Internationality is a natural state

According to Anni Karttunen, multiculturalism should be a natural part of adult education. It teaches us more about ourselves and our own country than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, it creates a common identity and breaks down barriers between cultures.

Anni Karttunen, a programme manager in the field of adult education, already acquired internationality via breast milk.

"When she was young, my mother worked as an assistant to the Finnish Ambassador to Belgium and my childhood was filled with stories about the Grand Place, Manneken Pis and the cobbled streets and high heels of Brussels

My relatives lived all around the world and often visited the family farm.

“We didn’t really think about internationality, but the world was open and we went to wherever we were needed."

When she was young, Karttunen lived in Germany, the United States and the UK. In the latter two on several occasions, because of both work and studies. Karttunen still has the same natural attitude to internationality.

"It is a natural state. I don’t like the thinking that internationality is somehow a value of its own or a separate entity. It is a way to work and co-operate. At the same time, we learn a huge amount about ourselves and our country."

Karttunen gives her own field, education policy, as an example.

"If you constantly have to tell other people, for example, what the system in your country is like, you really become a specialist in your field. At the same time, foreign people may ask and question things to which you and the colleagues in your own country have become blind to."

Photo: Samuli Siirala

Internationality an important part of adult education

Karttunen thinks that internationality should in the same way also be part of the field of adult education and training.

Unfortunately, there have been setbacks in some respects.

Karttunen’s field of expertise is non-vocational adult education and training, which means all general education provided by numerous adult education centres, museums or even libraries. Its targets are often challenging special groups such as immigrants, the unemployed and people with developmental disabilities.

"In the past, the Commission awarded international grants directly to students or groups of students, but now money is only allocated to the development of staff and activities of organisations," Karttunen explains.

For example, before the change, unemployed people could apply to workshops organised across Europe with themes ranging from writing a biography to cultural bicycle trips.

"It was a terrific way to create a common European identity. For example, if someone has a chance to attend a folk dance course in Portugal, that person will very soon notice that, although we speak different languages, we are still very similar."

Now that there really would be demand for a common European identity, these courses and grants no longer exist. The Commission's perspective on education policy has narrowed over the years.

"They now think about employment in a very mechanical way. They no longer see that general education could also lead to finding employment, but immediately focus on skills such as welding and masonry."

Earlier, when Karttunen provided training for unemployed people with an academic education, she encouraged them to apply to those workshops.

“I could see concretely, how these people grew at least half a meter taller when they returned. They regained their self-esteem and that feeling “I can and I am able to”. And they found work immediately."

The new narrower Erasmus+ grant system in turn now focuses on the development of multiculturalism and international skills of adult education professionals. Karttunen finds this important, of course, but is not convinced that it is enough.

The current government’s policy is also reflected in the record low number of applications for mobility grants this year.

"It seems that many no longer have resources for other than the core activities. There is also not enough staff to apply for and use these grants. It is a paradox: there would be money to be distributed, but it cannot be used."

Identification of prior learning important

Fairly often, when Karttunen travels to the east or to the south, bombings, skirmishes or some other kind of unrest begins. She was in the Ukraine when the bombings of Maidan began, in Egypt at the time of the riots on the Tahir square and in Russia when the Crimea was taken.

"I was having breakfast with a ministerial adviser from the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, when the TV in the background was showing in real time how bombs were killing people in Donetsk. The ministerial adviser had tears running down her face."

However, the identification of prior learning instantly became extremely important when people were fleeing from Donetsk to Kiev and other big cities.

"Although many of them had some kind of qualification, they had not necessarily been working in that field at all, but done something quite different in family businesses. Suddenly, they were torn off their roots, and many of them had no evidence of their skills on paper. They might have been working as bakers although they had a qualification in welding."

Finland also faces a similar situation now that refugees are arriving from countries with ongoing conflicts, Karttunen reminds us.

"There are things to do to improve identification of prior learning here in Finland, too. Often the entities required for the demonstration of competence are too extensive in Finland. The person may manage large parts of them, but not the whole entity."

Karttunen thinks they could be divided to smaller parts. This would also boost people’s self-esteem – they could show what they can do instead of always getting stuck in what they cannot do.

Photo: Samuli Siirala

Nothing human is strange

Many trips and working and studying abroad have taught Karttunen that nothing human is strange. This has become her motto.

Sometimes, when travelling on business outside Europe, Karttunen has been annoyed particularly by how European experts have been going on about the various behaviour and dress codes.

"That is precisely what emphasises differences, although we are quite similar as people."

"Of course I respect local customs and culture, but I always travel as myself, open to interaction. When you have the patience to listen and to be open and give a piece of your heart, the walls between cultures disappear."

On her travels abroad, Karttunen has learned that there can be prejudices on both sides. Without discussion and interaction, they may remain.

"The preconceptions people in Egypt had about us Westeners were just as strong as the preconceptions we have about Muslims, for example. On the basis of films, they had formed a picture of us as sex maniacs and drunks who do not hesitate to use drugs.”

"However, in the end we agreed that we are guided by quite similar values and norms, for example, for relationships outside marriage."

Text: Eini Nyman

Photos: Samuli Siiranko

According to programme manager Anni Karttunen, multiculturalism should be a natural part of adult education.


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