Equality in education
All pupils and students have the right to a safe and equal learning and growth environment. The Non-Discrimination Act obliges all educational institutions to promote equality and implement the reasonable accommodations needed by pupils or students with disablities. Nevertheless, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman receives contacts about cases at all levels of education, in which the pupil or student was unjustifiably placed in a less favourably position compared to others due to a personal characteristic, such as a disability or ethnic origin.
Promoting equality in educational institutions
The Non-Discrimination Act imposes two kinds of obligations on educational institutions and education providers.
- Firstly, the prohibition of discrimination also applies to educational institutions. In education, it must be ensured that the activities of the educational institution or education providers are not discriminatory in any way. This requires that the education practices are reviewed from the points of view of different kinds of pupils and students to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and demonstrate what they have learned.
- Secondly, educational institutions and education providers are obliged to promote equality. This requires an assessment of the equality situation, systematic measures to correct the problems discovered, and monitoring the effects of the measures.
The education provider and each educational institution must have a valid equality promotion plan. The plan must be based on an assessment of the realisation of equality, and students, pupils and the pupils’ custodians must be heard when the plan is being drawn up. The plan’s measures promoting equality must be effective, expedient and proportionate, taking into account the educational institution's operating environment, resources and other circumstances. The effects of the plan’s measures must be monitored. The act does not directly specify time limits for updating the plans, but in order to ensure that the plan matches the educational institution’s operating environment, the update interval of the plan should be no longer than three years.
The learning environment must be safe and equal
A safe learning environment is free from harassment. The Non-discrimination Act prohibits the creation of an environment that violates or threatens human dignity based on origin, disability, sexual orientation or other prohibited grounds for discrimination. Harassment may involve, for instance, calling a person names as well as other types of bullying, or spreading information or rumours about a person’s private life. If a member of the staff of an educational institution is guilty of harassment, the education provider may be liable to compensate for the discriminatory activity. In order to promote equality, educational institutions also have the duty to respond to discriminatory activities of other pupils or the pupils’ custodians, for example.
The practices and premises related to education must be constructed so that no one is placed in a less favourable position due to, for example, their belief or state of health. For example, ethics lessons may have to take place in a school other than the pupil’s own local school. In that case, it must be ensured by planning the transport and the timetable that all pupils are in an equal position regardless of their religion or belief.
The education provider is obliged to make reasonable accommodations that ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to receive education. The premises of educational institutions must be accessible, but in addition to that, the individual arrangements required for the studies of people with disabilities must also be made. This includes for example special exam arrangements at higher education institutions.
If you experience discrimination in education
All pupils and students have the right to a safe and equal learning environment. The education provider or educational institution in question should be contacted in case of discrimination in education. Student unions may also provide support in case of discrimination. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman can be contacted for advice in resolving discrimination situations, and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman can also help victims of discrimination.