Parents in Helsinki region want more Finnish-Swedish bilingual schools
Many parents in the Helsinki region would like to have schools in which both Finnish and Swedish are used as languages of instruction.
A recent survey commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat and conducted by TNS Gallup shows that especially favourable toward bilingual education are residents of Espoo with high incomes, those who are well educated and in management positions, as well as high-ranking white collar employees. There is also support for such bilingual schools in Helsinki and Vantaa.
In the survey 55 per cent of parents in the region who have children of comprehensive school age said that they support bilingual education.
An even larger proportion, 67 per cent of parents, said that they could imagine putting their children in a bilingual school using both Finnish and Swedish if Finnish legislation allowed such a move.
Supporters of the National Coalition Party, the Green League, and the Social Democratic Party were most favourable toward bilingual education. More than half of supporters of the True Finns also took a positive view of the proposal. Supporters of the Swedish People’s Party were not mentioned separately in the results, because they constituted such a small proportion of the sample of 528 respondents that they were not considered statistically valid.
The idea of bilingual Finnish-Swedish schools arose in September when Maria Wetterstrand, former leader of Sweden’s Green Party, expressed surprise in an interview with the Swedish-language newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet that no such schools exist in Finland.
Wetterstrand lives partly in Helsinki with her husband, Finnish Environment Minister and Green League chairman Ville Niinistö.
Niinistö noted that there are many bilingual families in Finland who cannot nurture their bilingualism. He also pointed out that many Finnish-speaking households would like to raise their children to be bilingual. “The schools could have two languages in use, which does not mean that the languages would be mixed up.”
Swedish People’s Party chairman, Stefan Wallin feels that the idea sounds good, but he has questions about how well it would work in practice. He fears that in bilingual schools, the smaller language – Swedish – would end up being at a disadvantage.
The same concern emerged in September in Sipoo, when Helsingin Sanomat asked Swedish-speakers about how they would feel about bilingual schools. The idea was rejected by the vast majority, and high school principal Hannu Ollikainen dismissed it as “utopian”.
In public debate on the subject it has been suggested that a completely bilingual environment would be too much for a child to handle.
Special researcher Sari Pöyhönen of the Centre for Applied Language Studies at the University of Jyväskylä says that this would be the case if the present methods based on textbooks were used, says.
“Textbook-centred teaching can lead to a situation in which a foreign language is taught through reading and writing before the children have even learned to read their own mother tongue correctly.”
Pöyhönen feels that bilingual schools would be good to have.
She emphasised that the aim would not be to turn native speakers of Swedish into native speakers of Finnish, or vice versa. “It is a problem for monolingual people that the world is multilingual.”
Under Finnish law the language of instruction at Finnish schools must be one of the official languages, Finnish or Swedish, or possibly Sami, Romani, or sign language.
Bilingual schools operate in Finland, in which the second language is English, French, or Russian. However, the law currently does not permit the establishment of bilingual schools in which the two languages are the two official languages of the country.
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