Finnish is taught to many children unnecessarily as a second language
A fifth of children Studying Finnish as a second language so proficient readers that they could study it with native speakers, reveals a Finnish study Lauri Ståhlbergdoctoral researcher from the University of Helsinki.
Helsingin sanomat newspaper wrote from the study, which will be published during the spring on Friday.
In his research, Ståhlberg compared the reading skills and comprehension of children studying Finnish as a second language (S2) and those studying it as their mother tongue (S1). The study revealed that about a fifth of the children studying it as a second language were better able to read and understand a Finnish text than at least a third of those studying it as their mother tongue.
The Education Evaluation Center (Karvi) published a study earlier this month, according to which children with immigrant backgrounds who study Finnish as a second language usually lag behind their peers, which raises a debate about the learning outcomes of children who study Finnish as a second language.
Minister of Education Lee Andersson (LA) in January stressed Helsingin Sanomat that it is important that children are assigned to study Finnish as a second language based on their actual language skills, and not on the basis that their mother tongue happens to be something other than Finnish.
Ståhlberg discovered that in reality, children are often assigned to study a second language if Finnish is not marked as their mother tongue in, for example, the population information system.
“There is quite a number of students who are at least registered as students in the S2 program, even if their language skills are sufficient to participate in S1 education,” he told the newspaper.
An exam is currently being planned to compensate for the lack of assessment methods, which would allow students to be transferred from second-language groups to native-language groups, according to him.
The situation is also related to funding, as schools receive funding partly based on the number of students studying Finnish as a second language. Ståhlberg estimates that schools may therefore have little motivation to transfer children from second-language groups to native-language groups.
However, it is in the interests of both children and society that children study the language at an appropriate level, he reminded. Children who learn Finnish as a second language for reasons other than their actual language skills may not be able to utilize their full potential as language users, which may affect their ability to learn academic language skills and pursue educational opportunities.
“Applying to university can be difficult if you have studied the S2 program in small groups throughout school, while others have studied the S1 program,” said Ståhlberg.
Teaching Finnish as a second language is not a categorically negative thing, he stressed.
“It’s a matter of targeting. The S2 program should not be aimed at students who don’t need it,” he said, pointing out that also transferring students from another language to learning their mother tongue would improve cost-effectiveness. “It could create more resources to support learning, for example.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT