peoples’ agency is therefore understood as structured by the interplay between students own choices and wishes, social background and habitus, situated in a sociopolitical and education policy context. The data set has been derived from the three-year (2010–2012) comparative European project GOETE - Governance of Educational Trajectories in Europe. The data set is a multifaceted qualitative data set comprehending interviews and focus groups with 101 people from three local schools in Finland, social and youth work as well as education policy; students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals and other experts at school, such as school social workers, school nurses and school psychologists. In addition, the data consists of interviews with experts in education and social work, e.g., education policy experts, social and youth workers and guidance counselors from the upper secondary level as well as relevant policy documents. The results showed a paradox in the discourses: students are responsible for their own educational trajectory, however the trajectory is predetermined. Throughout the analysis, there is a discourse emphasizing students’ agency, or a discourse emphasizing responsibility, that students should choose their educational trajectory by themselves without interference from others. Students used various modes of reflectivity when choosing their educational trajectory. A discourse on accepting predetermined educational trajectories was present among school professionals, either by accepting predetermined educational trajectories as something static that is difficult to change, or by fighting against these predetermined educational trajectories. Family background shapes the student’s decision-making process and therefore when students are using agency in the decision-making process, the agency is merely a reflection of the social structure as the social structure and the structural position of the individual is generating the individual’s agency. The responsibility that students are demanded to take, while making the decision within a certain context, or within ‘predetermined limits’, gives the students an illusion of choice. Structures of inequality and class casts a long shadow in education and is reproduced through the practices of accepting educational inequality by not contesting the role of the gatekeepers of equality and equity. At the national level, education is regarded as one of the more effective means to prevent the marginalization and social exclusion of young people.Övergångsskedet från grundskolan till andra stadiet är det första skedet då unga i Finland väljer inriktning till en yrkesbaserad utbildning eller en teoretiskt baserad gymnasieutbildning. Hur unga väljer sin utbildning, vilken roll familjen, skolan och skolans personal, samt externa experter såsom till exempel ungdomsarbetare har, är fokus i denna avhandling. För avhandlingen har intervjuer och gruppintervjuer med 101 personer (elever, föräldrar, lärare, rektorer, elevvårdspersonal, ungdomsarbetare, socialarbetare och övriga experter) analyserats. För en djupare förståelse av datamaterialet har resultaten kontextualiserats i ett samhälls- och utbildningspolitiskt perspektiv, med en ytterligare analys av relevanta samhälls- och utbildningspolitiska dokument, samt en översikt av typiska diskurser från Finlands samhälls- och utbildningspolitik. Valet av utbildning är bunden till den samhälls- och utbildningspolitiska kontexten. Strukturer av ojämlikhet och klass kastar en lång skugga i utbildningssystemet och reproduceras genom praktiken att acceptera val som förutbestämda och givna. Experter i skolan fungerar som gatekeepers till jämlika och rättvisa utbildningsmöjligheter för alla, och genom att acceptera förutbestämda utbildningsval reproduceras dessa val. Resultaten tyder på en paradox i intervjumaterialet, å ena sidan förväntas eleverna ansvara för sitt eget utbildningsval, å andra sidan anses valet vara förutbestämt. En diskurs som understryker elevernas aktörskap, agency, representeras av både eleverna själva, föräldrar och övriga experter i och utanför skolan. Eleverna använder sig av olika variationer av reflektivitet och reflexivitet då de bestämmer sin väg. På nationell nivå, anses utbildning vara ett effektivt sätt att motverka ojämlikhet och marginalisering av unga. Experter i och utanför skolan påpekar att valet är förutbestämt, och berättigar denna diskurs med bland annat statistisk forskning och egen erfarenhet. En acceptans av förutbestämda utbildningsval är representerade av skolans experter, genom att antingen acceptera denna diskurs som något givet, eller genom att kämpa emot förutbestämda utbildningsval. Familjens bakgrund formar de ungas val, då de unga använder sig av aktörskap i valet, reflekterar aktörskapet sociala strukturer och den sociala positionen, som genererar aktörskapet.
Subject: sociology
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