Monday, 7 June 2010

Mind the gap! Young immigrants in national and local language education policies in Finland

Minna Suni begun her presentation arguing that there is a gap between national and local policies.

Plurilingualism has increased in Finnish schools starting from early 1990’s. Nowadays there are give or take 50,000 students whose L1 is other than Finnish, Swedish or Sámi.
Russian and Estonian are the largest immigrant groups by native language in Finland.

The study reported in presentation is about how multilingualism is encountered in Finnish schools.

Background: a collection of problems from teachers at in-service training programs. Focus on the teacher perspective as distinct from previous research.

Functional bilingualism set as a goal of all immigrant education (both young and adults)

According to policy texts students whose native language is not Finnish, Swedish or Sámi receive instruction in Finnish as second language. And as the possibilities allow, immigrants also receive instruction in their own native tongues. But is it really so? Is L1 instruction available? What means “as the possibilities allow” in practice?

Suni and her colleague found out that there are differences between schools and municipalities. In many cases, no mother tongue instruction is provided.

Another problem is that when L1 instruction is organized, student doesn’t attend it. One reason for not attending is that families are not interested in L1 instruction and that’s why they don’t send their kids there. Also there are timetable problems.

Teachers that participated in the study told that the lack of language skills is a common topic at their meetings but there is no willingness to give resources for FSL instruction.

The status of FSL instruction: teacher voices

“FSL is considered to be between special education and remedial teaching.”

“The class teacher takes his/her student away from FSL lesson every now and then because he/she has more meaningful activities to offer.”

“One might say say that the student has to be present in “real finnish L1 classes” to avoid lagging behind.”

Where are we now?

Multilingualism has become an inevitable part of the daily life at Finnish schools and
teaching arrangements have developed, knowledge and experience have accumulated.
All in all, general awareness has increased.

However, equality can be questioned: educational arrangements are not tailored for all. Despite the good news, there are still challenges to face.

In the discussion came up one interesting point: Teachers are not always aware of the languages their students master and they don’t always know whether the student is a native speaker or a second language speaker.

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