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Is the end of manditory Swedish instruction in Finnish schools near?

January 18, 2011

One of the most polarizing issues in Finland has been the role of Swedish language and Swedish instruction in schools.

Historically Swedish has played an important role as the language of administration and the upper class in Finland from the middle ages to the Finnish national awakening in the mid-19th Century. According to Finland’s constitution, the nation is officially bilingual; students are required to study both Swedish and Finnish and municipalities with a population of 5% or greater Swedish speakers are required to label signs in both Swedish and Finnish. The majority of Swedish speakers are located along the Finland’s west coast as well as the semi-autonomous Aland Islands. Out of the 336 Finnish municipalities, 19 are monolingually Swedish-speaking, 30 municipalities are bilingual; of these, 12 have a Swedish-speaking majority and 18 a Finnish-speaking one. The remaining 289 municipalities are monolingually Finnish-speaking.

Recently, Finnish prime minster Mari Kiviniemi suggested of reforming the current requirement of mandatory Swedish instruction in Eastern Finland to include a choice between Swedish or Russian language instruction. Mandatory Swedish instruction would continue throughout the rest of the nation. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the easing of border restrictions between Finland and Russia, shopping tourism by Russian visitors throughout eastern Finland has exploded. Programs using EU funding, such as the Euregio Karelia have been very successful in promoting both growth in tourism as well as the sale of holiday home to Russians, and this trend is expected to continue to increase. Today it would be very unusual for a visitor to walk around a shopping center in any town in eastern regions of Karelia or Savo without hearing Russian.

According to a poll given by YLE, the Finnish television service, approximately 40% of Swedish speakers are in favor of abolishing mandatory Swedish courses in primarily Finnish speaking areas. Legislation regarding language instruction has not begun to be drafted at this time, but it will be interesting to see how this issue proceeds in the future.

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