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Monday's papers: Faltering foreign languages, daycare discontent, appearance angst, Arctic chill

Surveys reveal falloff in foreign languages, dissatisfied daycare staff, anguish over self-image and a frigid forecast.

Syksyinen aamu
Image: Henrietta Lehtinen

Finland runs the risk of foreign language skills narrowing to include only English and a new focus on proficiency in mathematics in matriculation exams may be to blame, writes largest circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat.

The backdrop to the HS article is matriculation exams in foreign languages that begin this week, with basic tests taking place on Monday and advanced level exams due on Friday. The paper highlights a survey by the Federation of Language Teachers in Finland, Sukol, which revealed that while educators have nurtured the teaching of English, there have been challenges providing instruction in other languages, especially during upper secondary school.

The paper points out that student groups for foreign language courses have shrunk by up to half in some upper secondary schools. For learners this may often mean more independent study or commuting to another school that provides instruction in their language of choice.

"It’s unfortunately quite common," Sukol chair Sanna Karppanen told HS. Nearly 60 percent of language teachers said in the survey that when few students sign up for a foreign language course, instruction is then provided by other schools. For example, upper secondary schools in Tampere offer English and German as foreign language options.

"In practice each school concentrates on [the teaching of] other languages. Timetable-wise they are scheduled so that the classes are either at the beginning or the end of the school day to allow students from other schools to attend," said Tampere’s director of upper secondary schools, Jorma Suonio.

The language teachers’ association attributed the decline in the popularity of foreign languages to a shift towards universities emphasising mathematics proficiency in matriculation results. Some language teachers who responded to the survey said that at worst, this could lead to a reduction or even a complete abandonment of basic foreign language studies, Karppanen warned.

Dissatisfied daycare workers in Espoo

Tabloid daily Iltalehti turns its focus to Espoo, just northwest of Helsinki, where yet another survey of 700 respondents reveals daycare personnel who say that they are fed up of a chronic shortage of permanent staffers as well as qualified substitutes.

The survey of Finnish- and Swedish-language daycare professionals aimed to unearth information about their working conditions and covered about one-third of the city’s early childhood education workers. According to IL, a recurring theme in survey responses was the fact that the recruitment process failed to produce employees who met the eligibility criteria for permanent and substitute staff. Several wondered about the value placed on childcare work and its future and noted that the pay was too low for the demanding nature of the work.

Early childhood education professionals named oversized groups as one of three areas that they’d like to address in their work. In addition they mentioned onerous work routines that kept them too busy and created a feeling of inadequacy, while others raised the issue of too much paperwork, cleaning and maintenance tasks.

Just over 50 percent of respondents worked in early childhood education roles, while 43 percent had childcare duties. Six percent represented other professionals working in the field.

Social media worsening self-image woes

Another Sanoma Group paper, this time tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat also turns to survey data to report on young people’s concerns about their appearance as part of a series on the issue. In an online survey of just over 5,000 readers, the paper found that 96 percent of women who responded said that they worried about their appearance, some more than others. Just four in 100 said they never gave their outward appearance a second thought.

The paper described as "extremely worrying" the fact that up to 40 percent of women in the survey said they fretted about their looks daily, compared to 28 percent of men.

Young readers in particular seemed to struggle more with the pressure of how they looked, with nearly half of under-20-year-olds saying that concerns about their appearance occupied them on a daily basis. Just one percent said such thoughts did not bother them.

Young female respondents tended to obsess about different body parts such as breasts, stomachs, thighs and rear ends with insecurity tending to revolve around weight in most cases. However facial features were also a source of distress, most often focusing on the nose and teeth as well as uneven skin and perceived hairiness. Young men on the other hand, tended to worry about their height – or lack thereof.

IS noted that more than half of women said that social media exacerbated the pressure they felt about their looks – a quarter of male respondents concurred.

Overnight freeze, black ice and snow

Last week’s promises of record heat have evaporated in the face of an arctic chill due to descend on Finland this week, IS writes in another piece. Instead, Finnish residents can expect sub-zero overnight lows, black ice and even snowfall in some areas, according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute FMI.

"Black ice may appear during the early morning and at night as far as southern Finland after mid-week," duty meteorologist Hannu Valta told STT in the IS article.

Valta said that cold air currents blowing across Finland from the Arctic Sea will cause temperatures to be a few degrees lower than usual. In the south, daytime highs will struggle to rise above 10 degrees Celsius, while in Lapland they will hover around five degrees.

Winds will subside by Wednesday or Thursday and the clouds will roll back, making for frigid conditions at night and in the early morning. Overnight frost and sub-zero lows may be felt as far as southern Finland too.

After mid-week, snow or sleet are likely, at least in northern Lapland and possibly even in central Lapland.

"Snow is especially possible in northern Lapland. I don’t know whether or not it will be enough to stay on the ground, but it’ll be a few centimetres, at least in elevated locations," Valta explained.

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