Teaching of Russian is increasing in schools in Eastern Finland
Some schools in the region calling for removal of mandatory Swedish
The first-graders in Lappeenranta’s Finnish-Russian School of Eastern Finland are carefully writing on a paper the title of their drawing assignment.
Even though the children have been studying just for a week, few of them ask for help. It seems that everybody knows how to translate the title Minun kesäloma (”My summer vacation”) into Russian and write it in the Cyrillic alphabet on their papers.
The Russian language is a fundamental part in the programme of the Finnish-Russian School of Eastern Finland, located on three sites: Imatra, Joensuu, and Lappeenranta.
Russian is studied four hours a week already in the first grade.
Previously, the school used to admit only pupils who started their 5th grade, but this autumn the school has also set up a group of first-graders. The popularity of the class came as a surprise: in Lappeenranta the number of applicants was 35, but only 24 children could be admitted to the group.
”Money has changed people’s attitudes effectively”, says Leading Principal Petri Kyyrä, laughing. ”Very many parents have contacts in Russia through work”, he adds.
Kyyrä believes that the growth in the number of pupils in the school is attributable to an increase in Russian tourism and to the softened attitudes.
Even if all new preschool pupils and first-graders are excluded, the number of pupils is 40 per cent higher than four years ago.
In the entire country, the eagerness to study languages in addition to English and the second official language has been losing steam. Finnish industry has been concerned particularly about the shortage of Finns with Russian-language skills.
In a survey conducted among employers in Eastern Finland in 2008, two in three respondents estimated that the number of employees proficient in Russian is not sufficient for Finnish needs.
Some employers were suffering from a shortage of employees: one in five stores would have hired more employees with Russian skills, if there had been any available.
This demand has not hitherto been reflected in the number of pupils studying Russian in Finland. Anna-Kaisa Mustaparta, Counsellor of Education at the Finnish National Board of Education, says that the popularity of the Russian language has remained rather scant.
According to the most recent statistics, the popularity of Russian has increased in the language options of eighth-graders, but still only one in a hundred pupils opts for Russian.
Some localities have campaigned for Russian with good results.
”Even some large groups have arisen here and there”, says Kari Jukarainen, the Chairman of the Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland (SUKOL).
In the eastern city of Mikkeli, the proportion of upper secondary school students who studied Russian quadrupled a year ago, amounting to some 20 per cent. In the coastal city of Kotka, 8 per cent of pupils have chosen the so-called ”long course” in Russian that starts from the fourth grade.
In addition, the growing number of immigrants has gradually increased the teaching of foreign languages, for example in Helsinki.
One way to increase the popularity of Russian currently being suggested in Eastern Finland would be the abolition of the mandatory Swedish from the curriculum.
”The proficiency in a second Nordic language belongs to the general education, but there is no need for it [Swedish] here”, says Leading Principal Kyyrä.
Exceptionally, in the Finnish-Russian School of Eastern Finland, Swedish is a voluntary language, but it has not reduced the learning of the language significantly.
The regions of Eastern Finland proposed in May to the Ministry of Education and Culture that the eastern municipalities could offer in their language programme Russian as a so-called B1 language, which is a compulsory language started in grades 7 to 9.
For those who study Russian, Swedish would be a voluntary language starting from the fourth or eighth grade.
The regions claim that the mandatory status of Swedish no longer meets the reality and requirements of Eastern Finland.
The proposal is unlikely to be approved, as the ministry has already once rejected a similar proposition, saying that dropping mandatory Swedish from schools in Finland could have unforeseen impacts on pupils’ later studies and working life.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Call to abolish mandatory Swedish in school (3.3.2010)
Professor wants to eliminate mandatory Swedish and Finnish from schools in Finland (21.10.2008)
The Finnish-Russian School of Eastern Finland
The Federation of Foreign Language Teachers in Finland (SUKOL)