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Bilingual Teachers Bridge Gap between Immigrants and Schools

Educators in Finland want to improve communication between immigrant families and schools. In the cities of Turku and Tampere, special consultant teachers work as mediators between homes and schools.

Oppilaita ala-asteen luokkahuoneessa, kuvan etualalla karttapallo.
Image: Yle

Finland's educational system can seem quite foreign for immigrant parents who have recently moved to Finland and do not have a strong grasp on the Finnish language. Consultant teachers who speak the parents' mother tongue are helping immigrant families' voices to be heard. They also take messages from school to parents.

Abdisalam Abdi, a religion and Somali language teacher at the Normaalikoulu School in Turku, works as a mediator in addition to his work as a teacher.

”This work is meant to improve cultural and educational understanding. Many immigrants do not understand certain societal matters. They need someone who can explain it to them,” says Abdi.

Tuija Hauta-aho, who works with the teachers, says the system is important for new immigrants and those with poor Finnish skills.

”If problems arise, the consultant teachers can help by offering a cultural interpretation of what is going on. For example, in many countries special education is seen as a sentence that trails students. In Finland, special education can be for just a short period of time,” she says.

Hauta-aho says that funding shortages in Tampere mean the work could be put on hold after December. The teachers have been employed for two years with funding from the Finnish National Board of Education. Currently, teachers work in several languages including Somali, Russian, Farsi, Kurdish and Arabic.

Saeed Warsame, who researches collaboration between Somali families and schools at the University of Oulu, says the mediation work is important.

”There is a danger of giving children two roles, that of a student and interpreter. In that case, a child would be handed a role that does not belong to him or her.”

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