Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Lately I've been following a Russian forum - a forum for the Russians living in Finland. Some of it is nice social fun, some of it elicits morbid curiosity in the manner of a train wreck, and some of it is useful social info.

Anyway, lately they were talking, among other things, about children and schools. More specifically, about how many schools (but not all) automatically put native speakers of the foreign languages into Finnish for foreigners classes, even if they also happen to speak Finnish at a native level, or a sufficient level to attend a native class. In all the cases they mentioned the situation was fixed when the parents protested.

I had suspected as much. A few months ago there was an article featuring a 13-year old Somali boy born in Finland who was in a Finnish for foreigners class in school. At that point I figured that either the kid was dumb as a rock or the school system was dumb as a whole pile of rocks - and the kid didn't seem particularly dumb.

Anyway, some schools - apparently many - stick kids with fluent Finnish into classes for foreigners, and the parents learn about it when the kid complains at home about the school being superboring and consisting mostly of Finnish 101.

My reaction to that was "WTF?". My Finnish friends' reaction to that was "well, how is the school to know?" ("ask the kid" is the obvious answer) and "well, this whole immigration thing is so new to us, we are still figuring out what to do and how to do it right".

This is a disturbing thing in and of itself. When we came to the US we settled in a state with a proud 350-year-old tradition of multiculturalism (ok, in the beginning it was often about shooting Indians and hanging Quakers, but let's not go into that). I went to school in a town where 25-30% of residents were foreign-born. It was one of the most multiethnic schools around, and it was a nice school. As of a couple of years ago, about 27% of residents are still foreign-born and the schools are still good.

Stable 30% of foreign students in Brookline schools is not a problem, but do the people here in Finland realize how fast the change is happening here? 15 years ago there were very few foreigners in schools; now some schools have more than 50% of foreign-language students, in spite of the fact that there is still a rather small percentage of foreigners in Finland.

What can or should be done? Frankly, I don't know and I suspect neither does anyone else. What shouldn't be done, however, can be learned from the long sad history of the Boston school district.


Krabak said...

Unfortunately, considering the state of current immigration/integration debate on official level it's highly unlikely anyone will pay any heed the things we could learn on what should (and shouldn't) be done from other European countries (or US for that matter).

オテモヤン said...
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Jussi said...

Sical? Mobid? Shoot, I'm not even two sentences into your post, and already I feel like I shouldn't have skipped those English classes.

Vera said...

Krabak: actually a lot of people are saying that we should learn, I just don't see them actually learning. :)

Jussi: heh, thanks for pointing that out, what was I thinking (or drinking)