Minister Grahn-Laasonen: Language studies may in future begin in the first grade
Report on the state and development needs of Finland’s language reserve published
Professor, Vice Rector Riitta Pyykkö submitted a report on the current state and development needs of Finland’s language reserve to Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen on 13 December. The report, drawn up by Professor Pyykkö, covers the entire Finnish education system and proposes an array of measures that should be taken to develop Finnish people’s language skills so that they would meet the future needs.
“We need to have ever more diverse language skills as the world around us keeps getting more and more international. The report provides direction for the development of language instruction in Finland. It is important to examine the continuum of language learning over all levels of our education system and to ensure that the needs of teacher training are also taken into consideration in the national policies,” says Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen.
“Language learning should be started earlier, in the first grade at the latest and preferably already in early childhood education and care and pre-primary education, as Professor Pyykkö proposes. It is great that so many municipalities have already made a permanent decision to start teaching languages earlier. The national experiments launched during this government term have supported these decisions. We should encourage children and young people to study many languages, as it opens doors and increases internationality. I extend my warmest thanks to Professor Riitta Pyykkö and others who took part in drawing up the report for the valuable work,” Minister Grahn-Laasonen continues.
“Finland must have a diverse language reserve to be able to succeed in the global world. We should identify what kind of language skills people in Finland have and ensure that people have possibilities to develop their skills throughout their lives. Language skills are a key to different cultures and mutual understanding. I would like to thank the Ministry for this interesting challenge. It has been a pleasure and honour to work with this important report which will serve as a basis for the preparation of a national language strategy,” Professor, Vice Rector Riitta Pyykkö from the University of Turku says.
Language reserve refers to citizens’ language proficiency in its entirety at national level: citizens’ language skills, language proficiency produced by the formal education system and the planning of language instruction.
Vision for national language reserve and proposals for achieving the desired state
Under a vision set out in the report, Finland is in 2025 an active member of the international community and its strength lies in its linguistic and cultural diversity. Investments are being made in the development of language skills and multiple languages are confidently being used side by side: each working-age citizen is proficient not only in the national languages of Finland but also in English, and most people are proficient also in one or more languages other than these. Language skills acquired informally, for example in working life and free time activities, are identified and recognised along with the skills learned in formal education, and people constantly develop their language skills.
The report presents a number of measures and proposals to achieve the desired state of affairs, such as:
- Language studies would in future begin in the spring term of the first grade at the latest. As a rule, pupils would be advised to choose a language other than English as the A1 language.
- The voluntary A2 language, primarily English, would begin one year earlier than at the moment, i.e. in the third grade.
- The structure of general upper secondary education would be developed in a way that would enable flexible, long-term and diverse language studies by taking advantage of cross-curricular multidisciplinary modules.
- An oral skills test would be included in the tests of foreign languages and the second domestic language in the matriculation examination.
- Educational institutions would offer a variety of language learning paths at different levels of education: language clubs, gamification and other possibilities enabled by digital applications.
- Municipalities would be encouraged to prepare, by the year 2020, language and internationalisation programmes in which language instruction would be examined in terms of the continuity of pupils’ language learning paths, the range of languages offered and the distribution of language choices, the needs of the local or regional business and industry, and international needs.
- The Government Decree on University Degrees would be amended so that completion of any university degree would in future require students to demonstrate proficiency in at least two foreign languages. Flexible models for the acquisition and demonstration of language proficiency would be jointly developed by universities, general upper secondary schools and liberal adult education.
- Under the lead of the Universities Finland (UNIFI) and the Rectors' Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences (Arene), higher education institutions would agree on the division of work and cooperation in the provision of basic studies in Asian and African languages in language centres or equivalent. This question would be examined in connection with the development of degree programmes in languages.
- Universities would devise new types of degree programmes combining language subjects and other contents.
Language skills under conflicting pressures
According to the report, Finland’s language reserve is at the moment under conflicting pressures: fewer languages are being studied and proficiency in foreign languages means ever more often proficiency in English only. At the same time, international cooperation sets new requirements for language skills as the economic focus has moved away from Europe, for example.
In the past couple of years, Finland has become more multicultural and -linguistic along with the drastic growth of immigration. This sets out new requirements for the teaching of Finnish and Swedish as a second language on one hand and for the practices for identifying and recognising immigrants’ other language skills on the other.
Professor Pyykkö was supported in her work by a steering group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture and chaired by Permanent Secretary Anita Lehikoinen. In the course of the work, seminars and workshops around the theme were arranged, and Professor Pyykkö and the steering group consulted a large number of experts in the field of language instruction.
The already launched experiments where pupils start studying languages earlier are part of the Government key project on the new comprehensive school. The experiments are funded by special subsidies granted to projects that develop, increase and introduce language instruction earlier in early childhood education and care, pre-primary education and basic education. A total of more than EUR 4 million has been granted to 96 education providers for carrying out the experiments. The aim is to encourage students, irrespective of their gender, municipality or socioeconomic or ethnic background, to choose and study languages.
The report will serve as a basis for drawing up a national language strategy. Next, the report will be sent to a large number of actors for comments.
Making multilingualism a strength. A report on the current state of Finland’s national language reserve. Publications of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2017:51 (in Finnish)
- Daniel Sazonov, Special Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 45 129 6812
- Riitta Pyykkö, Professor, Vice Rector, University of Turku, tel. +358 29 450 2642
- Anita Lehikoinen, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 295 330182
- Minna Polvinen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 295 3 30262