Pupils in a classroom in Ylöjärvi, Pirkanmaa, on 18 February 2022. A doctoral researcher has found that children are often assigned to Finnish-as-a-second-language groups based on their native language rather actual language skills, reports Helsingin Sanomat. (Kalle Parkkinen – Lehtikuva)


A FIFTH OF CHILDREN studying Finnish as a second language are such proficient readers that they could study it with native speakers, reveals a study by Lauri Ståhlberg, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote about the study, which is to be released during the course of the spring, on Friday.

Ståhlberg compared in his study the reading proficiency and comprehension of children assigned to study Finnish as a second language (S2) and those assigned to study it as a native language (S1). The study revealed that around one-fifth of children studying it as a second language were more capable of reading and understanding Finnish texts than at least one-third of those studying it as a native language.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (Karvi) earlier this month published a study indicating that children of immigrant backgrounds who study Finnish as a second language tend to fall behind their peers, kindling a discussion about the learning outcomes of children studying Finnish as a second language.

Minister of Education Li Andersson (LA) in January stressed to Helsingin Sanomat that it is important that children are assigned to study Finnish as a second language based on their actual language skills rather than the fact that their native language happens to be something other than Finnish.

Ståhlberg found that in reality children are often assigned to second-language studies if Finnish has not been designated as their native language in, for example, the Population Information System.

“There’s quite a large group of pupils who’re at least registered as S2 programme pupils even though their language skills would be enough to participate in S1 teaching,” he said to the newspaper.

A test is presently being devised to make up for the lack of evaluation methods that would serve as grounds for transferring pupils from second-language to native-language groups, according to him.

The situation is also connected to funding as schools receive funding in part based on the number of pupils learning Finnish as a second language. Ståhlberg estimated that schools may consequently have little motivation to move children from second-language to native-language groups.

It is nonetheless in the best interests of both children and society that children study the language at the appropriate level, he reminded. Children studying Finnish as a second language for reasons other than their actual language skills may not realise their full potential as language users, with possible implications for their ability to learn academic language skills and pursue education opportunities.

“You may struggle when you’re applying to university if you’ve studied the S2 programme in small groups throughout your time in school while others have studied the S1 programme,” said Ståhlberg.

Teaching Finnish as a second language is not categorically a negative thing, he underscored.

“It’s a question of targeting. The S2 programme shouldn’t be targeted at pupils who don’t need it,” he said, pointing out that transferring pupils from second-language to native-language learning would also improve cost efficiency. “It could create more resources for supporting learning, for example.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT