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Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic now on official school curriculum

For the first time in Finland, Asian and African languages are part of the 2016 upper secondary school curriculum, which means that students can choose to study them as foreign languages.

Japanin kielen oppikirjoja.
Image: Kimmo Hiltunen / Yle

The new 2016 National Board of Education's foreign language curriculum for secondary schools includes Asian and African languages for the first time ever.

Languages such as Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic will now be on the official academic roster.

The effects of this change are wide-reaching.

Previously, for example, Japanese was not recognised as an "official" subject at comprehensive or secondary schools. This meant that it was not possible to study to become a qualified Japanese teacher for comprehensive or secondary schools at Finnish universities.

Arabic first

The country’s first Arabic language course at a high school starts this autumn at Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Languages.

The course is already fully booked.

"Students have asked for Arabic language studies for many years and now via the new curriculum it’s an option,” says the school's principal Sirpa Jalkanen.

“There's been huge interest in the course. When we opened registration for our Arabic language course, it filled up immediately,” says Jalkanen. The 32 available spots were quickly snapped up.

Located near Itäkeskus, the Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Languages is one of the few schools in the country that offers many languages and instruction that focuses on international affairs, foreign cultures and arts.

To date the school has taught ten languages: Swedish, English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Russian, Latin, Japanese, and Mandarin.

According to Finnish National Board of Education Counsellor Paula Mattila, Japanese and Mandarin have been taught in Finland before, but now that they are on the official curriculum it will increase study options for students.

Offering languages such as Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic that are not based on the Latin alphabet is also a first.

Mattila says the majority of Finland’s 300 secondary schools won't immediately offer all of the new language options, but during the next five years there will many changes to education and and international cooperation via distance learning, for example.

Importance of Asia and Africa

The ever-growing importance of Asia and Africa is finally reflected with this new secondary school curriculum.

Two projects have been instrumental in the change.

Yanzu, "Chinese in Upper Secondary Schools," is a national project financed by the Finnish National Board of Education. Coordinated by the Vaskivuori Upper Secondary School in Vantaa, it started up in 2011. The Yanzu network includes 19 schools in 13 cities around Finland, with the aim of building a network for upper secondary schools interested in Chinese language and culture.

Also financed by the Finnish National Board of Education, the Ippo Project, started in 2012, is coordinated by Rajamäki Upper Secondary School and aims to do similar work to the Yanzu network, but for those with an interest in Japanese language and culture.

“Learning languages is like peace work. The more languages you know, the more you understand other people and cultures. That's what I tell young people,” says Counsellor Mattila.

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