Skip to content

Finland needs to improve Finnish language instruction for Ukrainian kids, teachers' union says

Some Ukrainian children are ill-equipped to join regular classrooms after a year in preparatory education.

Nuori nainen istuu pulpetin takana luokkahuoneessa ja katsoo kohti ikkunaa.
Roksolana Nazarko is back in her old Ukrainian classroom after spending around a year in Finland. Image: Mimmi Nietula / Yle
Yle News

Twelve-year-old Roksolana Nazarko is one of the millions of Ukrainians that fled the country after Russia's invasion.

Now she's sitting back in her old classroom. She said she feels nervous about speaking Finnish again after a few months' break, but she does just fine.

After living as a refugee in Finland for around a year, she has now returned to her old hometown of Boryslav to continue her schooling.

Roksolana spent about half a year in preparatory education in Helsinki. During this time she went online to work on Ukrainian assignments after her school day in Finland ended.

Two schools

No one knows exactly how many Ukrainian children in Finland, like Roksolana, have attended school in both countries, but according to some estimates, it might be the case for many of these kids.

The most sensible approach would be for Ukrainians to enroll in Finnish schools in Finland and receive Ukrainian language instruction as part of their education, according to Päivi Lyhykäinen from teacher trade union OAJ.

"If they then return to their home country, they've got their education while also maintaining their native language," said Lyhykäinen, who works with immigrant education matters.

When it comes to Ukrainian schoolchildren in Finland, things get complicated. Some attend Finnish schools. Others only log onto remote classes in Ukraine. There are also Ukrainian parents in Finland who have not enrolled their children in school because they have been hoping for a swift return to Ukraine.

At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian children in Finland were not subject to compulsory education, but the situation changed as the conflict dragged on.

After living in Finland for a year, Ukrainians have been entitled to apply for residency in the municipality where they are staying. This status also makes their children subject to compulsory education. However, not all parents may necessarily want municipality placement for this reason.

In May of this year there were 5,700 Ukrainian pupils in preparatory education and 663 in basic education in Finland, according to the Finnish National Agency for Education. This autumn some 2,800 Ukrainian children joined preparatory education, and over 3,800 Ukrainian children began regular classes in basic education.

That said, the figures do not indicate any significant mass return to Ukraine.

Enough prep?

During their one preparatory education year, Ukrainian children are expected to learn Finnish to a level allowing them to transition to regular classrooms.

But Lyhykäinen told Yle that the situation in preparatory classes is far from good.

"Legislation regarding preparatory education is very bad. Each municipality has the discretion to decide whether it provides preparatory education or not," she explained.

Municipalities generally provide preparatory education, according to Lyhykäinen, but there are many problems, including the fact that teachers don't need formal qualifications.

"Unfortunately, I have heard of cases where children have spent a year in preparatory education, and when they transition to regular classes, they can only say 'thank you' and 'no'," she said.

Lyhykäinen said that after Ukrainian kids have finished their preparatory education, they should receive extra language support for as long as they need it, or two years at least.

In the end, Roksolana decided that going back to school in Ukraine was the better option for her, as she was set to move to a normal Finnish school after her preparatory year finished.

"I would have had to change schools. It would have meant studying Finnish and Swedish," she said, adding that she would not have had access to interpreters when transitioning to a regular school. "I don't regret returning to Ukraine, but I miss Finland."

Would you like a roundup of the week's top stories in your inbox every Thursday? Then sign up to receive our weekly email.

Latest: paketissa on 10 artikkelia